Conor McGregor. Photo from Facebook/thenotoriousmma

UFC 246: The McGregor “pull” and what it means for prospects to fight on the same card

The UFC 246 fight card has been on the receiving end of some heat in the build up to Saturday night. Many fans have been vocal about the return of Conor McGregor not being enough to sell a PPV, and they may be right. The world’s premier promotion has spoiled its viewers with PPV’s usually filled with at least one title fight in recent years, but still, the criticism is a little harsh if you ask me.

Let me explain.

It is evident, courtesy of some solid digging by fellow MMA journalist Aaron Bronsteter, that McGregor’s homecoming is more than enough from a pure business standpoint to fuel a fight card. “The Notorious'” in cage reputation and what he has accomplished over the span of his career warrants nothing but entertainment, and whether the fans like to admit it or not, the majorities too are on board with it.

Above are just the numbers from the popular UFC YouTube fight week series, the Embedded. You may argue that it isn’t quite enough evidence that McGregor still has his pull, but a sample size of over 12 events suggests that when the Irishman is involved, more people tune in. And if that isn’t sufficient, McGregor’s return is also on track to be the second highest gate for an UFC event in Las Vegas, second only to… himself vs. Khabib.

Now, why am I bringing all of this up? Well, I felt like the card and its structure needed some defending. Firstly, it’s certainly not as bad as some may feel. There are more than enough “sleepers” ranging from the early prelims to the main card to keep viewers locked in with anticipation for the duration of the night. Two, the fight cards which are not stacked top to bottom with big names have a pretty good track record of being filled with enthralling bouts and highlight finishes. And it’s safe to say that Saturday’s lineup has potentially a pretty good mix of both.

“Potential” being the key word for this whole story. Every year, the UFC pumps out several breakout athletes early on in the year. Every sports organizations needs new faces to emerge and the UFC is no different. And what better way to promote some young up and comers than on a card headlined by the most wanted prize fighter in the company? From a development standpoint, this fight card is an absolute home run.

As emphasized by Anthony Pettis during one of the episodes of the Embedded series, “Showtime” feels like his significantly less experienced opponent in Carlos Diego Ferreira may not be able to handle all of the spotlight that comes with competing on a card headlined by such a big name. Pettis’ theory may prove to be a non factor, but the fact is that with McGregor comes the spotlight, and the spotlight is exactly what promising fighters such as Sodiq Yusuff, Maycee Barber, or Nasrat Haqparast need right now.

The aforementioned trio may very well be the future of the UFC, but being in the UFC does not only come with competing against some of the highest caliber of opponents that the mixed martial arts world has got to offer. It also means that you have to be tested in competing against the media and perhaps most importantly, yourself. Can you handle the pressure? Can you step up and put on a show when all the eyes are on you? That’s what separates the greats from the ordinary. And to be the face of the UFC, you have to be great in and out of the cage.

This card will answer a lot more questions than we may anticipate. It may feel a little meaningless to some because there is no belt or no out and out high profile bouts, but some of the matchups are very captivating. There are quite a few hype trains heading into this weekend at lightning speeds and it will be interesting to see which of them will remain on the rails when it is all said and done.The potential for some stars to be born on Saturday is certainly there.

There are also some savvy veterans looking to lineup big fights for later on in the year. And last but not least, the highly anticipated return of “The Notorious” one is finally upon us. Does he still have what it takes? Will we see the Conor of old? Is Welterweight going to be his new home for the foreseeable future? There are so many question marks. And with all of those, “Cowboy” Cerrone is also being criminally overlooked as an opponent. Will he be able to break his “big fight” losing streak?

The main aim of this story was to make Saturday night at least a little more compelling to you, the fight fans, who may be reading this. UFC 246 has got all it takes to be a January firework display. And regardless of how things go, we will certainly be wiser in terms of how 2020 in the UFC may look on Sunday morning.


Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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