All of the hallmarks typical of a disastrous result to the promotion and execution of a highly anticipated pay-per-view blockbuster were in play for UFC on Saturday when Conor McGregor, in the closing seconds of a thrilling first round in his trilogy bout against Dustin Poirier, snapped his left ankle to bring an abrupt halt to UFC 264.
Yet as UFC president Dana White would later recite after the fight, that a rivalry this intense "can never be over" after a non-finish such as what took place inside of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, business will stay booming with the promise of yet another big-money rematch.
That's the brilliance of how things played out for UFC's bottom line, if one was optimistic enough to glance at the larger picture beyond the idea of just cashing in on one more fight. No, McGregor's injury to close out a bonkers opening round surely wasn't scripted. That doesn't mean the fallout of Poirier's victory in their lightweight duel doesn't come directly from the pro wrestling handbook of how to build a meaningful cliffhanger.
UFC has a chance to have its cake and eat it too thanks to the potential infusion of the actual 155-pound championship into the multi-chaptered feud should Poirier go on to summit the division as a whole by defeating current belt-holder Charles Oliveira later this year as McGregor heals.
Short of McGregor having avenged the January TKO loss to Poirier inside the Octagon at UFC 264, the fallout of his injury defeat could not have played out more perfectly for UFC thanks to how much the former two-division champion redeemed his reputation with his performance.
No, this is not to make the case McGregor was on his way to necessarily beating Poirier had it not been for the injury. McGregor had clearly lost the opening round despite having big moments and Poirier constantly had an answer for each McGregor threat.
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including instant analysis to UFC 264 live from Las Vegas below.
But McGregor succeeded in just five minutes of fighting on Saturday in showing there's still a bunch of gas left in his soon-to-be 33-year-old tank, even if he needs to fight desperate in order to fully activate it. It's not that McGregor redeemed his elite reputation so much as he showed the kind of fighting spirit that would let one believe confidently that McGregor could still hold his own against any elite fighter in and around his weight class, even if he tends to lose more than he wins in this second act of his run atop the sport as PPV king.
Most of the UFC 264 undercard fighters polled last week about who would win the main event surprisingly picked McGregor to pull the upset, with more than a few openly showing their bias towards wishing for McGregor's success given how many crossover eyeballs and wallets his fights typically attract. Most media members, if they are being honest, could probably echo those comments financially regarding how much McGregor's presence is a rising tide raising all ships.
McGregor is still the biggest cash cow available to UFC brass on the PPV level and White revealed at the postfight press conference that he believes the event generated between 1.7 and 1.8 million buys in the U.S., which would alone make it the second biggest fight in company history after McGregor's loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in 2018. That same cash cow, regardless of how amateur (or desperate) his behavior was like to promote the fight and psyche himself up, didn't lose in any fashion all that critical for his commercial future.
It goes down in the history books as nothing more than an unfortunate asterisk, while also showcasing on the same night just how all-time great Poirier really is. Consecutive PPV headlining wins for Poriier against McGregor only strengthen his own brand entering into a likely title shot next.
But despite McGregor's questionable behavior in looking to promote that the rivalry was far from over, he's also not wrong. White and Poirier seemed just as interested in wanting things to continue.
The truth is that McGregor has been able to carefully overshadow his diminishing skill by zapping up his personality, like he did through the reformed family man routine he rolled out in his 2020 comeback against Donald Cerrone and the rematch with Poirier. On the flipside, the outright craziness McGregor showed against Nurmagomedov in 2018 and against Poirier this week is even more marketable and financially backed by the promise this version of McGregor will back up his words by fighting just as rabidly.
The first half of McGregor's career was largely defined by his ability to avoid firepower while delivering his own, save for his incredible 2016 rematch against Nate Diaz in which McGregor foreshadowed the type of fighter he would be in the second half -- forced to fight tooth and nail for everything he earns in order to merely survive.
The continuation of the Poirier-McGregor feud will likely bring a large share of deserved criticism from purists who will look at McGregor's 1-3 record since 2016 as reason to mount customer fatigue for the feud. That not only won't matter to UFC given the money at stake, but the fact that the two fighters are so perfect for each other will make it so the majority of viewers won't care given how much action and drama each chapter will still create.
Remember, customer fatigue muted the excitement many hard-core boxing fans had ahead of the fourth chapter of the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez rivalry in 2014, only for the two legends to then put forth the most dramatic and violent sequel to date. The UFC would likely also be bold enough to pair McGregor immediately against Oliveira should the Brazilian defeat Poirier later this year.
Either way, one has to believe UFC fans will see a fourth Poirier-McGregor fight over the next 12 months (if McGregor is healed), with a great chance that it would be for a title. There's also no reason to believe a fifth fight could be permutated just the same should McGregor find a way to claw his way back.
Was UFC 264 a storybook ending? Far from it. But it promises much more drama to come after the sport's biggest star succeeded in what truly was his most integral role for those whose planet orbits around him: McGregor entertained with the promise of a sequel still to come and he did so while communicating just enough to the audience that he either still has "it," or is at least willing to spill what's left of himself to find out.
The fight business can sometimes be a grimy game of three-card monte, but it's an exciting one that hooks its customers with the promise it will be entertained. The McGregor soap opera is certainly closer to being over than ever before but it's not quite done commandeering the interest of the general public.
Buckle up for Round 4. It's coming.