(Reuters) - Conor McGregor’s announcement that he is to retire from mixed martial arts (MMA) sent shockwaves around the sporting world on Tuesday, but in a sport that seldom plays by normal rules it could mean his comeback is closer than ever.
As recently as Monday on an American TV chat show, the 30-year-old former two-weight Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title-holder said he was in negotiations to fight in July.
Only a few hours after that broadcast, the Irishman took to social media to announce he was walking away from the sport that has made him famous and earned him hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Hey guys quick announcement, I've decided to retire from the sport formally known as 'Mixed Martial Art' today," McGregor posted on his verified Twitter account here
“I wish all my old colleagues well going forward in competition.”
It was the second time that McGregor had announced on Twitter that he was leaving the sport. A month after losing to Nate Diaz in March 2016 he said he had decided to “retire young”.
That retirement lasted a matter of days and he subsequently signed an agreement to fight Diaz later in the same year, winning a five-round war of attrition on points.
McGregor’s management did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but UFC President Dana White said he understood McGregor’s decision given his wealth and the commercial success of his whiskey brand.
“He has the money to retire and his whiskey is killing it. It totally makes sense,” White said in a statement. “If I was him I would retire too.
“He has accomplished incredible things in this sport. I am so happy for him and I look forward to seeing him be as successful outside of the Octagon as he was in it.”
With his fame and popularity allowing him to wield the kind of negotiating power never seen before in MMA, McGregor and White, who played a major role in transforming UFC into a global brand, have clashed before.
According to media reports in the United States, the latest dispute is over McGregor’s ability to headline a card with no title on the line.
McGregor has not fought since a fourth-round lightweight title fight loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018 that sparked an ugly post-fight brawl and led to a fine and a six-month ban.
Dagestani champ Nurmagomedov was banned for nine months and is not expected to defend the belt until November or December.
Given their past dealings, McGregor’s tweet and White’s statement could well be tactical moves in a high-stakes game in which the winner gets to decide what happens next.
Outclassed in that bout, McGregor has distanced himself from his coach, John Kavanagh, and needs a fight or two to re-establish himself as a title contender.
A win in a trilogy fight against Diaz would both burnish his reputation and prove a popular pay-per-view draw with fans.
Renowned for his trash-talking, McGregor has never been far from controversy inside and outside the cage, and he was recently arrested in Florida after smashing a fan’s phone.
He has made no secret of his desire to make as much money as he can, telling Reuters in 2017 that he made $140 million from his boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather and that he aimed to eclipse the earnings of soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo.
Whether he fights again or not, the final chapter in the story of Conor McGregor is still likely to be a long way off.
“There’s a lot of politics going on,” McGregor told chat show host Jimmy Fallon in Monday’s TV broadcast.
“The fight game is a mad game, but like I said, to my fans, I am in shape and I am ready. There are a lot of opponents (out there) ...”
Writing by Philip O'Connor; Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh, Editing by Peter Rutherford/Nick Mulvenney