A day after it was announced that Conor McGregor was making his UFC return against Khabib Nurmagomedov, I wrote it would be the best sporting event of the fall in a month that projected to be nothing short of a sports smörgåsbord. Today, one day before the fight, I stand by that; however, based on the minimal buzz it has received, most don’t even consider the showdown an entree. This leads to the question: Why?
Well, time has played a disastrous role in this for the UFC in what should be the biggest fight in the sport’s history. It has been nearly two years since McGregor last stepped foot in the octagon, and since that time, the UFC went through very rocky times. With so many months passing by without any newsworthy fights and moments, there is no doubt the UFC fell out of the vocabulary of many of their supporters. By the time this super fight was announced, a large portion of the casual fans were checked out. It is important to note, the niche audience has reacted much differently.
Speaking of the day it was announced, it ran into two major stories simultaneously. On the same day, the sports world was in the midst of the bombshell Ohio State-Urban Meyer scandal and it happened to be the day Meyer finally broke his silence on the matter. Also, hours later a tweet from Donald Trump involving LeBron James occurred which ended up halting all sports talk for the next several days. A fair question to ask is whether the average sports fan even heard the news that these two superstars would be going toe-to-toe?
The media also played a large role in the fight virtually going unnoticed. The media creates buzz, and they pick and choose when they want to manufacture headlines and ignore stories. The national television and radio shows could have easily chosen to create topics like: “What does McGregor have to prove?”, “What is at stake?” “Is this the biggest MMA fight ever?”, “Can McGregor become the greatest of all-time?”, “Who should be favored?” and “What are the keys to victory?” None of those were ever asked.
From the mainstream media, the fight took a major backseat to other stories that were nothing more than created by the media. Over the past two weeks, the time fights receive the most attention leading in, it has been clear there has been a concerted effort to break down everything an NBA player said at the media days and to make every dribble of James’ minimal minutes in the preseason a topic. Of course, the NBA has a larger audience, but between football topics in the fall, McGregor-Nurmagomedov being ignored hurt the buzz.
McGregor boxing Floyd Mayweather also did not help this fight. McGregor walked into the first presser with Mayweather as the clear babyface (good guy). He walked out after what many deemed as racist comments, a heel (bad guy). For whatever reason, being the bad guy has not resulted in the same amount of people rooting for him to suffer a loss a la Mayweather for the last five years of his career.
With all this said, as disappointing as the hype has been, the expectation here is the fight will be a big deal come fight time. It should become a major PPV success, and at least for the night, hijack the headlines. The UFC may never be the mainstream sport it once was, but if McGregor ends the night victorious, and Brock Lesnar and Jon Jones can both make successful returns in the next six months, it will certainly be worthy of just that.