Conor McGregor had ambitious plans for 2020. Like most of everyone’s big plans last year, they were ruined by the coronavirus pandemic.
Now safe inside the UFC’s Fight Island bubble, the most popular man in combat sports gets back to work to accomplish everything he set out to do when he returned to the sport. fight over a year ago.
“I feel like I’m just getting started, man,” McGregor, 32, said this week. “Everyone’s like, ‘Hey, Conor, you did it all! You are so rich! You are richer than Dana! What are you doing here?’ I want to be here. I want to play for the fans. “
McGregor (22-4) returns to UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi on Sunday for a rematch with Dustin Poirier, another powerful hitter with a flair for dramatic finishes. The winner of the pay-per-view event that airs Saturday night in North America will be one fight away to regain the lightweight titles the two have held in recent years.
UFC 257 is co-titled by title contender lightweight Dan Hooker and Michael Chandler, who makes his UFC debut after a decade promoting rival Bellator.
McGregor now has a hard time conjuring up the flamboyant, talkative character who once made him more famous than anything he had yet achieved in the Octagon. Now financially secure and raising a young family, McGregor still leads a wild life at times, but is dampened by a growing sense of his limited time in the sport – despite his brash statements from youth – and his assessment of his heritage.
“All the money, all the belts, everything that comes and goes,” McGregor said. “You know what’s going on? A fighter’s highlights. Watch Roy Jones Jr.’s highlights, Mike Tyson’s highlights. I’m still watching them today. Ali’s highlights. I want that. my highlights trailer is like a movie. That’s what I’m after. I’m looking to come in and play and put on some amazing highlights that I can sit like an old man with my son, and just look back and just enjoy life.
When McGregor knocked out veteran welterweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in just 40 seconds last January, he looked set for a fierce return to the sport he had largely overlooked over the previous three years. McGregor has spoken of wanting to fight four times in 2020, culminating in another shot against lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The pandemic naturally curtailed those plans, but Nurmagomedov’s retirement after beating Justin Gaethje last fall paved the way for either reclaiming the lightweight belt for either McGregor or Poirier. Both men have already lost to Nurmagomedov, who has sent mixed signals about his likelihood of relinquishing his retirement vow.
Despite falling 15 pounds since his last fight, McGregor looks comfortable and healthy at 155 pounds, where he’s won just one fight in his career, beating Eddie Alvarez in 2016 to become the first fighter in the UFC history to hold two division titles simultaneously.
McGregor and Poirier were even smaller – two rising featherweights – when they met in September 2014 in the third fight at UFC 178. McGregor stopped Poirier at just 1:46 am in the first round, landing a big left hook in the ear that quickly ended the action.
Poirier (26-6) could have been crushed by the loss, especially as he watched McGregor’s rise. Instead, he’s won nine of his next 11 fights, even winning the interim lightweight title for 4.5 months in 2019 with an impressive victory over Max Holloway.
Poirier is among the longest lasting and most successful UFC fighters of his generation, ranking 10th in promotion history with 18 UFC wins and seventh with 11 post-fight bonuses. A fierce striker with a high work pace, he has six knockout wins as a lightweight.
McGregor steps in for UFC 257
“Every fight is a chip on my shoulder,” Poirier said. “I’m trying to prove something. The work I did, I try to make it pay. I’m trying to put my family in a better position, and it’s no different. I know what a win over Conor McGregor means in combat sports, and I know whoever wins this fight is fighting for gold, and that’s why I am fighting. “
Although McGregor and Poirier are both familiar with the promotional tool of performative verbal sparring, they have been model citizens in Abu Dhabi. The two have always been polite to each other and McGregor’s company has even made a generous donation to Poirier’s charitable foundation.
At their final press conference, Poirier laughed at the lack of ferocity between the fighters in the main event of UFC 257, saying it might appear “we’re here giving ourselves back massages.”
“I know we have this competitive fire, and it’s still there,” McGregor added. “There is no denying that. We’re going to have a clash, and it’s going to be a good fight filled with fireworks, but the respect for this man is admirable from me.