Conor McGregor: Champ Champ to Chump
After announcing his comeback, half of McGregor’s battle will be convincing the public to care.
Conor McGregor achieved more than anyone else in the history of MMA, then set himself on a course to self destruct.
Having claimed the UFC lightweight title in blistering time, Conor McGregor became the biggest draw the sport had ever known. But he had much higher ambitions, and that meant much further to fall.
Desperate to get back on top after being choked out by Nate Diaz, McGregor booked an immediate rematch, again at welterweight. But somehow the loss only made the Irishman more popular. And that popularity only seemed to grow the more McGregor acted up.
Of course, he was only too happy to oblige, and when UFC 202 rolled around interest in the show was at fever pitch. The Notorious One was on a hair trigger, and the people loved every minute of it.
Over five rounds of brutal back and forth battle, McGregor and Diaz tore strips off each other, reaching the final bell with nothing left to give. And in the end the judges awarded it to McGregor - just.
The split decision victory shattered records, outselling the first fight by nearly 300 thousand viewers. And with the fight over, McGregor was happy to make peace and put the pre-fight antics down to passion and pressure. It was one of the last times he showed genuine class:
He’s a class competitor. It’s intense in the buildup and everything is real. If we saw each other in the buildup, if my team saw their team.. Something’s going down and that’s just the way it is. But respect is earned through battle for me and for them.
Conor was the single most popular and highly paid fighter in the UFC once more, and he still had ambitions beyond the normal. Within three months, he was ready to change the course of the UFC forever.
McGregor moved up to lightweight to challenge the division’s new champion - The Underground King Eddie Alvarez - a man not to be fooled with. The former Bellator Champ won the UFC belt with a vicious first round domination of Rafael Dos Anjos - McGregor’s previously scheduled opponent. And he’d been fighting professionally for 13 years.
For the bout McGregor upped his pre-fight game, crushing the promotional circuit, slagging his opponent, talking loud, and getting eyes on the event. In other words, he was taking the heel role to whole new levels.
Against all the odds, McGregor made good on his seemingly impossible word. In front of thousands of chanting Irish fans, McGregor dropped Alvarez three times in the first, showboating all the way before finishing the lightweight champ in the second. And the world waited for his usual post-fight humility:
Listen, I have spent a lot of time slating everybody in the company. Backstage I am starting fights with everybody. I ridiculed everyone on the roster and I just want to say from the bottom of my heart, I would like to take this chance to apologise... to absolutely nobody. The double champ does what the f**k he wants.
Winning belts in two divisions at the same time was an unprecedented achievement in the 25 year history of the UFC, but the respect he had for his opponents and the sport was all but gone.
Lucky for him, the biggest name in another discipline - Floyd Mayweather - the recently retired boxing super heel had been watching, and the five-weight boxing world champion was keen:
Let’s give the fans what they want to see. There’s only one fight out there that’s important. That’s Mayweather and Conor McGregor.
As big an earner as Conor McGregor was in MMA, the megastar boxing champ Floyd Mayweather was the biggest earner in sport - period. Every year he fought he’d out-earned super-celebrities like Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James, sometimes with a single outing.
The fact that Conor had managed to parlay his success into a big enough bait to lure the mega wealthy whale out of retirement was yet another historic achievement in a career already fit to burst with them.
The two super villains went on a four-day, three-country promotional tour, and the world couldn’t get enough. And while Mayweather was his usual arrogant self, it was here that McGregor really started to cross the line from entertaining to just plain crass:
Do something about this polar bear coat I've got on. Someone come up and stop me walking around this place like I own it... don't give a fk how hot it is outside. I'm still wearing this st. Hey, weasel. Tell those f**king Showtime bitches to turn the air conditioning up. The Champ Champ's rocking polar bear tonight.
The fans came out in droves and pay per view services crashed under the demand. The fact that McGregor lost the fight, being soundly outboxed and eventually stopped in the tenth, hardly seemed to matter. Both fighters were happy to celebrate afterwards, each hundreds of millions of dollars richer.
It was the last time we’ve seen McGregor come close to winning.
By now, something had seriously changed in the Irishman. The people’s champ who seemed invincible began acting like he genuinely was, even when all the evidence was pointing to the contrary.
He’s fought just once since Mayweather - a three-round mauling at the hands of the man who claimed the lightweight title in his absence - Khabib Nurmagomedov - and he no longer had the sway to demand an immediate rematch.
Out of the cage, he’s literally spent more time in court than he has competing in the octagon.
In the lead up to the Nurmagomedov fight, McGregor was charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief for attacking a bus, before receiving a six month suspension and a $50,000 fine for his part in a post fight brawl. The only good things about those incidents were that they were at least in some way related to his UFC career.
Since the Mayweather loss, McGregor has also been arrested and charged with strong-arm robbery and criminal mischief, charged with assault for punching an elderly man, and he’s now been under investigation for sexual assault twice.
The one time champ champ who changed the face of the UFC and inspired a nation is acting like the laws of man no longer apply to him, and the world is quite rightly leaving him behind.
The question is no longer how far can he go, but how far can he fall as he looks set to destroy the legacy he’s worked so hard to achieve.
Having announced a comeback, half of McGregor’s battle will be convincing the public to care.