Why Conor McGregor’s First UFC Loss Was a Good Thing

Quite literally, the UFC’s best choked on Saturday night.

That’s not a shot at Conor McGregor and Holly Holm, as much as it may seem like it is. It’s just the truth, and Nate Diaz and Miesha Tate each personally made sure of that at UFC 196.

In McGregor’s case, now more than ever, those who have adamantly opposed his approach to selling the sport are becoming vocal on social media about the Irish fighter’s demise. That’s what you do, right? When the guy who’s been dubbed as obnoxious, annoying, over the top, and downright bad for the sport is within moments humbled in a cage by a heavy underdog, that’s the perfect moment to say “That’s what you get, homie.”

EXTRA HOT SAUCE: The Internet Melts Down as Nate Diaz Subs Conor McGregor

McGregor suffered the first loss of his UFC career at Saturday’s pay-per-view in Las Vegas. What followed the next day was hot takes and columns that reflected the UFC losing out on its long-term investments. Down goes Conor, as does the UFC’s stock.

Let’s not get into how well we think the UFC is doing financially. That’s a long traveled road with no end in sight, especially since the organization keeps its business largely private and there’s no proof this article or any other can provide in terms of how bad the company lost out on Saturday. The typical “nothing to report at this time” response is what we’ll get from UFC brass for that question, no doubt.

Conor-McGregor-UFC-196-press-2-03-750x370What we know is this: whatever plans the UFC had for matching a victorious McGregor with Robbie Lawler for the UFC 170-pound title at UFC 200 went up in flames quicker than you can tap to a Diaz rear-naked choke. That plan is dead and buried, and you likely won’t ever hear about it again.

But what you will definitely hear about is what to make of the organization’s featherweight division. As much as McGregor enjoyed the diet of a welterweight going into last weekend, the reality is that many of the fighters in that weight class are big enough to eat a punch that might put a number of featherweights to sleep. It’s one thing to knock out guys who fight in your division, but it’s another do the same to guys 25 pounds heavier. And it’s a whole other task to do that to Lawler, a champion who gladly stands in the pocket and swings with no regard for consequences, even if it means potentially losing his shiny gold belt.

Might as well sign your own death certificate at that point.

What McGregor’s loss at UFC 196 did is far greater than providing bragging rights for his haters. It instead reinvigorated the discussions involving Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo, and list of others who are far better matched with McGregor. The loss humbled the vocal Irishman, yes, but don’t expect it to take his drawing power away. People will still pay good money to a) see their favorite competitor sell a fight in the weeks approaching the bout, and show up in the Octagon ready to back up the talk; or b) witness a worthy challenger step up to win the title of humbler.

The interest is already alive and well, first and foremost with those who would potentially be matched with McGregor.

A division long stocked with talented and dangerous fighters, featherweight only began getting mainstream attention when McGregor came barreling in with a select skill set that included athleticism and the ability to command a microphone better than most. His loss over the weekend all but guaranteed a trip back down to that division where Edgar, Aldo, Max Holloway, and others eager to snare the spotlight await his return.

With Aldo, you have an intriguing rematch in which the Brazilian former champion will look to dismiss the idea that he can’t last longer than 13 seconds against the man who beat him. For years, Aldo appeared unbeatable — which, if you haven’t learned by now, is a fallacy for all fighters — as he busted guys up and went unbeaten for almost a decade. Then came McGregor, who, paired with Aldo, did more than a million pay-per-view buys just months ago. A former champion seeks revenge, wanting to gain back what was once his — sounds like a win-win for everyone, including those signing the bonus checks.

In Edgar, you have another former champion, one who came to the featherweight division with high hopes. As McGregor’s stock rose, Edgar collected wins of his own and showed how excellent footwork, sharp boxing, and a stellar wrestling base can combine to make a formidable contender. And as long as McGregor was winning fights, those who wanted to see him fall questioned whether his ability to handle a wrestler would be effective against the likes of Edgar. Even after he beat Chad Mendes, albeit on short notice and without much of a training camp, some still wondered if McGregor could handle a wrestler’s pace. There’s currently no one better to answer that question than “The Answer” himself.

As it turns out, McGregor said he anticipates heading back to 145 pounds to defend his belt, which will undoubtedly bring more of that mainstream attention to the division, and, as much as we’re all in the dark about it, paychecks in the boatloads to any challenger involved in high-profile pay-per-view.

The McGregor business took a hit over the weekend, but a grand reopening appears scheduled for UFC 200 in July. And as for Lawler? Well, UFC 196 attendee Georges St-Pierre has a pretty clear schedule.

Follow Erik Fontanez on Twitter: @Nahmles

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