The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 246 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
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Set to make his highly-anticipated-yet-feels-sort-of-muted return to the Octagon on Jan. 18, Conor McGregor has been thrust back into the center of the MMA media spotlight in the build-up to UFC 246, where he will face off against Donald Cerrone in the main event. As is usual with a McGregor pay-per-view, the Irish superstar has been making the rounds of exclusive interviews with outlets such as Mac Life (which he owns) and ESPN, currently painting a story of being more focused and learning from past mistakes. In one interview in particular, McGregor estimated that he will make $80 million for his fight against Cowboy, and he revealed that he believed he had made around $50 million for his failed effort against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229.
Those claims caught the attention of several prominent MMA media members, including Bloody Elbow’s Anton Tabuena and John Nash. In this article, the duo referenced Nash’s previous reporting about documents made public in the UFC antitrust case to verify McGregor’s past payout allegations, focusing on the Irishman’s declaration that 2016 was a $40 million year for him. The authors point out that, based on insider knowledge regarding McGregor’s contract at the time of UFC 189 and numbers verified within court exhibits, “Mystic Mac” pulled in somewhere between $3.06 million and $3.635 million from the UFC for that event, establishing a baseline for the type of pay “Notorious” may have received in 2016. Tabuena and Nash also highlight a redacted name from a report regarding the UFC’s sale to Endeavor titled “Project Basquiat” and posit it to be McGregor, who at the time of the report’s writing was projected to be the UFC’s highest-paid athlete in 2016, making an estimated $15 million. Between this evidence, Hal Singer’s report in the UFC antitrust case stating that the highest compensation paid out to a fighter for a single event before June 30, 2017, was $8 million (which many believe to be Brock Lesnar) and the UFC’s public financials from Moody’s for 2017 and 2018, the authors come to the conclusion that the Irishmen’s assertions about his money are exaggerated to say the least.
While the authors’ inference certainly makes sense, it relies on several assumptions and, most importantly, on old data.
Prior to his scheduled fight against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 197, McGregor renegotiated his contract, and while it almost certainly didn’t prove to be worth the reported $16-20 million per fight at the time, we don’t know exactly what was modified from his UFC 189 agreement. McGregor went on to renegotiate his contract again before UFC 229, the biggest PPV in UFC history, so, even though $50 million again seems like a lofty figure to walk away with, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Irishman’s PPV point structure at the time to look better than Eddie Alvarez’s 2013 contract. Ahead of UFC 246, as stated in the Helwani interview, Mystic Mac has once again—you guessed it—renegotiated his contract, leading to a myriad of questions on what it now looks like compared to UFC 189, especially with the PPV distribution changes as a result of the UFC/ESPN deal last March. While Tabuena and Nash’s numbers make sense for 2015 and most likely 2016, McGregor’s impact on the promotion’s bottom line probably looks fairly different than 4 years ago.
The other factor to consider, which Nash openly addressed on Twitter, is that McGregor’s statements didn’t specify the sources of the estimated $80 million or what revenue he attributes to UFC 246. Although Nash draws attention to the fact that the former two-weight champion has brand ambassador sponsorships with Reebok and Monster which won’t be directly connected to the Jan. 18 fight, McGregor has a plethora of sponsors and agreements the details of which are largely unknown. These include David August, Beats Electronics, BSN Supplements Parimatch and a residency at the Wynn for his post-fight after parties.
McGregor’s UFC 246 Reebok deal may be much sweeter, as well. On Jan. 13, the Irishman launched a new sneaker collaboration with Reebok called “Zig Kinetica,” which will be available in stores Feb. 21, 2020. As stated before, the 31-year-old is under contract as a brand ambassador for the clothing company, but given the all-out promotion of the shoe—featuring this infamous shirt and 100 limited edition Zigurines—there is a solid chance the Notorious one is getting some extra cash on the backend. After all, Reebok and their parent company Adidas have been known to offer athletes $70-$100 million shoe deals, so one might expect a fraction of that to be offered to McGregor for the partnership.
These points are brought up not to criticize or discredit Tabuena and Nash’s work (they're almost certainly right) but rather to highlight the fact that even with the revealed UFC antitrust documents the public still lacks real transparency into how much a UFC fighter makes. The UFC and ESPN broadcast media rights deal has drastically changed the way that the MMA promotion gets its revenue, and given McGregor’s tendency to draw in casual fans it’s very likely that any old PPV revenue share agreement in the Irishman’s contract was modified in the renegotiations leading up to this fight. McGregor also has a plethora of smaller sponsorships and, depending on the details of those agreements and what he considers to be a part of the UFC 246 payday, he may or may not be factoring that into his $80 million claim.
With all the information the public has and the changes that have occurred in the business in the past few years, there is no way to get a solid estimate on what McGregor is taking home come UFC 246. It is highly unlikely that it will end up being the claimed $80 million, but given the context of the interview he may have been taking a random guess or playing up the number for show. If anything, this exercise has been a reminder to the MMA media not to underestimate McGregor’s drawing power and popularity, as two on-the-spot estimates in a 47-minute interview have managed to cause quite the ruckus.