Through a combination of swagger and skill, Conor McGregor turned the combat sports world on its head. He became one of the biggest fight stars in the world in a period of roughly two years, during which time he debuted in the UFC, moved up the ranks while dropping memorable quotes and eventually captured UFC gold.
The good times were good for McGregor, but they haven’t all been good times recently for the Irishman.
Fans have been left wondering if McGregor, who announced his retirement in March, is actually done as a fighter.
The first stumble
After rattling off 15 consecutive wins — seven in the UFC Octagon — McGregor was UFC featherweight champ, and set to step up from 145 pounds to 155 for a lightweight title shot against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 196.
Dos Anjos, however, suffered an injury and had to pull out of the bout. That left the UFC scrambling for an opponent to face McGregor.
Former rival Jose Aldo and potentially his best opponent Frankie Edgar were unavailable, so the promotion settled on Nate Diaz. That meant an additional 15 pounds, and the fight taking place at the 170-pound welterweight limit.
The war of words between Diaz and McGregor was sure to be a joy for fans (and it was, as evidenced by the press conference video). The fight itself was expected to be less competitive. Odds for the fight closed with McGregor as high as a -585 favorite.
But fights aren’t fought on paper or at betting windows. Diaz doesn’t know how to roll over either, going blow-for-blow with McGregor in the first round before taking over the fight in the second. He then finished McGregor with a rear-naked choke.
The result was a shock and McGregor had tasted defeat for the first time in the UFC. But he was still featherweight champ and his starpower hadn’t diminished.
Rather than shrink from competition, McGregor would rematch Diaz at UFC 202. He won that very competitive bout before moving to lightweight. There he defeated Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight champion and coin the term “champ champ” for his status as a multi-division champion.
The Alvarez bout was the last time McGregor would score a professional victory.
Boxing and the incidents
Rather than establishing his mixed martial arts legacy, McGregor sought instead to build his overall legacy — and bank account — by switching to boxing. His plan was to take on the top boxer alive, Floyd Mayweather Jr. on August 26, 2017.
After the kind of build-up one might expect from the two men, including McGregor making comments that often drifted toward racism, the fight that played out was predictable.
Mayweather slow-played the early rounds, seeing what his competitor had to offer. Then flipped the switch and dominated with better technique, developed through a lifetime focused on boxing. The fight ended with Mayweather scoring a TKO in Round 10.
In a recent interview, McGregor insisted he’d win a rematch should the two ever meet again. “I believe I would win,” McGregor said. “Actually, there I go again with the fake humbleness — I know I would win.”
McGregor put up a fine effort in the Mayweather fight, but things went off the rails soon thereafter.
First, McGregor attended a November 2017 event held by MMA promotion Bellator to watch a teammate fight. When it appeared his teammate had won, McGregor jumped into the cage to celebrate, only to end up attacking the referee who had not yet declared the fight over. He also slapped a member of the athletic commission as commission members attempted to curtail his antics.
On April 5, 2018, McGregor threw an equipment dolly through the window of a bus. It was carrying several UFC fighters who had attended the media day ahead of UFC 223. The attack was the result of McGregor’s friend Artem Lobov’s altercation with undefeated lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov days before.
Ray Borg and Michael Chiesa sustained injuries from the broken glass, and were forced off their bouts. Chiesa has since filed a lawsuit against McGregor. Charged, McGregor pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct.
McGregor would have his showdown with Nurmagomedov. It would come in the Octagon on October 6, 2018 at UFC 229.
Nurmagomedov was now lightweight champion. McGregor was returning after almost two years without a UFC fight, with eyes on his former crown.
The fight was a lopsided affair. Nurmagomedov dominated before scoring a submission in the fourth round to retain his belt.
Nurmagomedov and his contingent of Dagistani teammates don’t treat trash talk the same way as McGregor. They viewed matters in a much more serious light.
Following his win, Nurmagomedov ran from the cage and leapt through the air, attempting to kick McGregor teammate Dillon Danis.
McGregor attempted to exit the cage only to end up in a brawl with Nurmagomedov’s friends and family. The entire post-fight scene briefly looked like a riot would break out, but was contained to a set of brief scuffles.
McGregor has tried several times to reframe the fight into one he was largely winning. He has insisted he “won” because he landed the final blow of the night when he struck one of Nurmagomedov’s posse.
But he would go on to attack Nurmagomedov on social media this March, including insulting his wife, before deleting the tweet after backlash and insisting he’d see the champ in the octagon.
I want to move forward, with my fans of all faiths and all backgrounds.
All faiths challenge us to be our best selves.
It is one world and one for all ❤️
Now see you in the Octagon.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 4, 2019
Later in the month, he was arrested for strong-armed robbery and criminal mischief after he took a man’s phone and broke it on the ground. The charges were eventually dropped after the victim said he was “made whole” by McGregor.
Then, on March 26, McGregor said he was retired.
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
And that’s it … except
In a recent interview with self-help guru Tony Robbins, the “retired” McGregor said of a potential rematch with Nurmagomedov, “They’re running away, I’m here for the fight.”
He then said he’s “pretty much” retired unless the UFC comes through with the rematch.
Nurmagomedov got the heftier suspension following the post-fight melee, and could get back in the Octagon come July. Interim champ Dustin Poirier, who won the belt against Max Holloway at UFC 236, seems like the obvious choice for a return opponent.
Then again, fighting has always been about money over merit. And there may be no bigger money fight in the UFC than Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov 2.
Retirements don’t stick for fighters anyway.