Love him or hate him, Conor McGregor changed the fight game, but he hasn’t changed much since.
In late 2015 we saw vintage Mystic Mac, rattling Jose Aldo into one of the most surprising results the sport has seen.
Thirteen seconds is all it took for McGregor to snatch the Featherweight strap inside the Octagon, not just at a press conference. It seemed the only way was up for the former plumbing apprentice, and for a short while it was.
McGregor had cleared out the featherweight division and set his eyes on cementing an MMA legacy.
First up, Nate Diaz. The man who accused Mac of ‘stealing everything’ he’d been working for. In a big gamble McGregor agreed to step up to middleweight, 40lbs heavier than the weight at which he’d made his name.
In general he was praised for proving a willingness to exit his comfort zone, and was living up to his billing as a fighter who’d fight anyone, anytime, and now at any weight.
Diaz didn’t care though, and after the dust had settled on some feisty press conferences, and having taken some heavy punishment from the Irishman, a gassed McGregor’s back was presented and expertly taken.
The rear naked choke was sunk in, the tap followed and the UFC saw Mystic Mac forced to take stock for the first time.
What was surprising was how humble McGregor was in defeat. He accepted the loss, demanded a rematch at a more suitable 155lbs, and got to work.
The Featherweight champ was set to avenge the defeat at UFC 200 – but unhappy with the press demands McGregor made it clear he didn’t want to lead the circus, he wanted to train.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 25, 2016
This brings us to retirement number one, or power play number one as the UFC probably saw it.
I have decided to retire young.
Thanks for the cheese.
Catch ya's later.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 19, 2016
I have decided to retire young.
Thanks for the cheese.
Catch ya’s later.
Catch us he did. Following further negotiations and the shambles that was UFC 200 without him, Mac was back in the Octagon for Diaz II on August 20, 2016.
But not before his return was confirmed with further notorious goings on outside the cage.
In running it back he didn’t gas, in fact McGregor would prove his staying power going the distance for the first time since August 2013, and defeating Diaz by majority decision.
History was waiting, and The Notorious was ready for it.
With his arrival in the lightweight division confirmed McGregor had a new goal; become the first fighter to hold two titles simultaneously in the promotion’s history.
Champ champ status was confirmed on a fateful night at Madison Square Garden, November 12, 2016, Eddie Alvarez proved light work for Mac’s standup game.
Get that man his second belt!
And then began McGregor’s second MMA hiatus, he told fans he’d step away again to focus on fatherhood and other ventures.
Confirming the UFC needed him more than he needed it, the Irish fighter went back to his boxing roots, confirming he’d be taking on Floyd Mayweather Junior.
The world tour which preceded the superfight cashed in on Mcgregor’s most valuable assets – his mouth and loyal following.
Floyd lost the verbal sparring, but won the fight at the T-Mobile Arena, August 26, 2017. His record extended to 50-0 with a tenth round TKO.
It was a result which did little to surprise, but boosted McGregor’s bank balance and name far beyond MMA social media echo chambers. If it wasn’t already, Conor McGregor was officially a household name.
Household names don’t get out of bed for free though, and neither does Conor McGregor.
Business investments galore and a whiskey brand to rival the industry’s big players, McGregor wasn’t entering the Octagon again with four-ounce gloves to fight ‘bums’ and ‘also-rans’.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is neither.
— UFC (@ufc) August 3, 2018
Just shy of two years since he made UFC history, the return of ‘The King’ was confirmed.
Oh but not before a few more notorious goings on outside the cage, but this time legal action would follow. What did that bus ever do to you ey?
Back to the fight. I was there. The hype was real, the tension palpable. The result… not a forgone conclusion.
McGregor tapped to a neck crank after Khabib forced the Dubliner into a wrestling match for four rounds. The night was far from done though, and Khabib became the flying eagle diving out of the cage to silence Dillon Danis as all hell broke loose.
There’d be no swift rematch, both fighters would be suspended, and fans would yet again be left to ponder, was that the last time we’ll see Conor McGregor in the UFC?
Well it certainly wasn’t the last fans would see him. The McGregor PR machine rolls on and seems to have set up shop in the US for the foreseeable.
Plugging his whiskey, taking centre stage at NFL games, leading St Patrick’s Day parades, issuing a rousing pre-game speech to the Boston Bruins – pretty much anything but fighting, not in the Octagon at least.
And this is where retirement/hiatus number three has come into effect.
Hey guys quick announcement, I’ve decided to retire from the sport formally known as “Mixed Martial Art” today.
I wish all my old colleagues well going forward in competition.
I now join my former partners on this venture, already in retirement.
Proper Pina Coladas on me fellas!
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) March 26, 2019
Call me a cynic, but I’m not sold, and for good reason.
One we’ve seen it before.
Two, the announcement has followed a string of tweets hyping possible opponents – and while Proper Twelve vs Budweiser was a short lived fantasy, retirement seemed unlikely.
Until last week…
— Mike Pendleton (@MP2310) March 19, 2019
We saw McGregor say, not for the first time, he wants his ‘rightful shares in the UFC company’.
A similar song was sung prior to Diaz II, the UFC wasn’t interested, retirement followed but Mac was back.
The current situation feels like a carbon copy.
The UFC was sold by the Fertitta brothers for the princely sum of $4 Billion US. It was a neat return on the $2 Million investment it took to purchase the promotion in 2000.
McGregor isn’t a mug when it comes to business. He knows his worth, he knows his name on the card puts arses in seats in arenas before fights, let alone during them.
I could be wrong, McGregor really could be hanging up his gloves for good – Dana White knows full well he isn’t the average fighter living pay cheque to pay cheque.
His comments on the retirement seem pretty conclusive.
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) March 26, 2019
White has spoken to journalists saying:
He has the money to retire and his Whiskey is KILLIN it. It totally makes sense. If I was him I’d retire too.
He’s retiring from fighting. Not From working.
In contrast White said of 2016’s retirement that people would have to ask Conor to confirm it – maybe this time is different? Or maybe this time he’s calling the Irishman’s bluff.
So we’ve gone full circle yet again. McGregor makes history, demands more from those who profit from his name.
While we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in Vegas, it seems unlikely the UFC will open the door to talents gaining equity in the company. It feels equally unlikely McGregor would retire on a loss.
What is certain is fans are caught in the middle once more as a tug of war between the company and its most complete star ensues.
If it really is curtains, thanks for the memories Conor – oh, and the billi strut.
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An NCTJ Journalist with an MA in Sports Journalism, Kieron is an experienced social media journalist who has worked in the industry since 2015. His experience includes work with ITN, the MEN, WISH/WIRE/TOWER FM, and 8:50 Sports Digest… not forgetting his time at ASDA.