'Thanks for the cheese': Looking back on Conor McGregor's previous 2-day retirement in 2016

3 weeks ago

Combat sports retirements are often temporary but after UFC superstar Conor McGregor revealed his decision to step away from mixed martial arts in an overnight tweet, many are asking questions as to how permanent this one will be.

In April 2016, just over a month since his first UFC defeat at the hands of Nate Diaz, McGregor issued a social media missive. “I have decided to retire young,” the Irishman wrote. “Thanks for the cheese. Catch ya’s later.”

Much like Tuesday’s tweet in which McGregor issued his latest retirement declaration, the first one was as unexpected as it was brief. McGregor had already signed a contract to rematch Diaz at that summer’s bumper UFC 200 event, a card which was being promoted as the organization’s defining event up to that point in its quarter-century history. 

McGregor, the biggest star in the sport, retooled and refocused, was seeking a redemptive win against his sole UFC conqueror, Diaz, on the sport’s biggest stage possible. It was pay-per-view gold dust, the type of lightning in a bottle that every fight promoter dreams of. 

But then it all fell apart. 

Up to this point in his UFC career, it would be difficult to suggest that McGregor wasn’t a ‘company man’. He has traversed the globe on the UFC’s behalf, taking part in a multi-stop world tour to promote his featherweight world title bout against the then-decade undefeated Jose Aldo.

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For the Diaz rematch, McGregor wanted no part of similar promotional events. With his in-cage frailties exposed by the Californian fighter, McGregor indicated that he wanted to forgo the traditional press conferences and video promotional shoots in Las Vegas which would have uprooted him from his training base in Dublin, Ireland.

Not happy with this development, UFC President Dana White removed McGregor from the card, prompting the now infamous ‘thanks for the cheese’ tweet.

McGregor has not gone into very much detail into this ‘retirement’ in the following three years but clearly some negotiations took place behind the scenes, as McGregor vs. Diaz II was moved from UFC 200 to UFC 202. Two days after retiring, McGregor issued a statement on Facebook.

I am just trying to do my job and fight here. I am paid to fight. I am not yet paid to promote. I have become lost in the game of promotion and forgot about the art of fighting. 

“There comes a time when you need to stop handing out flyers and get back to the damn shop.”

Another interesting wrinkle to this was that USADA, the drug-testing body who oversees UFC athletes, require notification from fighters who intend to retire – with any last minute change of heart potentially leading to the athlete having to re-enter the USADA testing pool for a period of around six months before being eligible to compete once again.

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This prompted some interesting small print at the end of McGregor’s 2016 Facebook statement: “For the record also – For USADA and for the UFC and my contract stipulations – I AM NOT RETIRED.”

Whether or not Conor McGregor walks back on this latest retirement – his third overall, he came out of his first retirement to make his UFC debut in 2013 – remains to be seen but given the fact that issues exist with regard to notifying USADA as to his current status, it stands to reason that further clarification to this will be received in the next 48 hours or so.

The Irishman has indicated to several sources that he is currently in discussions with the UFC regarding a July fight. McGregor’s status as the top draw in combat sports dictates that he can command top dollar in negotiations and, in order to maximise one’s commercial value, you must be prepared to walk away from the negotiation table.

Until we hear otherwise, this appears to be the most likely scenario. 

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