Conor McGregor returns: Why UFC star's brand is stronger than ever despite April arrest

Conor McGregor returned to the Octagon on Saturday for UFC 229’s main event with a bevy of lucrative endorsement deals and a likely record pay-per-view audience, indicating that not even an NYPD arrest record or a two-year layoff can slow down the outspoken Irishman.

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McGregor fell in four rounds to Khabib Nurmagomedov, but it was the melee after the fight ended that had everyone talking on Sunday. After Nurmagomedov beat McGregor, he jumped out of the Octagon and attacked one of McGregor's trainers. That trainer responded by climbing over the Octagon and fighting Dillon Danis, a bellator weltweight who trains with McGregor.

McGregor will be paid, but not Nurmagomedov, per an investigation by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

McGregor’s battle with Nurmagomedov was the first match in a new six-fight deal with the UFC, which established him as the highest-paid fighter in mixed martial arts and required that his liquor brand, Proper Whiskey, be a major sponsor at each of his fights. The deal was finalized just months after McGregor’s arrest last April for attacking Nurmagomedov’s bus with a metal hand truck.

The arrest, which led to a plea deal for disorderly conduct, did little to dissuade corporate sponsors looking to capitalize on McGregor’s global popularity and massive social media following. The 29-year-old fighter inked a deal with Monster Energy this week said to be worth millions of dollars, ESPN reported, adding to an endorsement portfolio that includes Burger King, Beats By Dre and HISmile.

“Despite his sometimes boorish behavior, McGregor is the undisputed face of MMA and the UFC,” said Rick French, CEO of the French West Vaughn marketing agency. “Monster is still number two in market share to Red Bull, just like Burger King is to McDonald’s, so several of his deals have the same thing in common: They are engaging a brawler as an influencer to market their products to the younger male demographic that is key to growing sales.”

McGregor is known as much for his brash demeanor outside the ring as for the knockout power that made him a two-time UFC titleholder. A flair for self-promotion helped generate unprecedented coverage ahead of McGregor’s crossover match with undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather, which garnered more than 4 million pay-per-view buys and earned the southpaw an estimated $100 million paycheck.

UFC 229 is projected to shatter the promotion’s pay-per-view records, thanks in no small part to McGregor’s public feud with his opponent, Nurmagomedov. UFC President Dana White told multiple outlets he expects the event will approach 3 million buys, which would nearly double the promotion’s existing record set by McGregor’s 2016 match with Nate Diaz.

“You start to look at the PPV numbers with Conor McGregor, he’s one of the biggest PPV draws of all time,” White told TMZ Sports, noting that McGregor’s personal haul from the fight could approach $100 million.

The UFC’s six-fight deal with McGregor, which ties him to the promotion for the next several years, is the strongest indication yet of his value to the billion-dollar brand. His ability to draw a large pay-per-view audience, at a time when boxing and other combat sports struggle to attract an audience, offsets concerns about antics in his personal life.

“I don’t see a lot of risk to the UFC with this six-fight deal because even if he can’t fight at an elite level, he’s still the biggest name in the sport,” French said. “Boxing is probably envious because they presently don’t have anyone as marketable.”

This story has been updated.