My love for mixed martial arts isn’t a secret.
Ask anyone who knows me — I’m dropping $70 a month on pay-per-views without hesitation. No ifs, ands, or buts.
So to hear me gushing about the sport shouldn’t come as a surprise. But this past week has been different. Somehow even I underestimated Conor McGregor’s star power, as the trends revealed his rematch with Dustin Poirier this past weekend would undoubtedly become another Top 20 selling pay-per-view in the history of combat sports.
McGregor went into the weekend holding six of the Top 20 combat sports PPVS (which also includes WWE’s biggest events). So if the numbers reflect what the pre-fight numbers entailed — and UFC president Dana White said it was either the second- or third-highest selling PPV the company has had — that would mean McGregor now holds seven of the Top 20 PPVS, which makes him Floyd Mayweather’s equal when it comes to PPV buys.
So any time the microscope is over the sport like this, I have to admit I’m curious to see what the athletes do and how the public responds. The last time we saw this much buzz in MMA, McGregor threw a dolly into a bus window prior to his fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov. That PPV, by the way, drew $2.4M buys, which is the third-highest selling PPV behind only McGregor/Mayweather ($4.3M) and Mayweather/Pacquiao ($4.6M).
But there were no pre-fight antics this time. Ireland’s international superstar and Louisiana’s finest conducted themselves like gentlemen on “Fight Island.”
For those of you who do not know, this fight was forged on Twitter last year, as it all started as an exhibition bout for charity.
McGregor tweeted Poirier: “Hey bro! You want to do an MMA charity fight? Zero to do with the UFC. I will donate half a mill towards your charity for it. Sell it on PPV or work a television deal and we work out other charities that are close to my heart also. I am engaged in many.”
Of course, UFC president Dana White ultimately got them to fight under the UFC’s banner, but McGregor held up his end of the bargain. McGregor Sports & Entertainment began the process of donating $500,000 to Poirier’s charity, The Good Fight Foundation, which built a playground for disabled children in Lafayette, among many other charitable deeds.
Before the fight, Poirier said at the pre-fight press conference, “I just want to clear the air: Conor’s team, McGregor Sport & Entertainment, did reach out to my foundation and they are starting the process toward that donation. So Conor, man-to-man, you’re going to help a lot of people with that.”
And then the fight happened. Six-plus years after McGregor knocked him out in the first round, Poirier proved what us hardcore fans already knew: the evolution to his game is real. He showed that with the early takedown and the calf kicks that ultimately did the damage. That last exchange between the two had McGregor stuck in the mud because that leg was cooked.
Poirier stopped McGregor in the second round, and if you glanced at social media, it felt as if all of Louisiana rejoiced in unison.
So how would McGregor respond after losing in the spotlight again? Well, McGregor responded how he typically does after a loss… with humility. McGregor and Poirier had this exchange backstage after the fight:
“McGregor: I’m very happy for you, Dustin. You’re a (expletive) warrior. You have passion, courage, everything it takes…
Poirier: Your coaches were right. I can’t forget (the first fight), but I can forgive myself. And I have.
McGregor: I’m honored to share the octagon (with you). And we will do it again. Good man.”
For a sport as violent as MMA, it offers such a refreshing display of sportsmanship and respect, which have always been the cornerstones of this sport. Bad blood and trash talk have its place too, but on this night, with millions around the globe watching, these two men displayed honor and grace.