Opinion: Did Conor McGregor Just Become Adrien Broner?

Conor McGregor may have become MMA’s Adrien Broner at UFC 196, and Nate Diaz may be the sport’s answer to Marcos Maidana.

Broner was thought to be the man who would become boxing’s mainstream attraction and pay-per-view king once Floyd Mayweather retired. The brash, trash-talking fighter was equal parts polarizing and entertaining, and he showcased the skills to back it up. It was impossible not to be yanked in by Broner’s magnetic pull because you just had to see him fight. He spent money like water and wasn’t afraid to talk about it. For a while, it looked like Broner was capable of strapping the sport to his back and carrying it into the next era.

In December 2013, Broner had his second fight after jumping from lightweight to welterweight, squaring off against Maidana. Broner’s first fight was against the light-hitting Paulie Malignaggi and it nearly turned in disastrous results. It should have been a sign that Broner wasn’t the same heavy hitter at welterweight that he was at lightweight. Nevertheless, he charged forward with a fight against Maidana. Three hours before the fight, Broner carried on like Broner usually did. He was smiling, joking and being Adrien Broner in the lobby of the Marriott Rivercenter hotel. He was already mentally cashing his check before it was in his hand.

Maidana was considered a good, not great, fighter before he faced Broner and later pushed Mayweather to the limit in two fights. He was fun to watch but couldn’t seem to get over the hump. Losses to Andreas Kotelnik, Amir Khan and Devon Alexander limited his stock potential and he became a name that was dangerous, but certainly beatable. The one thing opponents knew was that Maidana would come to fight. He could take a punch, his technique was hard-hitting, albeit a little messy at times. He seemed destined for a career of being am entertaining bar brawler with enough skill to take out the entire bar.

So, when Broner and Maidana were paired together in 2013, the expectation was that Broner would be in a fun fight where his skill set that focused primarily on accuracy and speed would carry him to a decision victory. Things did not turn out that way.

Broner ended up being overwhelmed by a man possessed. The size difference was simply too much as Maidana walked through everything Broner had to offer and showed him what welterweight power felt like when he deposited “The Problem” on the canvas in the second and eighth rounds. Maidana won a unanimous decision, and Broner has not been the same since.

Broner bit off more than he could chew, and while admirable, that kind of thing can destroy a fighter whose mainstream appeal is built entirely around winning.

On Saturday in Las Vegas, McGregor became Broner. Granted, McGregor was humble in victory and didn’t hide from the media. The fact of the matter is that “The Notorious” one bit off more than he could chew when he decided to jump up two weight classes to face Diaz.

Like Broner, McGregor held a ridiculous size and power advantage when he fought in the lower weight class. He was able to maintain speed while the force behind his punches were like mini sledgehammers, annihilating their smaller targets. But things change when you move up in weight and, unless you are Manny Pacquiao, the knockout percentages decline because the power normally doesn’t carry. It took all of five minutes for McGregor to figure that out. By then, it was too late.

Like Broner, most fans and pundits picked McGregor to overwhelm Diaz with his striking ability. There was always a lingering concern that Diaz’ size could be an issue, but the prevailing thought was that McGregor was too skillful to be undone by a fighter who had only 10 days to prepare. The overly confident McGregor ransacked Diaz throughout the first round with a variety of punches that would have eliminated just about anybody in the featherweight class. But, like Maidana, Diaz was known to take a punch. You might be able to put Diaz down, but putting him out is a totally different challenge.

Diaz weathered the first round storm, and although he his face was battered and bruised, he had to look across the cage and see McGregor’s chest heaving. McGregor had to realize that he wasn’t being efficient with his energy and had spent far too much time emptying his toolbox. He was fading while Diaz was just getting going.

McGregor’s cup was overflowing with trouble and he was locked in a cage with no way out. Diaz had him right where he wanted him. Four minutes and twelve seconds later, McGregor had tapped out. MGM Grand Garden Arena was in shock, social media was a wreck and the overwhelming smell of smoke that emanated from the evaporated dreams of McGregor pushing the sport further into mainstream filled up the venue to the point where we all were choking.

The cash cow had been tipped over. His run at the top was impressive, yet brief. Casual fight fans don’t care that a fighter jumped up two weight classes. There’s no respect given to the casualties of war. All that happens is Michael Jordan crying face memes are slapped on the head of the loser. Real fight fans understand and may even respect the risk that McGregor took at UFC 196, but there’s no doubt about it: McGregor’s stock has taken a hit.

Broner has never been able to truly recover from that loss to Maidana. He pushed himself too hard, too fast when he could have stayed in his weight class and taken things slowly, collecting checks along the way. His hype train came to a screeching halt and his ego never recuperated. Instead of being the next Floyd Mayweather, Broner was simply jettisoned to being another loud-mouthed fighter who had been taught a lesson. Instead of headlining pay-per-views, Broner is headlining a card on Spike TV.

Maybe McGregor is mentally stronger than Broner and will temper his expectations moving forward, but trash talking only works when you’re winning. McGregor’s appeal was his ability to verbally spar with the best of them. It’s not the same thing when “Mystic Mac” can’t even predict whether he’ll win the fight. The problem for McGregor is that he didn’t lose to the welterweight champion. He lost to a borderline top-10 lightweight. All the huge-money fights have burned to the ground for the time being.

McGregor is now in the fight of his life to prove that he wasn’t a flash in the pan. Dealing with the fact that he’s no longer the biggest attraction in combat sports could be difficult, but, then again, McGregor seems mentally formidable enough to take this in stride. Regardless of how he views himself, his marketability has been dealt a mighty blow. To the casual fan, McGregor has become Cam Newton, who ran roughshod over teams in the regular season but failed to deliver in the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Diaz may get what he deserves and be pushed as a headliner in a title fight. The momentum is certainly in his corner. Maybe he’ll be motivated, like Maidana was against Mayweather, to put on a career-defining performance in his next fight.