After two retirements, an assault conviction, countless hours of often vile trash talk against opponents and detractors, and several brutal defeats in the octagon, Conor McGregor is somehow on the upswing.
While not the best MMA fighter today, or even during his peak, McGregor is the de facto face of the sport. Fans acknowledged his edgy reputation, dubbing him “The Notorious One.”
But a string of events over the last couple years pushed McGregor’s reputation from boundary-pushing to downright distasteful. Here’s how he hit bottom, how his most recent bout showed a different side to his personality, and what the future holds for MMA’s most fascinating character.
The assault conviction that turned even ardent fans against Conor McGregor
Connor McGregor’s downward spiral truly starts in 2018. He threw a dolly through a bus window in a fit of rage at upcoming opponent Khabib Nurmagomedov, injuring several fighters unrelated to either camp in the process. Several were unable to participate in their scheduled bouts, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of MMA fans around the world.
McGregor’s trash talk in the lead up to the Nurmagomedov fight was on another level, heavily featuring race and religion. It all came to a head after Nurmagomedov demolished McGregor in the ground game at UFC 229. A McGregor sideman insulted Nurmagomedov immediately after the fight, leading to a massive post-fight brawl.
Somehow, that wasn’t the end of McGregor’s antics. He was caught on tape hitting an elderly man at an Irish pub. Even for longtime supporters of The Notorious One, this was a step too far.
The path towards redemption
With his reputation in shambles, Conor McGregor had nowhere to go but up. He took to the task by putting on an uncharacteristically charitable tone towards his next opponent, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
Conor had nothing but respect for Cowboy in all pre-fight promos and interviews. Never before had his style been so calm, collected, and generous.
The bout itself was absurdly one-sided. Cowboy, who was not the favorite but expected to put up a fight, had his nose caved in almost as soon as the bell rang. The decisive victory took only 40 seconds.
McGregor immediately hugged his bloody opponent and praised his character for withstanding such punishment. Everything about the fight, from the lead up to the interviews after, showed an entirely new Conor McGregor.
Will Conor McGregor return to boxing?
With Conor McGregor’s redemption in full swing, and a decent fighter like Cowboy definitively destroyed, McGregor has earned an even bigger headlining, Pay-Per-View event.
One possibility is the much-hyped idea of taking on Manny Pacquiao. This one’s a bit of a dark horse, considering the carnival vibe of his previous foray into boxing against Floyd Mayweather. McGregor taking on one of the best boxers on the planet is, conceptually, something fighting sports fans have already seen.
A Mayweather rematch could be more likely, as far as gimmick events go. Both fighters took enormous paydays the last time around, and while McGregor never seemed to have a chance, he did put on a show.
The rematch factor could make for more hype in the lead up to the fight. Talking up the angle of having seen Mayweather once already could give McGregor the angle needed get mouthy in a fun way.
Is McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov a real possibility?
The serious match most MMA fans want is a second shot at Khabib Nurmagomedov. But is McGregor up to the immense challenge of a rematch?
McGregor kept up in their last bout, but Nurmagomedov’s wrestling was, and is, far ahead of the rest of the field. If McGregor is willing to put in the immense effort to either improve that end of his toolset, or develop new tactics to avoid takedowns, it could be a legitimate rematch worth watching.
Whoever McGregor fights next, it will likely happen on August 15th. That is when the UFC returns to Dublin, and it would be a shock if McGregor wasn’t involved. The last Dublin event provided the UFC with one of their most iconic moments, McGregor’s triumphant 2014 walk-in. UFC president Dana White would be remiss to skip the opportunity for lightning to strike twice.
With McGregor on his best behavior, he has swerved away from the persona non grata status he nearly earned. His destruction of Cowboy Cerrone looks to be just the first step of the final phase of his MMA career.