Why did Conor McGregor get a boxing license?

Today Ariel Helwani broke the surprising news that Conor McGregor obtained a professional boxing license in California.  Andy Foster, the California State Athletic Commissions executive officer noted

He got a license today and a federal ID…He’s a California boxer now….He’s qualified [as a boxer]…I’d love to see him fight in California. It just needs to be the right opponent. Certainly a high-level opponent. We’re happy to license him. We’re happy he’s a California fighter.

So here is the multi-million dollar question – Why?

Perhaps it’s an attempt to keep his name in the press, perhaps it’s a simple negotiating tactic or perhaps it’s something far more clever and interesting.

McGregor remains under contract with UFC parent company Zuffa.  His contract has exclusivity provisions prohibiting him from competing in other combative sports. Specifically, Zuffa contracts likely contain the following provision:

During the Term, Zuffa shall have the exclusive right to promote all of Fighter’s bouts and Fighter shall not participate in or render his services as a professional fighter or in any capacity to any mixed martial art, martial art, boxing, professional wrestling, or any other fighting competition or exhibition, except as otherwise expressly permitted by this Agreement“.

Given his unparalleled financial drawing power for the UFC it is more than unlikely that they would simply let him walk away to compete in boxing.  He would be promptly sued and this is where things get interesting.

Now that McGregor is a licensed professional boxer in the US he enjoys all the protections of the Muhammad Ali Act. If you are unfamiliar with this legislation you can click here for a section by section breakdown of all the protections it grants boxers which MMA fighters do not enjoy.

If McGregor tries to box and is met with a Zuffa lawsuit and injunction application he can try to shield himself with the protections of the Act.  He can argue that he is a professional boxer and his restrictive Zuffa contract violates numerous provisions of the Federal legislation. To the extent that his Zuffa contract seeks to restrict him from earning a living as a professional boxer he may be on to something.  Zuffa would, on the other hand, argue that they do not meet the definition of a professional boxing “promoter” under the legislation and that it does not apply to their McGregor contract.

Will McGregor’s strategy work? Who knows. It’s a long shot. But it is also a potential power play. It is leverage. It is a unique move. McGregor has expressed an interest to take a break from competing until after his first child is born. This may be a perfect opportunity to get litigation underway for judicial interpretation. Interesting times.

Author Erik Magraken is a British Columbia litigation lawyer, combat sports law consultant, founder of the Combat Law Sports Blog, and deeply appreciated UGer.