Money, Money, Money: The struggles of maintaining elite sporting status once you enter the rich man’s world

As hard as it is to win a world title, in anything, it is arguably just as hard to retain your title. Not only do you have to maintain the physical and mental performance to stay a cut above your opponents, but you are battling your own motivation as well. The vast majority of champions, in any sport, are single-time world champions. Once you have reached that pinnacle, you have achieved your dreams, you have earned the money; in that sense, there is no reason for you to continue.

There are, of course, exceptions to this. The very nature of there being multiple-time world champions means that some do have the ability to stay hungry for more success once the titles and money comes in. Perhaps some of the strong, modern examples of this are Cristiano Ronaldo and Anthony Joshua.

Ronaldo first won a Balon d’Or aged 23 and most recently aged 32. In this time, he has earned hundreds of millions, recently becoming the first footballer and only third sportsman ever to become a billionaire. It may well be his ever-present rivalry with Lionel Messi that drives him forward, but unless you include Pelé’s made-up goals against small children at his local primary school, he is the most successful goalscorer of all time. Despite his money.

Anthony Joshua was thrust into the limelight after his success at London 2012, since netting an estimated $80m. After his 2019 shock loss to Andy Ruiz in what seems like a lifetime ago, he, unlike Ruiz, who admitted to partying far too much following his payday, knuckled down, won the rematch and is heading into an undisputed heavyweight champion fight with Tyson Fury later this year. We must consider again how easy it would have been for him to give up following that loss, or even just take his foot off the gas – yet he didn’t, he doubled down. Despite his money.

Then we come to Conor McGregor, with as many wins as he has retirements in the last five years. When he retired for the third time, few were under the illusion that this was anything but a money-making scheme. Even the staunchest McGregor fan would’ve been hard pressed to back him to win when he boxed Floyd Mayweather, arguably the greatest ever in his sport (note this is a completely different sport to McGregor’s MMA). But who cares? He earned $30 million in the process of putting in a respectable-ish display. He is likewise aware that a rematch against the retired Khabib Nurmagomedov would result in another sizable payday, hence he has had the audacity to call him out, even after losing his latest fight.

McGregor’s insatiable desire for money seems to trump all common sense, or any desire to actually win, just as long as he gets paid. It is hard to come up with a more obvious example of money and success corrupting one’s motivation than Conor McGregor, but then, think of it this way. When you know you’re getting $5m win or lose, I’m sure most of you would be willing to be kicked in the face.

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Chris Price

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June 2022
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