The Return of the Mac: How did we get here and what happens next?

Conor McGregor is truly an enigma in the sport of MMA. He has always carried an air of mystic aspirations through his belief in something as simple as everyone else on earth, a dream. Under the mounting pressure through the years it fueled him, as he has continued to follow through with a cryptic, calculated sorcery in the cage. Conor captivated us all with his rise, he was a fighter from nowhere, with nothing, working an ordinary job like any of us, to becoming the biggest star the sport of MMA has ever and possibly will ever see. Those 5 years from 2012-2017 were a whirlwind, it seemed like every day Conor was climbing that ladder to greatness, only to then reestablish what greatness was rung by rung. He rose the ranks, creating magic with every walk to the cage. 

Conor is the king of calling his shot Babe Ruth style and knocking it out, literally… He captured the featherweight and lightweight titles, created one of the most entertaining rivalries MMA had ever seen with Nate Diaz, oh and boxed arguably the greatest boxer to ever live Floyd Mayweather for 10 rounds (and won 4 to 5 of those rounds in my opinion).

He created and million-dollar whiskey company and started a clothing line and with his massive following and influence everything he touched; the fans called gold. Even me writing this right now, it doesn’t seem real for any person to all these things. It sounds like a self-serving director in Hollywood pitching the blandest Rocky Style movie about himself and instead of giving the lead character any faults or struggles to overcome, he just keeps winning and achieving. But just like a movie plot, when you get to the top, the only place to go is down. As Fall of 2017 approached so came the fall of Conor McGregor. Fresh off a 100-million-dollar payday from the Mayweather boxing match, Conor to his own admission, began to change his habits. It was more than the classic Marvin Hagler quote, “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5am when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas.” 

Yes, he had achieved it all and then some, more than anyone could have ever imagined, but he wasn’t acting like a fighter satisfied with his work and ready to move on with his life. He was acting like an angry fighter without a fight. 

From 2017- 2018 Conor would go through a string of legal battles. The icing on the cake was a mega matchup with a now hated foe Khabib Nurmagomedov for UFC 229. The buildup was personal, dark, and almost disturbing the way McGregor spoke of his opponent. The anger and vengeance almost spewed from his voice in the tirade filled press conferences. Looking back the fight itself reflected all of Conor’s transgressions in the time between the Mayweather fight and late 2018. Mcgregor was flat footed, almost disrespectfully approaching the 27-0 Nurmagomedov, believing his fight IQ and skill to be superior to the lightweight champion. And for that he paid, as Nurmagomedov forced a tap out of Conor in the 4th round, damn near breaking Mcgregor’s jaw.

It was an ugly end to the night but felt like an even more ugly rivalry was created. Fans turned on McGregor, the memes were created, he was now tapper, a delinquent, an embarrassment in some cases even in his home country of Ireland. In the coming days, weeks, months, and year, little was known about the future of Conor Mcgregor and if he would ever fight again.

Conor then had two choices, lay in the bed he made himself and be remembered like so many other of the greatest fighters that had everything, only to throw it away, lose their fans, lose their fights, and ultimately lose themselves. Or he could turn it around and find what it was that lead him to the top of the sport in the first place. Conor chose the latter, he started to collect himself. Little by little and mostly out of the public eye, outside of the tweets about potential fights or opponents from 2018-2019, he quietly started to get back to his roots. He began by reuniting with his first love in combat sports, boxing, at his first training gym Crumlin Boxing in Dublin.

On Dec 20, 2019 a fight was announced, Conor Mcgregor vs Cowboy Cerrone, interestingly enough at 170 pounds. The fight was to take place on January 18th, 2020 in Las Vegas. The talk began.. Why is this fight at 170? Donald is a layup and a gift from the UFC for Conor to come back to. Donald is going to head kick Conor and KO him after Conor gasses like he always does. Everyone had an opinion, but no one would have predicted what we actually got. 

McGregor came into fight week a quiet, confident, relaxed and respectful athlete, ready to just showcase his skills. And of the many shades we’d seen of Conor this was a new one. As the fight drew closer you thought sure Conor would start to play his classic mind games with Donald. One quote Conor had summed it up perfectly. When asked about the relationship between he and Cowboy and if there would be any trash talk or any bad blood he said, “Although there will be blood spilled, it will not be bad blood.”

This was a new Conor, at least from his words and the respect he showed his opponent and future UFC Hall of Famer. This was a new page in the story of Conor Mcgregor, one in more of a centered measured approach. He is driven not by money as maybe he was in the past. The man is flat out set for life financially, but you saw a man driven by the passion he has for fighting, by competition and aspiration for greatness that seems impossible.

As inspiring as this Conor McGregor was to see, it wouldn’t matter in the least bit, unless, as he said he spilled Cowboy’s blood and walked out of this main event as the winner. 

As the finale of UFC 246 came and it was time for our headliners, you almost had to wipe your eyes and blink a few times. It didn’t seem real that he was back. Then the now famous combination of Foggy Dew and Notorious played over the loudspeaker and a kid from Dublin, Ireland made his way to his second home, the 30-foot octagon where he became a made man.

Gone were the moments of trash talk or “Billionare Strut” from McGregor’s entrance, replaced by a soaking in of the moment from the sold-out attendance at T-Mobile arena.

The fight was just as bizarre as the fight week lead up. Conor was excited, and he showed that right way. He blitzed across the cage and blasts a left straight to which Cowboy ducks under. The smallest detail in what happens next spells the beginning of the end for Cowboy.

The combined momentum of both men’s forward motion meets with Conor’s thigh driving into the side of Cowboy’s head. This is a little seen but devastating first shot that hurts Cowboy. From there Conor utilizes his shorter height in a clinch by changing his level to become even shorter, only to explode upward with unorthodox but wildly effective shoulder tried that shock an already disoriented Cowboy Cerrone and break his nose.

Cowboy tries to disengage and create space by using what many thought would be his victory weapon, a head kick, only to have it blocked by a now lion hunting his prey in Mcgregor. He stalks forward and returns Cowboy’s kick with his own head kick and lands it clean, sending Cowboy stumbling back into the fence. McGregor Follows up with ground and pound and finishes the fight to a huge explosion of applause in 40 seconds. 

A decisive and impressive win after the many questions surrounding Conor and if he would be as effective after the time off and his newfound respectful prefight demeanor. The crowd, nation, and world finally witnessed the return of the fighter that swept us off our feet all those years ago, after we never knew if we ever would again. 

This sport moves at light speed, so naturally after his amazing performance the big question is what’s next for Conor McGregor? He has expressed interest in fighting everyone from a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov, to fighting arguably the other most popular fighter in the sport right now and the BMF Champion Jorge Masvidal, to fighting the welterweight king Kamaru Usman.

His options are endless, as is the case when you are the most important fighter in the UFC. While business is always great when Conor is back, this night, his performance, all of it felt like a big step for the redemption arc. It felt right to believe in him again, the magic is back.. and so is the Mac. He showed us all Saturday night he still has much left in the tank and endless options to fill out the next page in his story. And in the wise words of uncle Chael himself, let’s see just how good Conor McGregor is.

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