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When I asked UFC champion Conor McGregor what his net worth is, he told me I'd crossed a line. "There's people buried in the desert for less than that," he replied. "You must think I trust you with these kind of things. How much are you worth?"
I quickly and humbly told him I'm not nearly as rich as he is.
McGregor has gained 25 pounds to move from featherweight to welterweight and will fight Nate Diaz in UFC 196 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night. The usual trash talking between fighters almost came to blows during the traditional faceoff Thursday, and the insults continued as the duo did a number of interviews via satellite.
Including one with yours truly.
Highlight? The 27-year-old McGregor asked me to send him a picture of myself, not realizing that I'm twice his age ( "send it, don't be shy").
Lowlight? Diaz walking out of the interview. In more than 30 years in the business, that has never happened to me.
In between, we talked a little money and business. The video here covers all the awkwardness, including me asking the fighters to count to 10 for an audio level. "Ten," Diaz said. "Nate can only count to five," said McGregor.
But about the money ...
There are reports that McGregor, who gets a cut of UFC pay-per-view revenue, could make $10 million on this fight. "I'm going to breeze past the $10 million mark," he told me. McGregor was originally supposed to battle Rafael Dos Anjos on Saturday, but the Brazilian fighter broke his foot, so Diaz was tapped to replace him. How much will Diaz make? "A lot more than anybody else," the California fighter replied, to which McGregor jumped in, "He can thank me for that one. I've made more millionaires in this game than anybody else."
Does Diaz owe McGregor for Saturday's payday? "I don't owe him s---," he growled. McGregor wasn't having any of that, suggesting his opponent owes him for any money above the $40,000 Diaz took home for his last fight, an amount McGregor mocked. "I tip with that money," said the Irishman.
As for the UFC, it's hard to know how much money the franchise makes. SBNation attempted to figure out revenue and pay-per-view sales for the privately held company last fall by looking at credit agency reports and two internal reports from Deutsche Bank. Based on those figures, UFC's estimated revenue has grown from $14 million in 2004 to $522 million in 2014. This, even as the number of pay-per-view sales have started to decline.
The challenge to expanding the franchise into something akin to a major sports league may be harder than surviving the Octagon. Could the UFC ever be in the same league as the NBA or NFL? "Just let me loose on one of them," said McGregor, before turning serious. "This to me doesn't feel like a sport. This feels like something more pure."
McGregor has said that an MMA fighter needs more than talent to succeed. When pressed to explain, he concluded, "The main thing to succeed in this game is to either be me, or fight me. Everything else is peanuts ... ask Nate that." Diaz replied, "Mission accomplished, then, right?"
But after several more questions, Diaz couldn't stand it anymore. "What is this the money channel?" he asked (adding a few more choice words). When I questioned whether Saturday nights matchup would draw significant numbers without Dos Anjos, Nate Diaz took off his microphone and walked out of the interview. McGregor stayed and answered the question. "People want this fight," he said.
Before the satellite window closed, I asked the millionaire whether he owns any stocks. "I don't, but I'm learning about that game," McGregor said. "I will treat it like a discipline, like I have treated boxing or grappling or kickboxing and promotion, everything. The same with financial. I will study and grow and invest my money wisely."