Friday Fights: the Moneyweight division

In this week’s Friday Fights, Adam discusses the phenomenon known as the “moneyweight division” and what it all actually means.

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“How many millionaires do you know who have become wealthy by investing in savings accounts?”

That quote by Robert G. Allen perfectly represents the essence of what has become the “moneyweight” division in combat sports — specifically the UFC. There are now fighters who transcend the traditional weight classes and old way of doing things. These fighters didn’t simply play by the rules and they didn’t just stay within bounds of the game.

These fighters bet big on themselves, and won.

The quintessential example of this is, of course, “The Notorious” Conor McGregor. If you ask the UFC, McGregor is the featherweight champion. If you ask a fan, McGregor is much more than that.

Over the past few years, McGregor has been on a meteoric rise. Just three or four years ago, he was a relative unknown. Now, he is the biggest star in combat sports. That is because he has consistently aimed high and had the gall to bet on himself.

I think it would help to define what it means to be a moneyweight fighter. To begin, the first defining characteristic of a moneyweight fighter is that they are a draw. And not just a decent draw — they must be a major draw.

A fighter must be capable of significantly improving any given fight card’s view numbers simply by being on the card themselves. This is sometimes called being able to “move the needle.”

Again, McGregor is the perfect example of this. His last four fights have all been on pay-per-view. Their buy-rates are as follows: UFC 189 had 825,000 buys, UFC 194 had 1.2 million buys, UFC 196 had 1.5 million buys and UFC 202 had 1.65 million buys (all numbers are approximate).

There are two noteworthy things to takeaway from those numbers. First, the number of buys for a card that features Conor McGregor has continually risen each time he fights. This shows that his popularity is continuing to rise, with more people tuning in to see him fight.

Second, McGregor’s last three fights are all in the top five most bought pay-per-views in UFC history. In fact, UFC 196 and 202 (both headlined by McGregor) are the two most bought pay-per-views in promotion history. They were even bought more than UFC 200 — the 200th pay-per-view by the UFC and the event that the promotion touted as its “biggest ever.”

In this regard, McGregor is arguably the biggest draw in MMA history. However, he isn’t the only one who has shown the ability to draw big view/buy numbers — Ronda Rousey, Nate Diaz and Georges St. Pierre are examples of others who are capable as well.

Being a draw isn’t the only requirement of the moneyweight classification, though. It’s far from it to be quite honest.

The second characteristic a fighter must exhibit to be a true moneyweight is that wins and losses aren’t that important to them.

Yes, I know. I can hear the giant, collective gasp from all the sports fans out there. “Of course winning is important,” someone might be yelling at me through their computer screen. “It’s the most important thing!”

It’s not that winning isn’t important to a moneyweight fighter at all, it’s that winning isn’t as important as the ability to sell a fight.

Again, McGregor can easily demonstrate this principle in practice. He lost at UFC 196 to Nate Diaz by a second-round, rear-naked-choke. That fight took place as a replacement fight, too — McGregor was originally scheduled to fight for the lightweight championship on the 196 card.

For any other fighter, a loss in that fight would have been devastating, especially if they were originally slated to fight for a title. But for McGregor, it was nothing but a slight bump in the road. In fact, if anything, his popularity grew after that defeat.

Lastly — and arguably most importantly — a moneyweight fighter must be someone who isn’t strictly held to one division. Rather, they must be a person that goes to the largest potential profit (hence the name, moneyweight).

For example, throughout his career, B.J. Penn has consistently chased the biggest fights he could possibly find — regardless of what weight class they were at.

He began his career as a lightweight (155-pound limit) fighter and became one of the greatest of all-time in that weight class. Penn then moved up to welterweight (170-pound limit) to fight for the UFC welterweight championship.

After defeating Matt Hughes for the welterweight belt, Penn left UFC to fight in other promotions. On Nov. 20, 2004, he fought Rodrigo Gracie in a middleweight (185-pound limit) bout. On March 26, 2005, Penn faced off against Lyoto Machida — who weighed in at 225 pounds — in an open-weight bout. Penn weighed 191 pounds for that fight.

In July of 2005, Penn returned to middleweight by defeating Renzo Gracie. And in 2006, he returned to UFC with two straight welterweight fights before once again fighting back at lightweight. In recent years, he has even begun fighting at featherweight (145-pound limit).

That beautifully illustrates what it means to be a moneyweight fighter. Regardless of what the weight limit is, moneyweights will go after the absolute biggest fights available. I mean, Penn has fought from 145 pounds all the way up to heavyweight in his career! There is no one else who can make that sort of claim.

McGregor, and both Nick and Nate Diaz, have both entered the moneyweight class. None of them are strictly required to stick to one division. Nick has a long history of fighting at various weight classes, Nate has boosted his drawing power exponentially since becoming McGregor’s arch-nemesis and McGregor is currently booked to fight for the lightweight championship.

On November 12, McGregor will fight Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title. If McGregor wins, he will become the first person in UFC history to hold two titles from two different weight classes at the same time. He’s even discussed the possibility of moving up to welterweight again for a run at that title as well.

UFC has shown frustrating amounts of reluctance when it comes to embracing this trend. The promotion focuses much too heavily on the “traditional” ways of doing things and putting the titles above all else.

This isn’t to say that the titles aren’t important, but there is concrete evidence that fans buy into fights for the names involved and for the perceived fun of the fight.

Personalities sell.

These moneyweight fighters bet big on themselves. They believed in themselves to such a degree, that they were willing to move weights where they weren’t necessarily comfortable, in pursuit of big fights. For McGregor, the Diaz brothers and others, it paid off. They’re now at the top of the hill in MMA.

The moneyweight division is here, and it isn’t going anywhere. The UFC would be wise to stop fighting it, and start taking the opportunities to make mountains of money.

Edited by Dalton King

Featured image by Adam Milliken