As hard as I try, sometimes I get things wrong--and I definitely got it wrong regarding UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor's "unretirement."
Early last week, UFC president Dana White announced McGregor had been pulled from the card of UFC 200 because McGregor refused to go to Las Vegas to promote the fight; typical pre-fight promotions like a press conference, filming a commercial, and other marketing events had been scheduled.
And although there's no official word from the UFC (yet), McGregor now says he will fight Nate Diaz at UFC 200.
Originally, McGregor claimed he needed to focus on preparing for the actual fight instead of promoting it. You can read his entire statement, but this quote pretty much sums it up:
I am facing a taller, longer, and heavier man. I need to prepare correctly this time. I cannot dance for you this time. It is time for the other monkeys to dance. I've danced us all the way here.
My initial reaction was that McGregor, like all of us, seeks to live his personal and professional life the way he chooses. He's determined to define success--and what he is willing to do to achieve that success--on his terms.
And while that reaction sounds good in theory, after listening to Tony Kornheiser on his WTEM radio show, I realized it was also misguided. (If you're unfamiliar, Tony is also the co-host of ESPN's long-running Pardon the Interruption.)
[Conor McGregor] claimed he was retiring about four days ago, which was nonsense...because he can't make any money doing anything else. His complaint was and is that he has to sell himself too hard. He has to go too many places. Conor McGregor lost and so he started complaining...and at one point he says, 'I'm not a monkey boy.'
Actually, you are a monkey boy. Actually that is exactly what you are, you are a monkey boy, and I would refer you to the people in Nascar. When a Nascar race is over, the Nascar drivers have a meeting and the guy who runs Nascar says words to this effect: "Jimmy, I want you to go to Los Angeles tomorrow. Dale, I want you to go to Bristol tomorrow. Brad, I want you go to Dallas tomorrow." And he hands them airplane tickets and they go, because that's part of the employment.
I had a former friend who had a certain amount of success who once said to me, in all seriousness, without any levity at all, "I can't stand it. Everyone wants a piece of me." Really? Because you're going to be able to stand it down the road when nobody even knows your name.
I have sat in restaurants and had people who I am sitting with, when people come over to talk to me, they say, "Come on, we're eating dinner here"...and I let it go for a while and then I turn to that person or those people and I say the following sentence: "How do you think we got this table? If this a problem for you, why don't you leave, and secondly, if it's not a problem for you, don't worry because it's not a problem for me."
So, Conor McGregor, this should not be a problem for you. It should not be.
Tony's right. Promoting a fight is an important part of the gig, just like talking to reporters is part of the gig for professional athletes, doing press for a movie is part of the gig for actors...and chatting with employees is part of the gig for CEOs and business owners.
We all have things we might prefer not to do but that we need to do because they're an important part of our business or industry.
That's even true--at a vastly different level than someone like Conor McGregor, of course--for someone like me. I do podcast guest spots to increase awareness of my work and the Inc. brand. I do radio spots. I give quotes or provide feedback or respond to requests...and in many cases, I would rather be writing, but those activities are an important part of what I do. (They're not the most important part, but they are important.)
Does that make me a "monkey boy" dancing to the tune of an organ grinder? Sometimes, yeah. And that's OK. Occasionally we all have to dance.
Occasionally we all need to dance, because doing that dance is good for us. Refusing to dance is not "giving in." Refusing to dance is often counterproductive.
If professional athletes want to earn millions of dollars, they must understand that promoting their sport is required, because without fans there is no sport. If actors want to earn millions of dollars--or even just have their work seen--they must understand that promoting their work is required, because without an audience there is no show.
The same is true for McGregor. At the top level, promoting a fight is part of the deal. If he doesn't want to do promotion, he doesn't have to: He can fight on Friday nights in small gyms in front of small crowds.
But if he wants the big stage, sometimes he has to dance. (And maybe, on reflection, he realizes that? If so, good for him for backing down from a very public stance. Or maybe the entire thing was a calculated PR move--who knows?)
Sometimes we all need to dance. While our goal is to achieve success on our terms, sometimes achieving the success we want requires us to dance to a tune that others call.
And that's OK, especially if that dance helps get us to where we want to go...and also because sometimes the person calling the dance knows the tune better than we do.