In three short years Conor McGregor has changed the way MMA and the UFC are perceived both in the mainstream consciousness but also the hard-nosed world of prize fighting.
First appearing in the UFC in the not too distant past of April 2013, the Irishman captured the imagination of not just the sport’s hardcore fans but also, and most importantly, that of UFC president Dana White.
His ability to orate and deliver freshly coined one-liners made him a darling to the media side of the business. Turned out in the finest suits, McGregor was easy to market to the global media masses.
All the while, in the octagon, the man from Crumlin was laying waste to the featherweight division with frightening ease. 18 months before it finally came to pass at UFC 194 last December, McGregor was talking up a fight with long term champion, Jose Aldo.
Plucking the title from Aldo’s unconscious hand a mere 13 seconds into that title clash then saw McGregor embark on a weight hopping adventure that handed him his first UFC defeat, a welterweight clash with Nate Diaz. Redemption swiftly followed in the form of an epic, all questions answered, rematch with the American.
Next up was the destruction of UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and the fulfillment of a promise made by McGregor back in 2013. History was rewritten, ‘The Notorious’ was a simultaneous two-weight champion.
Now on a ten month break from the sport to focus on family and impending fatherhood, the world continues to turn both in and out of the octagon. The UFC has stripped McGregor of his featherweight belt in order to keep the division alive. A title fight between newly promoted champion Aldo and new interim champion Max Holloway at UFC 208 in February will consign McGregor’s exploits in the division to history.
Though he is still in possession of the lightweight belt, you can expect an interim version to appear when Khabib Nurmagomedov takes on Tony Ferguson sometime early next year, potentially at UFC 209, further diluting the 155lb ranks. A title defence will then likely await the champion when he returns late next year.
While away from the octagon, McGregor is certainly keeping busy. Engaged in an ever increasingly bitter spat with boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, news of the Irishman’s non-fighting endeavours continue to swirl through the media headlines.
Set to take up a small role in the ever popular Game of Thrones next year plus repeated links to that more theatrical ‘fighting’ promotion, the WWE, the doors opened by the ‘Conor McGregor’ brand shaped in the octagon, now reveal numerous paths away from the fighting arena.
With fatherhood only around the corner, new priorities arise for the 28-year-old. Financial security was established a long time ago so fighting is no longer needed to pay the bills. Exposure to TV and film offers a new medium for McGregor to explore and thrive.
All these new opportunities and major life changing events present new distractions for the man from Crumlin. When it comes to training and preparing for a fight, there must only be a singular goal, just one objective, with no noise from the outside, no distractions.
The question must now therefore be asked – Are we in fact witnessing the beginning of the end for Conor McGregor : UFC fighter?
Having conquered his world with ease, what legitimate, legacy enhancing challenges remain? While a rematch with Jose Aldo or Max Holloway, a lightweight title defence against Nurmagomedov, Ferguson or even Nate Diaz, all sound as appealing as anyone else McGregor has faced in the UFC to date, the question over his commitment to the sport will be asked until his scheduled hiatus approaches next October.
Perhaps the new adventures in front of the camera or in the WWE, an industry tailor made for his persona, will become the new focus in his life? Maybe he will decide his MMA legacy is complete?
What we do know for sure is the boy from Crumlin can fight. Record breaking, dominant and with a left hand made of lead, Conor McGregor was made for the UFC. His passion for the sport is well known, is commitment has been almost fanatical. Will ten months away dampen that passion or will it inspire it to step on to the next level, if there is indeed another one?
Time away to focus on other endeavours may well serve as a break he did not know he needed. Time away could light a fire in his belly that will see him return better than before.
Dana White and UFC fans will be banking on the latter, on the return of the UFC’s most prized possession and money maker. Perhaps even his UFC rivals will wish for his return. As McGregor himself has said, securing a bout with him will make you rich and famous.
Whatever the next ten months have in store for us, Conor McGregor will continue to cast a long shadow over all things UFC featherweight and lightweight related. All we can do is sit back and wait to see what he decides to do next.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena