It was Conor McGregor’s world for a long time. The brash, trash-talking Irishman has made a fortune from the fight game, not just from the UFC but also the mega event known as Mayweather vs. McGregor.
During his rise, the ‘Notorious’ McGregor laid waste to all challengers, and that run culminated in his defeat of long-time featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
In 13 seconds, he shocked the world and knocked out Aldo with a crisp left counter, and set the world ablaze. That could have been the beginning of a long reign at featherweight, but Conor’s eyes seemed to always be on a larger prize: the lightweight title.
It made sense, considering the enormous following he’d built not just in his native Ireland, but all around the world. He never actually defended the featherweight title, and he had a fight set up with then-lightweight king Rafael Dos Anjos.
While that fight with Dos Anjos never materialized due to an injury to the lightweight champ, McGregor decided to push on through with headlining UFC 196, where he ended up facing Nate Diaz in what was dubbed a “welterweight” fight.
The UFC used the fight promotion to talk about how brave McGregor was to jump up by not one, but two divisions to fight Diaz. Let’s be real, the only reason it was at welterweight was so that Diaz didn’t have to cut weight on short notice. Still, Diaz presented himself as a tough opponent, one that was notoriously difficult to finish, and someone who kept coming at you even if you had turned him into a bloody mess.
Thanks to this run of dominance, though, McGregor had the world at his fingers, and you couldn’t be faulted for thinking he’d run right through Diaz. Before UFC 196, Conor had been on 15-0 run which saw him finish everybody except for Max Holloway. In those 14 finishes, he knocked out 13 of his opponents and submitted one.
Well, Diaz came exactly as advertised, and he exposed McGregor’s weak submission defense. Before the fight started, McGregor had already actually lost twice early in his career, and both were via submission. Diaz would add a third defeat and first in the UFC to Conor’s record.
Diaz simply took all of McGregor’s best hits and just kept coming forward, eventually tiring McGregor to the point where he panicked and attempted to take down the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. That didn’t end well.
To his credit, though, McGregor recovered from that and learned to conserve his energy better on the way to a majority decision against Diaz in their rematch. He then followed that up with another iconic win against lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez as he finally completed his goal of being a two-division champ.
The problem, though, is that McGregor never defended the lightweight belt, either. He decided to use the platform he gained from winning his second belt and parlayed it into the boxing match with Mayweather, who toyed with him for 10 rounds before forcing a referee stoppage.
Since his fight with Alvarez in November 2016, McGregor has only fought four times, once in boxing and three times in MMA. His bout with Mayweather took place in 2017, and then his mauling at the hands of Khabib Nurmagomedov happened in October 2018. He then had his comeback fight against Donald Cerrone in January 2020, before the pandemic shut the world down, and lost his bout to Poirier in January of this year.
For all of the hype that’s surrounded McGregor over the years, a look at his recent record is a bit more revealing about where he might truly stand among the sport’s greatest competitors. He’s 3-3 over his last six MMA fights, and 1-2 since he beat Alvarez. Those six fights took place over a period between 2016 to 2021, so he’s been largely inactive. He’s also held two divisions hostage with thanks to inactivity and Dana White’s refusal to strip him or force him to defend, which is ludicrous considering what’s recently happened with Francis Ngannou.
McGregor sells fights and can be an exciting fighter, but he’s clearly been the beneficiary of favoritism from the UFC brass. He was entertaining to watch and his often offensive vitriol in the media was tolerable for most people because he was winning so much.
Losing to Diaz didn’t take away much sheen from him, because that was a short notice change, but the way Nurmagomedov beat the shit out of him before submitting him in the fourth round shattered his invincible aura.
Coming back against Cerrone and knocking him out didn’t really help McGregor’s legacy because ‘Cowboy’ was already on his downward spiral. The loss to Poirier further damaged his credibility because he had so handily defeated Poirier in their first fight in 2014. The big difference was that Poirier never took a year off, whereas McGregor did not have an MMA bout in 2017 or 2019.
McGregor now finds himself in a battle for his image and his legacy, and although he tried to play the nice guy in the leadup to his last two fights, he’s gone back to being the asshole that half the world loves and the other loathes.
To his credit, McGregor bounced back strong after his defeat to Diaz. He certainly is one of the finest strikers to have ever graced the octagon, and when he’s on his A-game, he’s so hard to beat on the feet because of his crisp and fast counter punching.
He lost the last fight because Poirier blasted his leg to oblivion with calf kicks, but it’s not like he was getting completely outclassed in the striking department. He had a few great moments too with some crisp counters and still showed his ability to confuse Poirier with feints and get good hits in.
McGregor has made so much money that monetary gain can’t be what drives him anymore. The question is whether or not he can come into this fight with the same focus that he had before he took over the world. That’s a compelling reason in itself to watch the fight this weekend.