UFC hoping for ratings redemption with McGregor’s return

Conor McGregor wearing a UFC belt.UFC 227 on Saturday featured two exciting title fights, but the fight that stole the show won’t happen until October, when Conor McGregor will make his much-anticipated return to MMA. McGregor will fight lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov to headline UFC 229, which is expected to set new UFC records for pay-per-view buys and rekindle casual fan interest in the promotion, which has recently been struggling to attract attention.

McGregor was facing criminal charges after an incident where he attacked a bus containing UFC fighters prior to UFC 223 in Brooklyn, but he reached a plea deal that will not affect his ability to fight, and his return to the octagon was announced shortly after. Nurmagomedov was allegedly the target of McGregor’s ire during the Brooklyn altercation, which should add to the drama of October’s fight. That drama is exactly what the UFC wants with pay-per-view numbers sliding below 250,000 buys in May and superfights like the heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic failing to resonate with a general audience.

McGregor-Nurmagomedov is expected to draw 10 times that 250,000 buy threshold, which would break the UFC’s previous record set at McGregor’s last fight. It should also be a win-win fight for the promotion due to the star potential of the undefeated Nurmagomedov, who is 26-0 and 10-0 in UFC and comes with a built-in legendary backstory: as a boy in Dagestan, Nurmagomedov would wrestle bears (and win). He has overpowered every opponent he has faced in the octagon thus far. While casual fans will be tuning in to see McGregor’s spotlight-hogging antics and one-punch knockout potential, a win for Nurmagomedov could make him a star through his sheer dominance and the tales of his bear-wrestling childhood.

If McGregor wins, he would reclaim one of the title belts stripped from him during his lengthy hiatus from MMA, and his next opponent could be a third meeting with former nemesis Nate Diaz, who also hasn’t fought since his second bout with McGregor. Diaz is scheduled to fight Dustin Poirier at UFC 230 in November, and a win would almost guarantee McGregor as his next opponent. Diaz won the first meeting and McGregor won the second, making the rubber match almost inevitable.

There’s also a possibility that neither of the aforementioned fights occur due to the UFC’s terrible luck with pre-fight injuries either because of drastic weight-cutting or freak accidents. But for now, the future of the UFC will be written in October.