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UFC's most popular athlete to retire?

Conor McGregor looks on before fighting Jose Aldo in a featherweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 194, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)UFC Featherweight champion Conor McGregor, 27, announced on Twitter yesterday that he "decided to retire young." As Darren Rovell reports, his statement generated more retweets in two hours than all but eight athletes had in the entirety of 2015. In just over twenty-four hours, it has already passed NBA legend Kobe Bryant's retirement announcement, the most retweeted post of last year.

Most doubt the sincerity of McGregor's intentions, instead pointing to a rumored feud with UFC President Dana White over the fighter's pay. For his part, Dana White appeared on ESPN yesterday to say that the issue was over McGregor's refusal to show up for mandatory press appearances in Las Vegas to promote his rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 200—one of the company's most anticipated events. He has since been removed from the card.

The rematch with Diaz was interesting in part because McGregor would again be fighting outside of his natural 145 pound division, but more so because Diaz beat him on short notice for his first loss since joining the UFC. The first bout took place at 170 pounds to compensate for the short notice, so McGregor retained his belt even after the loss.

The rematch was supposed to headline UFC 200, and still might if the past is any indication of the future. White alluded to a decision to pull Diaz's brother, Nick, from a bout for similar reasons at UFC 137 as precedence for the company's removal of McGregor, but he failed to mention the fact that Diaz still ended up headlining that card after middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre injured his knee leading up to the bout.

Ultimately, most expect McGregor to be back fighting at some point in the near future, with UFC 200 still a distinct possibility. As MMA columnist Dann Stupp tweeted, "It would've taken one [heck] of a press conference to generate the buzz McGregor just did with a simple tweet," so the notion that the feud is more for publicity than a sign of a serious rift has some credence.

It is possible, however, that McGregor's intention to retire could be sincere. He was sitting ringside at a bout just over a week ago where MMA fighter Joao Carvalho died following a knockout loss in Dublin, Ireland. McGregor wrote afterwards "Nobody involved in combat sports of any kind wants to see this. It is such a rare occurrence that I don't know how to take this. I was ringside supporting my teammate, and the fight was so back and forth, that I just can't understand it." He goes on to offer condolences to Joao's family and ask that he be remembered "as a champion, who pursued his dream doing what he loved."

Whether witnessing that fight influenced McGregor's decision or, more likely, his tweet was simply part of an elaborate game of chicken with the UFC in search of a larger payday, the instant response and frenzy his short tweet generated among fight fans demonstrates the power of his appeal and his influence within the sport. And while the response has been a bit overly dramatic, to put it lightly, it also reminds us of the inherent power that comes from wielding such influence.

It seems unlikely that any of us can match McGregor's more than 1.5 million Twitter followers or world-wide audience. However, all of us have influence with the people around us in some form or fashion. Whether it's with family members, friends, or co-workers, how we choose to use that influence can have vast and far-reaching implications that we may never fully understand this side of heaven. God understands though, and that's why he places so much importance on living for his purposes rather than our own (Matthew 5:13–16).

There is no such thing as Christian without influence. The only question is what we will use that influence to accomplish. Will we draw people closer to God or push them farther away? We answer that question with every action we take and every word we speak. What are you doing with your influence today?

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