There were a number of big headlines in mixed martial arts in 2017. New divisions were created, new champions crowned, and interim titles made. A dominant champion returned for the first time after four years away from the sport. One of the greatest champions was stripped of a UFC title for the third time, but one storyline from 2017 received more attention than all the others.
Georges St-Pierre’s return to become a two-division UFC champion was an enormous accomplishment. Jon Jones having the UFC 205-pound title stripped after testing positive to banned substances was unfortunate, but not all that surprising. The biggest story of 2017 had little to do with MMA.
2017 MMA Story of the Year: Mayweather vs. McGregor
Lightweight champion Conor McGregor won the UFC 155-pound title in November 2016. He didn’t step foot in the Octagon in 2017, but generated headlines by crossing over to boxing to face unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a megafight that generated hundreds of millions of dollars.
It all started when McGregor appeared on the Conan O’Brien Show in July 2015 promoting his upcoming interim featherweight title bout against Chad Mendez at UFC 189. “The Notorious” was asked if he would ever consider taking on Mayweather in a boxing bout.
“If you’re asking would I like to fight Floyd Mayweather — I mean, who would not like to dance around the ring for $180 million?” McGregor said in response.
May 2016: The MayMac War of Words
The two engaged in a back-and-forth war of words in the media about racially motivated double standards in combat sports. In May 2016, there were rumors circulating in British tabloids that the two were on the verge of signing a deal to face each other in the squared circle. On the same day, UFC president Dana White said the rumors were “just a tabloid story.”
Four days later, Mayweather stated publicly that a fight against McGregor was “possible” despite White’s claims otherwise. On May 11, White said that he hadn’t spoken to anyone about making a fight between the two.
On May 16, Mayweather stated that he was retired and would only come back for a fight against the UFC lightweight champion. McGregor immediately went into fight promotion mode and said Mayweather needed him to promote a fight instead of the other way around. On May 25, McGregor posted a photo on Instagram that included the hashtag #MoneyMcGregorWhatsFloydGonnaDo?
On May 31, Mayweather posted a mock fight poster of he and McGregor on social media.
— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) May 30, 2016
November 2016: Conor McGregor Gets His Cali Boxing License
In November 2016, McGregor applied for and received his boxing license in California, but most didn’t think the fight would ever happen. Early that month the Irishman stated that he wanted $100 million to take the fight.
“He wants it under boxing rules. He wants a boxing match. He doesn’t want a fight,” McGregor told TMZ Sports. “Tell Floyd and Showtime, I’m coming. Tell him to go to them Showtime offices. I want $100 million cash to fight you under boxing rules cause he’s afraid of a real fight.”
December 2016: Leonard Ellerbe Shoots Down the Fight
In December, Mayweather Promotion’s Leonard Ellerbe reacted to McGregor getting his boxing license in California, but said the fight would never happen.
“It’s all a game. It’s all a calculated effort to gain more fans,” Ellerbe said in an interview with ESPN. “He got a boxing license. Congratulations to him. Conor McGregor can say anything he wants to, but he has a boss and his name is Dana White. He is under contract to the UFC, and if he wanted to fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match, he can’t because his bosses wouldn’t allow that to happen. The brass who recently purchased the UFC are very smart people and they would never — and put this in bold caps — let him step into a boxing ring with Floyd Mayweather because everyone knows what the outcome would be. He would get his ass beat from pillar to post.”
January 2017: Money Talks
When January rolled around, actual figures started being tossed around. For the first time, it was looking like the bout might come to fruition.
Mayweather offered McGregor $15 million on the front end. White made a counteroffer of $25 million each to Mayweather and McGregor, plus a percentage of the pay-per-view revenue. Mayweather responded to the offer by calling White a “F—ing comedian.”
February 2017: Floyd Mayweather Remains Retired
In February, McGregor was in Las Vegas to sort out his fine and suspension stemming from his altercation with Nate Diaz during the UFC 202 press conference. While there, Mayweather tweeted that he was ‘happily retired’ and that no deal has been signed to fight anyone.
— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) February 14, 2017
McGregor responded to Mayweather’s tweet with a tweet of his own taking a jab at the boxer.
I am in Las Vegas. Floyd has retired on my arrival. pic.twitter.com/z9EcxBJaDr
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) February 15, 2017
The following day Mayweather responded to McGregor telling him to get his business taken care of with the UFC if he really wanted to make the fight happen.
— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) February 15, 2017
March 2017: Dana White Can’t See How Mayweather vs. McGregor Doesn’t Happen
In March all indications were that the two would meet inside the ring. During an appearance on Conan O’Brien, White sounded optimistic. “I do think it’s gonna happen,” White told O’Brien. “I think it’s going to be a tough deal because obviously [there are] a lot of egos involved in this deal and a lot of people, so that always makes it tougher. On the flip side, there’s so much money involved. I just don’t see how it doesn’t happen.”
May 2017: Conor McGregor Gets Nevada Boxing License and Inks the Deal
McGregor resolved his situation with the Nevada State Athletic Commission for the Diaz incident and received his boxing license in the state of Nevada in May, clearing the way for the megafight. That month McGregor announced that he had signed his half of the contract.
Mayweather was in the U.K. at the time when McGregor announced his signing. He responded to the development via MMAFighting.
“They said Conor McGregor signed his end of the deal. I look forward to signing my end of the deal. I haven’t signed my end of the deal yet, so once I get home, I’ll communicate with my team, I’ll talk with Al Haymon, I’ll talk with Leonard, and we’ll see what we come up with. We’ll put all our great minds together and we’re gonna have another superfight,” he said.
June 2017: Mayweather vs. McGregor Suddenly Becomes a Reality
On June 14 the fight was confirmed by both Mayweather and McGregor on social media.
THE FIGHT IS ON. pic.twitter.com/KhW0u3jRft
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) June 14, 2017
To build interest in the boxing bout, Mayweather and McGregor embarked on a media tour that featured four stops. It kicked off in Los Angeles and ended in London with stops in Toronto and New York.
August 26, 2017: Mayweather vs. McGregor
On Aug. 26, the fight took place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Mayweather defeated McGregor in the 10th round via TKO to extend his unbeaten record to 50-0.
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