- Conor McGregor this week announced his shocking retirement from mixed martial arts, but it surely won’t be long before he returns to the sport.
- The Irishman has had many problems away from the cage of late, including wild behavior at fight events as a spectator, getting arrested two separate times, and an allegation of sexual assault.
- He has also suffered back-to-back defeats, each as humiliating as the other.
- McGregor will not want to end his career as a loser, which is why he’ll likely return to complete his trilogy against Nate Diaz, or contest a rematch against Khabib Nurmagomedov.
- Should he win, he would retire perhaps as he always intended. Not as a loser, but as a king.
Conor McGregor said Tuesday that he was retiring from the fight game, but I don’t believe him for one second.
The Irish striker took the mixed martial arts world by storm, pulverizing opponents at will in Europe’s premier combat sports promotion Cage Warriors before bruising and battering the UFC’s best featherweights.
The beauty of mixed martial arts is its unpredictable nature. While it is possible to navigate a way through boxing while retaining an undefeated record, often accumulating more than 20 wins in a row, there are more ways to lose in MMA, more styles of fighting to defend oneself against, and it is nigh impossible to avoid fighting the best.
Once you get to the UFC, the tough fights come thick and fast, but when McGregor left Cage Warriors as a two-weight champion, he put together a seven-fight winning run against the best 145-pound fighters the UFC had to offer.
He out-pointed the current featherweight champion, Max Holloway, in 2013, out-witted the elite wrestler Chad Mendes in 2015, and shocked the sport with a jaw-dropping 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo – a champion who had reigned supreme for six years, and was unbeaten in 10.
McGregor made a grueling ascent to the summit of mixed martial arts look easy with a blistering, hard-punching style often punctuated with a straight right, fight-ending thud. His highlight reel contains hadouken KOs aplenty, which makes for unmissable TV.
As the years went on he enjoyed a wildly entertaining blood-and-guts rivalry with jiujitsu expert Nate Diaz, and transcended his sport because of his charisma, crude mouth, and fancy dress sense.
Who can forget the verbal slapping he gave Jeremy Stephens when the American dared to interrupt him at a UFC 205 press conference in 2016? “Who the f— is dat guy?” McGregor said while wearing an immaculately tailored suit. “Who the f— is dat?”
He then told lightweight rival Eddie Alvarez that he’d beat him, take his UFC belt, and then drag Floyd Mayweather out of retirement for a crossover fight in boxing, something people will have laughed about at the time but all of which ended up happening. They don’t call him “Mystic Mac” for nothing.
McGregor clowned Alvarez with his hands behind his back, much to the delight of the raucous Irish fans at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2016. He used an intuitive takedown defence between throwing distance-measuring jabs of his own, kicks to his opponent’s chest and head, and hurtful soul-destroying punches that cannoned into Alvarez’s face.
It took McGregor two rounds to conclusively beat Alvarez, leaving the decorated fighter in an awkward heap on the floor with a merciless four punch combination. He then rushed to the deck and pounded him on the ground before the referee John McCarthy called the fight off for good. McGregor was crowned king in two weight classes simultaneously, a first in UFC history.
That was peak McGregor.
But then it all went downhill – fast.
McGregor has had countless problems away from the cage
McGregor stormed a Bellator cage to celebrate his Straight Blast Gym teammate Charlie Ward’s victory over John Redmond, but ended up shoving a referee and arguing with security in 2017.
In 2018 he was seen on video throwing a metal dolly at the window of a UFC bus carrying athletes, an act that injured two fighters on board and led to his arrest by the New York police. He was also told to take anger-management classes.
But this failed to rein in his behavior. Earlier this month a police report in Florida said he threw a fan’s phone on the floor, stomped on it, and walked away with it. He was arrested and charged for strong-armed robbery.
Most recently, on Tuesday, The New York Times reported that he was being investigated by Irish police over a sexual-assault allegation.
He’s had problems in the cage, too
McGregor looked out of his depth against Mayweather in 2017, a bout Business Insider dubbed a circus at the time.
And then he was dropped and stopped with a fourth-round neck crank when he attempted to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov as UFC’s lightweight champion last year. After the loss, Nurmagomedov mounted the fence and charged at McGregor’s cageside friend Dillon Danis.
While that was going on, members of Nurmagomedov’s team invaded the Octagon and were seen brawling with McGregor. The Irishman was slapped with a six-month ban for the role he played in the post-fight riots, and is free to fight again only from April 6.
McGregor is far removed from when he was at the top of the sport. He is vulnerable, flawed, and beatable because he has failed to evolve a one-dimensional fight style that worked wonders at featherweight but that has been found lacking at lightweight.
Even minority UFC owner Sylvester Stallone said the company’s biggest star has been “publicly humiliated.”
Only McGregor, his inner circle, and maybe the UFC will know the precise reasons for McGregor’s retirement, but he has made a similar announcement before.
Almost three years ago to the day, McGregor tweeted: “I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese. Catch ya’s later.”
I have decided to retire young.
Thanks for the cheese.
Catch ya's later.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 19, 2016
The Guardian reported at the time that McGregor’s statement could have been “standard fight-game theatrics” or “an act of protest to extract a better deal from the promoter.”
Regardless of whether there was a dispute over pay, McGregor’s first retirement proved to be short-lived as he returned to the octagon four months later when he avenged his defeat to Nate Diaz by outpointing him in August.
There is also almost certainly a disagreement over fighter worth right now. McGregor, after all, wants an equity stake in the UFC, something he has lobbied for regularly over the years in 2016, 2017, and, more recently, in 2019.
Speaking to TMZ Sports this month, the UFC boss Dana White confirmed that McGregor felt like he “should own a piece of the company.” White said he told McGregor it’s “never gonna happen.”
McGregor may well be following the famed Mayweather playbook of turning a comeback into a business.
Weeks later, McGregor tweeted his retirement, and here we are, in limbo when there are multiple PPV-worthy bouts for McGregor, but with a McGregor who says he will no longer fight.
But I think he wants to fight.
He may be following the famed Mayweather playbook of turning a comeback into a business. Mayweather, of course, retired in 2007, only to later sign a record six-fight deal with the major American broadcaster Showtime that had the potential to make him “the richest individual athlete deal in all of sports,” as reported at the time by The Guardian.
Mayweather also retired at the end of that deal in 2015, only to come back for a crossover bout against McGregor himself in one of the most commercially successful combat-sports events in history.
The Telegraph’s fight expert Gareth A. Davies told talkSPORT earlier this week that every time Mayweather came back from retirement “he was even bigger than ever” and added “McGregor could be doing that.”
Right now, McGregor has bowed out of the sport having suffered heavy back-to-back defeats. McGregor looked out of his depth in a boxing ring against Mayweather in 2017, and he was completely outclassed by Nurmagomedov in 2018. He has not won a fight for two years and three months, since 2016.
But this is precisely why he will likely return to the sport and to the UFC. He has a point to prove. He has a belt to reclaim. And there are big-money fights out there for him, made even bigger now because of his retirement statement.
A trilogy against Diaz and a rematch against Nurmagomedov are box-office fights. McGregor’s previous battles with them are some of the company’s biggest combat-sports events of all time, and should he win any comeback, then he returns to the summit of MMA and can retire from the sport perhaps as he always intended. Not as a loser, but as its king.