When UFC president Dana White called Conor McGregor's bluff on retirement, over what appeared to be how much publicity UFC wanted him to do for his upcoming fight, White insisted that the Irishman wouldn't be fighting Nate Diaz in UFC 200 even when he walked things back.
And while it's unclear whether McGregor is back on the July 9 card, as he suggested in a tweet on Sunday morning, White should make sure it happens.
To put it bluntly, White conservatively has 45 million reasons why he needs to let go of his rage over McGregor and just let him fight -- as in $45 million he will leave on the table.
Before we get to the math, let's get to the principle.
For White, it was an important power play: Don't think you're ever too big for the UFC, because we'll always find someone to replace you.
It's a similar stance White has taken over the years when his fighters complain about pay. Without unions and no bigger stage for fighters to go to, White has all the power.
But this is different. This isn't any fighter. This is the guy whose bold talk and rags-to-riches story managed to break through like no male fighter ever had. This is a guy whose popularity prompted the producers of "Nightline" to call me in and do a piece on him ahead of his fight against Jose Aldo in UFC 194. They weren't doing that for anyone else.
"We put up all the money, we're spending $10 million on the promotion of this fight and we can't even shoot a commercial with the main event?" White said last week, rationalizing why McGregor was being pulled out. "The whole production crew is here, they came in from L.A., shooting all these guys here. They've been shooting the commercial the last three days."
McGregor, and this is not hyperbole, might be the greatest talker in sports since Muhammad Ali. The UFC can't get someone to go to McGregor? What is it about shooting on location in Las Vegas that truly matters?
Let's get real. The guy's fake retirement tweet was the third-most retweeted athlete tweet of 2016, following Marshawn Lynch's retirement tweet and Kobe Bryant's tweet following his last game, in which he scored 60 points.
McGregor sent those tweets from Iceland. What would have happened if he sent those tweets from Vegas? The truth is, McGregor could have done a good job spouting off while recording a message into a flip phone.
White has never shared audited financials with the media or the managers of the fighters, but based on numbers that have been shared, it's scary how much more having McGregor on a card is versus, well, pretty much anyone else.
White told ESPN that the first McGregor-Diaz fight (UFC 196) did 1.5 million pay-per-view buys. Now compare that to Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier, which seemed to be the alternative for the main event at UFC 200. The first go-around of that fight did 800,000 buys, at least according to Cormier.
Let's conservatively say the difference between McGregor-Diaz II and Jones-Cormier II is 500,000 buys. If we believe White's numbers for UFC 196, plus we give that number a sharp 25 percent haircut given that McGregor lost to Diaz in early March, we're still at 525,000 more buys. At $70 a pop, that's $36.7 million in additional gross revenue to the UFC.
Now let's look at ticket prices. The UFC will put UFC 200 tickets on sale this week and expects it to be the most expensive face value in UFC history. For perspective, McGregor's Vegas fights are the top three gate-revenue cards in Nevada's history.
UFC 196 broke the UFC record for live gate revenue, at $8.1 million. Face value prices for UFC 196, which began as McGregor-Rafael dos Anjos but eventually saw Diaz stepping in, started at $204 and topped out at $1,454. For comparison, ticket prices for UFC 195 (Condit-Lawler) were $104 to $804 -- and drew 3,500 fewer fans. The live gate difference between the two cards was $6 million.
White's philosophy, at least publicly, was that McGregor will fight again and the UFC will always have leverage over him when it doesn't get what it wants. In some sense, White was right. There isn't a competing place for McGregor to go that provides him with the audience that the UFC does.
On the other hand, it didn't recognize that the UFC had huge plans to celebrate not only its survival but its "thrival" with the 200th event. With McGregor back on the card, expect ticket prices to top that of 196 and expect attendance to be just as good. Assuming that, a live gate number of $10 million is achievable. Without McGregor, there's no way that much of a price jump can be justified, plus we'd expect to see empty seats. Difference to the live gate is then roughly $7 million. Throw in another $800,000 for additional merchandise royalties and concession revenue with more butts in the seats.
So we're up to $44.5 million in additional revenue with McGregor in.
For UFC 200, the organization is having a fan fest, charging $45, $65 and $75 for one-, two- and three-day tickets. If McGregor isn't fighting, figure the hang-around crowd for this is 10,000 fewer people. That's another half-million dollars, which pushes the McGregor bump-up to $45 million.
White knows he can't leave $45 million on the table, and the hype around the 200 number offers millions more that he won't be able to get back in the future. That's why it would be a shock if McGregor isn't put back on the card.