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Will Conor McGregor ever return to UFC if he beats Floyd Mayweather?

Dan Wetzel

If Conor McGregor finds a way to defeat Floyd Mayweather on Saturday in Las Vegas, moving his boxing record to 1-0 and Mayweather’s to 49-1, here are two predictions about what will happen next.

1. McGregor will challenge the winner of September’s Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin to a boxing match in May of 2018.

2. He’ll never return to the UFC Octagon.

This isn’t what gets said publicly, of course. And considering the long-shot possibility of McGregor emerging victorious, it’s not keeping UFC officials or fans up at night. UFC president Dana White says this is a one-off. McGregor’s management is in general agreement.

“I believe he’s going to fight in MMA again,” said McGregor’s manager, Audie Attar of Paradigm Sports Management. “After this fight, he’ll just wait to see how everything shakes out.”

Except if he wins, things would shake out in spectacular fashion, with McGregor becoming the undeniable king of combat sports, able to command any fight, at nearly any price, in either boxing or MMA.

“He’d be the biggest star in the world,” White said.

McGregor is under contract with the UFC, which means the mixed martial arts promotion had to sign off on this dalliance with boxing. The promise of a sizable cut of what is expected to be the richest prize fight in history was enough for the organization to change its longstanding opposition to such crossovers.

While details are unknown, sources familiar with UFC contracts believe the promotion may be withholding at least some promotional money contingent on McGregor fighting again in MMA.

The UFC would certainly want McGregor to return to its promotion as it is currently starved of breakout stars. McGregor is already its biggest pay-per-view draw and the most recent holder of both the light (155 pound) and featherweight (145 pound) championships. Win or lose, he’ll likely emerge even bigger.

On Aug. 26, Irish MMA star Conor McGregor will square off in Las Vegas against Floyd Mayweather. (Getty)

With a victory though, McGregor would hold considerable bargaining power on what he does next.

First off, he could retire. A man who five years ago was still on the Irish dole is already wealthier than he ever dreamed. The Mayweather fight will set him up exponentially from there. He is under no financial pressure to return to fighting at all, although those closest to him think the challenge would drive him.

“Conor loves combat sports – all of them,” said McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh. “And he loves the entire process of it. He loves the dirty work in the gym, getting better and working to refine something. Then he loves the competitive aspect of finding out the best way to deal with another man. He lives for it and I don’t see how he could walk away from it.”

But he could. Or at least sit out long enough that the UFC has to bend to his wishes, which would include another cut of a mega-fight between McGregor and the Alvarez-GGG winner at the 160-pound middleweight level or perhaps a catch-weight bout just below that (Mayweather-McGregor is being contested at 154). Financially, that bout could exceed the Mayweather-McGregor one for the Irishman.

If anything, it would be the UFC that needs McGregor more than McGregor needs the UFC.

William Morris Endeavor purchased the promotion last year for a reported sum of $4.2 billion. In the past, the UFC had no concerns over loans and little concern over monthly cash flow. Zuffa, LLC purchased the UFC for $2 million in 2001, an amount it made back after a few years. Everything after operational costs was profit. It could play the hardest of hardball with stars.

Now there is a sizable monthly debt service to be paid, one that needs major pay-per-view numbers – or cash from somewhere – to handle. McGregor can play a long game. The UFC may not have such a luxury.

Which begs an additional question: Is the UFC actually better off if their guy loses Saturday? You wouldn’t sense it from White, who has been unequivocal in his support for McGregor, pumping up his chances and cheering him on through every turn.

“Listen, I’m with Conor,” White said. “I’m in. I’m on the ride with him. I’m excited.”

Business is business though.

The UFC is under pressure to make McGregor return. Despite holding two championship belts, he’s never defended either and constantly bucked policy to do as he wishes … namely whatever can score him the biggest payday.

The best option in the UFC is likely a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz. Their series is currently tied at 1-1, with each 2016 bout drawing over one million pay-per-view buys. Tony Ferguson is also a possibility at lightweight, but he just chose to fight for the interim title against Kevin Lee later this fall, which suggests he knows he’s not next for McGregor.

Then there is Khabib Nurmagomedov, a 24-0 Russian. He is extremely dangerous, yet mostly unknown, making him high-risk, low-reward for McGregor. Nurmagomedov also has a history of having to pull out of fights late. McGregor moving up to the 170-pound welterweight division to fight the massive Tyron Woodley would be compelling, but likewise a massive gamble.

None of those would come close to another historic boxing match though.

Nate Diaz and the UFC is one thing, maybe 1.5 million pay-per-views. A boxing match against Canelo Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin is a whole other, maybe 4-5 million buys, or three times more than a potential UFC bout.

Which is why an upset victory Saturday could launch McGregor’s boxing career, and end his mixed martial arts one.

More Mayweather-McGregor coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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What happens if McGregor beats Mayweather?
Kevin Iole: Why Mayweather’s biggest bet continues to pay off
How Ali’s ugliest fight paved the way for Mayweather-McGregor