Real Deal: Madrid express interest in hosting McGregor fight in Europe

Cardiff’s Principality stadium could also be an option for the UFC

BY Simon Maguire 19:02 Friday 21 October 2016, 19:02 21 Oct 2016

Picture by: Adam Davy / EMPICS Sport

Conor McGregor’s recent claim that he doesn’t intend to fight in Nevada for the foreseeable future has opened the door to a plethora of interesting alternatives.

He has fought twice already at the TD Garden in Boston (“Ireland Number 2,” as he likes to call it) and now, with the legalistation of MMA in New York, it gives him another area code to compete in on the east coast.

The home of the Dallas Cowboys, the magnificent AT&T stadium in Texas, is another venue worth considering. It recently hosted a bout where Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez knocked out Liam Smith in front of over 50,000 fans.

The arena previously hosted two Manny Pacquiao fights - against Joshua Clottey and then Antonio Margarito a few years back.

Conor McGregor has longed talked about doing a stadium show in Ireland to fight in front of his loyal fans, which is a great line, but the UFC have been reluctant to book an outdoor venue in Ireland due to our inconsistent weather and the difficulties in staging a fight at a time that would suit US television slots.

The 3 Arena is clearly not a suitable size to host a McGregor fight again, but there are options across the continent to host a European homecoming of sorts.

Recently, UFC 204 was held in Manchester, but to allow for the American pay-per-view (PPV) market, the main card didn’t start until 3am local time, something which had a very clear effect on the atmosphere in the venue.

McGregor does have some leverage to get a fight in Europe if he so wishes, however. His Irish fans spend the guts of €2,000 to go to one of his bouts in the United States, so a European venue would offer a more affordable option.

Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu has expressed an interest in holding a UFC event, with McGregor as the headline fight. Speaking exclusively to Newstalk.com, a spokesperson for the club said they would “be glad if we could make a UFC event; our stadium can hold more than 80.000 fans.”

Furthermore, the Spanish giants confirmed the “event has to be hosted from May to July” and that they would require a reasonable timeframe to plan in advance. There are rumours that the Irish star is planning on taking some time off after he fights Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in November, and a fight in the Bernabéu next summer might be of interest to him.

The club hosted a Bruce Springsteen concert last year and the venue would surely attract a full-house if McGregor was signed to headline a European fight night. 

Image: Bruce Springsteen plays to a packed Santaigo Bernabeu stadium. Courtesy of Real Madrid.

Cardiff’s Principality Stadium is another option. It has a roof and hosted an epic boxing bout between local hero Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler. The bout pitched the two best (and unbeaten) super-middleweights at the time against one another.

When contacted by Newstalk.com, a spokesperson for the stadium said they would be interested in hosting a UFC event especially given “our experience of staging memorable boxing events in our short hall format, notably the Calzaghe v Kessler fight in 2007 in front of more than 50,000 fans.”

The stadium offers “a fully retractable roof, short hall arena system and hybrid pitch with Terraplas covering,” which would be ideal to host a UFC mega-fight.

The Downside

Obviously, neither of the two venues are in Ireland, but are big enough to give the UFC a “European Superfight” as it continues to consolidate its grip on the global audience.

It’s unlikely the bout would take place at 5 am to suit the American PPV market, so the promotion would need to offset the loss of that by finding money elsewhere - in particular given the recent focus on downsizing within the company.

Nowadays, McGregor guarantees a minimum of a million PPV buys stateside, which translates conservatively to over $60m. Add in ticket sales, advertising and all the trimmings, it could easily break the $80m barrier all-in.

If the fight were to happen in Madrid, the Bernaéu can hold over 80,000 but when on-pitch seating is added, that figure could rise to 100,000, depending on the configuration. A conservative estimate might put ticket sales there at between €8-10 million, making it perfectly clear why the UFC are reluctant to book McGregor outside of America.

Another option for the UFC could be for the fight to be shown as a one-off exclusive and run on their online FightPass platform. A modest $25 fee could generate a sufficient global buy rate to keep the new UFC bosses happy before the Dubliner returns to fighting in America.

McGregor previously set the FightPass viewing record when he headlined his homecoming bout at UFC Dublin in 2014. Who’s to say he won’t set another in Spain?

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