Sport

Conor McGregor the businessman: How whiskey took UFC star to Forbes No 1 spot:

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr


Conor McGregor likely used to count his earnings by the week when he was a plumber on the dole in Ireland.

Now, the UFC superstar can look at his earnings by the second.

Two defeats in the Octagon may spell a bad sporting year for the 33-year-old, but a quick look at the bank account will certainly soften the blow.

McGregor is estimated to have earned approximately $55million (£41.1m) from his two fights against Dustin Poirier this year, that lasted an accumulative 752 seconds.

Conor McGregor may not have had a great year in the Octagon, but his finances are thriving

Conor McGregor may not have had a great year in the Octagon, but his finances are thriving

Therefore, McGregor pocketed a staggering $73,138.30 (£55,304.62) per second in the Octagon in 2021, but his UFC earnings are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Irishman’s hefty paypacket this year. 

In May, Forbes named the Notorious the world’s highest paid athlete of 2020, having earned a mind-boggling $180m (£134.5m) in a 12-month period dating from May 2020 to May 2021. 

He fought just once in that time frame – against Poirier at UFC 257 on Fight Island – which garnered an estimated $22m (£16.4m). So, where did the rest of the money come from?

According to Forbes, the Irishman’s endorsement deals with the likes of energy drink giants Monster Energy, betting firm Draft Kings and headphone magnates Beats by Dre made McGregor around $8m (£6m). 

The Irishman made a staggering $73,138.30 (£55,304.62) per second in the Octagon in 2021

The Irishman made a staggering $73,138.30 (£55,304.62) per second in the Octagon in 2021

But his Octagon earnings barely paint the full picture of McGregor's mind-boggling finances

But his Octagon earnings barely paint the full picture of McGregor’s mind-boggling finances

He also has a lucrative, $5m (£3.7m) multi-year deal with sportswear brand Reebok, which was signed back in 2018.

Big numbers, granted, but nothing that would elevate the Dubliner above the $130m (£97.1m) earned by Lionel Messi, or the $96.5m (£72.1m) pocketed by LeBron James.

This is where McGregor the entrepreneur comes into his own. Where top athletes pen multi-million dollar deals with the likes of Red Bull, Pepsi and Coca-Cola, the Irishman has forged his own path.

Why agree to lucrative endorsement deals with huge brands when you can create your own, and therefore take home a bigger share of the pie? 

Enter Proper 12.  The Irish whiskey – named after the Crumlin neighbourhood Dublin 12 where he grew up, has been straddled to McGregor’s hip since its launch in September 2018.

Where others have taken lucrative endorsement deals, McGregor has taken a different path

Where others have taken lucrative endorsement deals, McGregor has taken a different path

In 2018, McGregor launched his own whiskey, Proper 12, and has promoted the brand superbly during press conferences and while meeting famous faces like Jose Mourinho

In 2018, McGregor launched his own whiskey, Proper 12, and has promoted the brand superbly during press conferences and while meeting famous faces like Jose Mourinho

McGregor, pictured with bottles of Proper 12 alongside Justin Bieber (right) pocketed $150m from the sale of the company in April this year

McGregor, pictured with bottles of Proper 12 alongside Justin Bieber (right) pocketed $150m from the sale of the company in April this year

The 33-year-old has sought to promote the brand whenever possible – whether it be on his Instagram account where he boasts an 43.2m following, or while promoting his UFC bouts. McGregor has been seen drinking his whiskey with UFC boss Dana White during press conferences, and has shared a drink with the likes of Justin Bieber and Jose Mourinho. 

Incredibly, Proper 12 made revenues of around $1bn (£747m) in its first year and, come April 2021, McGregor decided to cash his chips. 

US drinks giant Proximo Spirits purchased Proper 12 from McGregor and his business partners, resulting in a $150m (£112m) payday for the Irishman. This figure makes up the bulk of the $180m (£134.5m) that saw McGregor top the Forbes list. 

‘I could have taken the easy money,’ McGregor told Forbes of his decision not to follow the path of endorsement deals with big-name brands and to make his own whiskey. ‘I could have taken the quick buck. [But] I took the risk. I put my heart and soul into it, and it’s paid off. 

