Love him or loathe him, Conor McGregor is one of the most revered sportsmen of recent times. Capturing the world’s attention with foul-mouthed outbursts, insatiable one-liners and perfect comedic timing, his unique and riveting brand of entertainment is and has been like no other in the past ten years.
Saturday night marks his return to the Octagon for his trilogy match-up with long-time foe Dustin Poirier; the two met first in 2014 when McGregor won via TKO and again in January, with the American claiming victory by the same method in the second round.
This one’s to settle it; both men are 32 now and are seasoned veterans by comparison to some names on the UFC at the moment. It’s a fight that many are still incredibly eager to see; no doubt, Conor’s mass appeal will mean millions still tune in, from the die-hards to the casuals who only know him by name.
But with age in mind, and with Conor’s recent record under some scrutiny, there’s perhaps another element of interest added to the mix for many fans of fighting.
Conor’s never been the ultimate UFC fighter. He’s been the money man, the fighter people tune in for, but he’s never been the greatest. He doesn’t hold an unblemished record like Khabib. He’s never been regarded as the greatest striker in the competiton (albeit, he is one of them). And all of that combined has meant that people have never been certain that Conor wins this fight or that fight. That’s what makes it interesting, in some ways. It’s not a guaranteed victory for him whoever he faces, despite his stature and grandeur.
But with this fight, that point might be more relevant than ever. As we mentioned, Conor’s 32 now. His focuses seem to be elsewhere. Heck, he’s retired from the UFC at least twice in the past before announcing his return. But he’s got three children now, a whisky company and a lot of other business going on. He’s also only fought five times in the past five years. Is that the mark of a fighter who wants to continue to prove he’s the best in the business? Or a fighter who’s shown all he needs to show?
In addition to all this, Conor these days is definitely not the viral star he once was either. While he still lives it large on Instagram, posting regularly to his 40 million followers and showing off his lavish lifestyle, fans notice he’s not in the news as much, he’s not the headline any more. For a lot of fans, their attentions may have turned to Francis Ngannou or Israel Adesanya rather than keeping tracks on the lesser-spotted McGregor.
He still indulges in his fair share of trash talk, mind.
The UFC 264 press conference and recent interviews have been laden with insults from the Notorious, targeted at his American opponent.
He still talks like the best, walks like the best. He still acts, on the whole, like the McGregor of old.
But many think the recent endeavours, the likes of which have struggled to make it as clips to millions on Twitter or YouTube like they once did, are now part of a charade of showmanship; an engineered attempt from McGregor to live up to the poster boy character that once adorned the walls of UFC fans all over the world. The insults lack conviction; the trash talk lacks venom.
And that’s why some people think a defeat in this fight might be the actual end for the Irishman.
Their opinions on his doctored self-confidence may actually be leading their opinions on which way the fight’s going to go – if Conor’s not 100% focused, there’s a big chance he’ll lose.
And if he does lose, it’ll be his third loss in four fights – and will leave his record since 2016 at 3-4.
Some people genuinely think that if Poirier beats McGregor, he might even hang up his gloves in the ring. Odds vary on the victor, and of course Conor won’t be setting out to lose. But Poirier’s power and recent form have many championing him.
Funnily enough, it’s McGregor who’s been quoted as saying that Saturday night’s fight will be the ‘end of the road’ for his opponent. But could it be the other way round? With passions elsewhere now other than the fight game, could McGregor call time on an illustrious career?
Conor’s love for the sport, adoration for the game, and his personality in general encompasses what the sport is all about. But he’s been the double champ. He’s said his piece. He’s landed the record knockout. Has he done all he wants to do?