SPORTS

Conor McGregor can help UFC grow even more, says Brad Pickett

British bantamweight Brad Pickett will walk away from UFC with “bittersweet” emotions but full of belief that Conor McGregor will lift mixed martial arts to new heights.

Pickett is preparing for his farewell in the UFC Fight Night 107 event at London’s O2 Arena on March 18, saying he owes it to friends and family to retire at the right time.

Pickett, whose 25-13 win-loss career record includes five victories in 13 UFC fights, will mark his farewell to the sport by taking on Mexican Henry Briones.

The 38-year-old has become a key figure in British MMA and is one of the pioneers of the sport alongside the likes of UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping.

Many have likened Irishman McGregor’s impact to that of retired boxer Floyd Mayweather, and Pickett thinks his sport will only benefit from the Dubliner’s exploits in and outside the cage.

He said: “It’s not what he can do; it’s what he’s done for the sport. He’s helped the sport grow massively over the past two years and there’s only a few characters out there who have attracted an audience outside of its initial fan base, and Conor McGregor has managed to do that.

“I think he’s great for the sport. So as long he’s still around and still fighting, then he will help the sport grow even more.”

Pickett believes mixed martial arts (MMA) has overtaken boxing as the world’s premier combat sport.

He added: “To be honest, I think MMA is the No. 1 combat sport in the world and has surpassed boxing.

“It’s more of a spectator’s sport. The thing that goes wrong in boxing is the best guys in the world don’t fight each other. The WBO, WBA, WBC — there’s so many different champions, whereas if you want to see the best [MMA] fighters in the world fight, you watch the UFC.”

Pickett admitted the punishing training schedule needed to be a UFC fighter is becoming too much for his body.

He added: “It’s a bittersweet feeling [to retire]. I love what I do, but it’s a tough job now for my age; it’s hard.

“The training, it’s hard on my body and sometimes it becomes like a job, where I owe it to myself, my friends, my family to hang up my gloves, even though I want to fight until I’m dead. But obviously that’s not the case, so I need to concentrate on other things.”