That sale formed the bulk of his $180m earnings which made him Forbes' No 1 paid athlete from May 2020-May 2021

That sale formed the bulk of his $180m earnings which made him Forbes’ No 1 paid athlete from May 2020-May 2021

‘I know a lot of these athletes on this list, you know they make so much from their sport, so much from their endorsements,’ he added. ‘I’m probably the complete opposite. I’m an outlier. I’m a disrupter.’ 

And it is likely that McGregor will keep on disrupting. His business portfolio doesn’t end with Proper 12 – he has a fashion label, August McGregor, launched with designer David August in 2016. The Sun reports that the fashion line makes £50m (£37.3m) in profits per year. 

McGregor’s 2016 defeat by Nate Diaz also inspired him to enter the fitness and conditioning market. He owns a fitness program labelled F.A.S.T. which is intended to allow users to get into fighting shape by following training methods developed by the world’s leading sports scientists and physiologists. Zoominfo claims that McGregor F.A.S.T generates revenues of under $5m (£3.7m) a year.

McGregor's business ventures don't end with whiskey - he has his own media company called TheMacLife, which has over one million subscribers on YouTube

McGregor’s business ventures don’t end with whiskey – he has his own media company called TheMacLife, which has over one million subscribers on YouTube

The Irishman also has his own fitness program - McGregor F.A.S.T - which he launched in 2016

The Irishman also has his own fitness program – McGregor F.A.S.T – which he launched in 2016

Last year, McGregor co-launched a therapeutic spray with TIDL Sport to promote recovery

Last year, McGregor co-launched a therapeutic spray with TIDL Sport to promote recovery

His ventures in the sports market do not end with McGregor F.A.S.T. either. In 2020, he partnered with The Anthos Group to launch a plant-based recovery spray under the TIDL Sport brand. 

McGregor is a master at controlling the narrative and he also boasts his own media company – TheMacLife – which covers MMA, lifestyle and fitness. TheMacLife have access to UFC events and their YouTube channel, which currently has 1.2m subscribers, regularly attract six-figure viewing numbers for videos posted online.

It is no exaggeration, then, to say that wherever McGregor goes, money follows. In 2019, he revealed that fighting is his ‘third level of income’, such is his business acumen. Yet White will hope that he can squeeze a few more fights out of the Notorious.

It is clear, then, that McGregor is big money and he is the UFC's most lucrative asset

It is clear, then, that McGregor is big money and he is the UFC’s most lucrative asset

He dominates the PPV charts with his 2018 fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov garnering the most PPV buys in the company's history

He dominates the PPV charts with his 2018 fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov garnering the most PPV buys in the company’s history

Given McGregor’s fleeting Octagon appearances, the UFC have sought to nurture and develop their own stars – with the likes of Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman and Francis Ngannou amassing large fanbases. None, though, can come close to matching McGregor’s numbers.

The 33-year-old dominates the UFC’s all-time PPV charts. Eight of the top 10 grossing PPVs feature McGregor, with his 2018 clash against Nurmagomedov garnering 2.4m buys. 

According to Sportszion, the lightweight title bout with the Dagestani made $180m (£134.5m) in PPV revenue, while both of his 2016 fights against Diaz amassed $170m (£127m). 

Huge numbers, yet McGregor’s recent Octagon performances have left the UFC at a crossroads. 

He wants to fight Charles Oliveira next, despite his lack of form. The UFC must decide if the financial rewards of a title fight outweigh concerns that he is not ready to challenge

He wants to fight Charles Oliveira next, despite his lack of form. The UFC must decide if the financial rewards of a title fight outweigh concerns that he is not ready to challenge

McGregor, now ranked No 9 in the lightweight rankings following his back-to-back defeats by Poirier this year, is demanding a title shot against Charles Oliveira following the Brazilian’s UFC 269 win over the Diamond. 

Oliveira is game, but lightweight contenders Justin Gaethje and Islam Makhachev have a far greater claim for taking the shot. McGregor jumped a queue containing Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson back in 2016 to face Eddie Alvarez for the 155-pound belt, which was tolerated by the UFC masses as McGregor was attempting history by becoming the organisation’s first-double champion.

This time, a lightweight title challenge will be tough to sell to the supporters. The UFC’s conundrum, then, is whether the guaranteed treasure chest that Oliveira v McGregor will inevitably bring outweighs a moral duty for sporting fairness.

Either way, whatever fight Conor McGregor enters next, a trail of money will be left in his wake.    

Write A Comment