• Joe Wilhelm

A Notorious Comeback

The stage was set last October during an electrifying press conference. Conor McGregor proclaimed his return to the UFC would be slated for January 18th, 2020, at UFC 246. At the time, McGregor did not release the name of his opponent, but as the event drew nearer, it would be announced that his opponent would be veteran fighter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at 170 pounds in the UFC’s welterweight division. As predicted by sports media, the return of the polarizing McGregor, drew massive support, as well as harsh criticism from the public. Many wondered if he could return to his MMA successes of years prior. For those not well versed in the world of combat sports, it was unprecedented to have a UFC fighter hold two belts at the same time. McGregor’s remarkable resume brought him attention not only in the world of fighting, but the sports world as a whole. It is quite obvious that McGregor is no ordinary fighter, he captured the interim featherweight championship belt, featherweight championship belt, and lightweight championship belt in under a year and a half, adding a victory against Nate Diaz at welterweight in that time as well.

McGregor had stormed into the UFC and taken it over. He brought it to new levels of popularity. There had been MMA personalities and fighters that had reached the mainstream media before, such as Chuck Liddell, but none to the extent of McGregor. He was brash, confident, cocky, and the type of “In-your-face” athlete that the public just couldn’t take their eyes off of. Undoubtedly, the Irishman had star power, and UFC owner and President Dana White knew it. McGregor began his UFC career by knocking out Marcus Brimage, earning him the award for Knockout of the Night. In his twelve fights in the UFC, he has won the Performance of the Night award in seven of them. He ushered in a significant moment in UFC history, he knocked out the longtime featherweight king Jose Aldo in just thirteen seconds. “Mystic Mac“ was everything the UFC wanted and needed to truly be propelled into the mainstream.

After his victory over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 on November 12th, 2016, McGregor became the UFC’s first simultaneous two-weight champion. However, this was not enough for him and he set his eyes on boxing. A bout with one of the greatest of all time, the undefeated Floyd Mayweather, pushed McGregor to superstardom. It was one of the most anticipated events in combat sports history. Preempted by a press conference world tour, the fight occurred on August 26th, 2017, and drew an estimated 5,174,000 pay-per-view purchases. McGregor would lose the match in the 10th round by TKO, but his paycheck would certainly not be considered a loss by any means. McGregor was guaranteed $30 million, but his estimated payout was reportedly $85 million after all was said and done.

In the months following, there was much speculation regarding what McGregor would do next. Already criticized for the fact that he never defended his two championship belts, McGregor would be stripped of his lightweight title in April of 2018. It was also during this time that a string of controversies would surround McGregor. The first of which was an incident where McGregor and his posse attacked a bus that was occupied by now lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in the Barclays Center’s garage. In its wake were numerous criminal charges that were filed against McGregor. It was announced later in the same year that the two would fight on October 6th, 2018 at UFC 229 for the UFC Lightweight Championship.

At the press conferences leading up to the event, many noted that McGregor seemed almost unhinged or possibly intoxicated, as his antics and trash talk seemed to cross a line he that hadn’t previously. The bad blood between the two was evident. At UFC 229, McGregor would lose via submission due to a neck crank in the fourth round. In the moments following the fight, Nurmagomedov jumped out of the octagon towards McGregor’s training partner, Dillon Dannis. An almost unprecedented brawl ensued, involving multiple members from both fighters’ teams, and Khabib’s cousin, Abubakar. The incident would result in punishment to both Nurmagomedov and McGregor from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. In March 2019, McGregor was again arrested following an incident in Miami Beach, Florida, where he allegedly took and smashed a man’s cell phone. Later that year in August, an incident where McGregor was caught on camera punching a man at the Marble Arch Pub in Dublin, Ireland resulted in an assault charge and a monetary fine. It was clear to many that the recent legal issues and personal problems seemed to be a significant setback for the Irishman, with the loss to Khabib being indicative of his decline.

With the recent accumulating issues in McGregor’s personal life, many thought that he was done. The announcement of a fight at UFC 246 brought mixed feelings throughout the MMA world. There was a sense of apprehension around the event. How was Conor going to look? Was this the right opponent for him, and at the right weight? Was the man really, truly back?

Saturday night, January 18th, may have provided the answers to those questions for both his skeptics and fans alike. McGregor was as confident as ever, but humble and respectful of his opponent throughout the weigh-ins, and remained the same during the press conferences. This was a new version of Conor that had not yet been seen leading up to a fight. It proved to be representative of the focus that McGregor had leading up to the bout. Proof of that focus was demonstrated in the forty seconds needed to defeat the famed Cowboy Cerrone by TKO. After a barrage of shoulder strikes while in the clinch with Cerrone, McGregor would land a strong head kick directly to his opponent’s jaw, stunning him. After a flurry of strikes, followed by vicious ground-and-pound punching, referee Herb Dean stopped the fight. “The Notorious Conor McGregor” was back in the win column.

In the hours and days after the fight, speculation has run rampant about McGregor’s next opponent. Opponents ranging from Jorge Masvidal to Nate Diaz, Jose Aldo to Kamaru Usman, and even a rematch with Khabib, as suggested by Dana White, have been circulating throughout sports media and social media. McGregor proclaimed in his post-fight interview that “any of these mouthy fools can get it.”

The source of his newfound vigor can be seen within an interview with Canadian MMA journalist Ariel Helwani, where Conor talked about his mental state leading up to UFC 229. He stated that drinking and ultimately “not living the life I should’ve been living” lead to his downfall. But despite his many setbacks, it seems that McGregor is in a much better place this time around. His respect to Cerrone, composure in the Octagon, and his stunning victory was evidence of this. The future is currently undecided for him, with many roads available for the fighter, but one thing is certain: Conor McGregor is back, and he has his eyes on winning.

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