The last time I saw him was the 18th. January 2020 spoke personally with Conor McGregor.

It was shortly after his 40-second TKO against Donald Cerrone in Las Vegas. We were in his dressing room at the T-Mobile Arena. He was happy, but not too happy. Excited. A little emotion. He seemed to be enjoying the moment more than anything, after all the tension of the past few years.

The only thing that didn’t satisfy him…

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Conor McGregor will return to the Octagon for the first time in a year as part of the main event at UFC 257. The former UFC two-division champion takes on Dustin Poirier in a fight that could determine the next challenger for the lightweight title. This fight is also a rematch of their meeting at UFC 178 in September 2014, where McGregor won by TKO in the first round.

Buy UFC 257 here

CFU 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2
– Saturday 23. January, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
– Main Ticket: 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

In preparation for this fight, Mr. McGregor has repeatedly stated that he wants to fight at least three times in 2020. That’s quite an achievement considering he hasn’t fought three times in a year since 2016.

He wanted to get the light title back. He wanted to regain his status as MMA king. He even wanted to box Manny Pacquiao.

A few days later, still in Las Vegas, McGregor met with UFC President Dana White and former UFC Executive Director Lorenzo Fertitta, who is still a close confidant of McGregor’s, to set his 2020 schedule.

But this timetable – and the grand plans – were abandoned in March when the pandemic broke out.

McGregor, whose 2019 year was marked by legal troubles and retirement, reinvented himself in 2020. He has become a strong supporter of measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic, including the strict isolation of Ireland.

He made videos addressing his Irish compatriots almost like a statesman, urging them to stay home or at least practice social detachment and wear masks.

It has donated millions of dollars in personal protective equipment to local hospitals. He filmed his workouts at home. For the first time in ages, McGregor, who saw many of his loyal Irish supporters turn their backs on him for his transgressions and legal troubles last year, has been a role model.

Then the fights came back, but McGregor didn’t. He was disappointed. He’s retired again. He posted direct messages from UFC President Dana White. His 2020 season ended with the 40 second service.

It was all so frustrating.

Error! The file name is not specified. Conor McGregor is putting the disappointments of 2020 behind him as he prepares to take on Dustin Poirier with a chance to build momentum in the new year. Abaca/Zuma Press/Icon Sports Wire

So when I sat down in front of him Thursday morning, me in New York and him in Dubai, I didn’t know which McGregor I would be talking to as we discussed Saturday’s main event, UFC 257 vs. Dustin Poirier on Battle Island.

I’ve been talking to McGregor since 2013, before he made his UFC debut. I have seen and chronicled the extreme highs and lows of the McGregor era, each performance revealing a different facet of the self-proclaimed face of combat sports.

If I had to guess which way this time, I’d say he’s irritated. Someone who felt like her best year was coming to an end. Someone who feels that they have been ousted from a position of power for no good reason. Someone who also lost weight at 155 pounds for the first time since 2018, which of course would cause some stress.

God, I was wrong.

What I have is a relaxed McGregor. Meek McGregor, who lost his usual perfect posture. He was wearing a new tailored suit – slippers. His kids were running around. His fiancée is in the area.

2 Connected

He was glad to be back. Excited by a training camp that seems to have put him in great shape. And surprisingly, he wasn’t upset at all. That would mean Saturday is uncertain. Is the McGregor, calmer and more disciplined, a better fighter? It was his turn against Cerrone, but Poirier is a marked improvement. McGregor said his side, before losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018, was undisciplined in putting themselves in the best position to succeed.

I had a great year in 2020, I had a great performance, McGregor said. I opened the show, the highest pay-per-view, the highest door, the fastest knockout of the main event, and the extravagant blockbuster that set the UFC on a revolutionary career path. And I’m very happy with it, very proud of it.

Like you said, I was happy, but not too happy. I was ready to move on, and it went wrong. He’s still inside me. I’m always ready. I’ve continued to prepare and come back, and I’m very happy to be back in 2021. Let’s do it again. I’m starting the year, my first paid year. And I’m very excited about it.

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2:04

Conor McGregor says it’s all in the past and he has a good relationship with Dana White. He also credits the way he moved in 2020.

From the start of the interview, it was clear that he didn’t want to repeat last year’s drama. He kept repeating the word positively. He reiterated that he and White, who has butted heads several times publicly and privately in recent years, are in an excellent position, reflecting White’s recent statements.

We’ve probably been in the woods more times than we ever have in 2020, McGregor said. I felt like some of the things that had been done to me were wrong. I must have done something wrong. We relieved ourselves and went back to where we left off, and I’m very happy about that.

I really admire Dana. What he accomplished in 2020, against all odds, is admirable. And, you know, I would have liked to be more involved, but I’m glad I started the year. We did it, and now we are in an excellent position.

McGregor doesn’t even want to point out that this fight isn’t for the title, even though the champion, Nurmagomedov, has said he’s pulling out.

I think it should be for the title, but I’m not surprised or disappointed. The way the year has gone, I don’t think I’d be in the title race right away, you know?

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Conor McGregor

I think it should be the title, but I’m not surprised or disappointed, McGregor said. The way the year has gone, I don’t think I’d be in the title race right away, you know?

I’m glad to be back. And I can’t wait to get in there and compete.

Despite this positive energy, McGregor’s discourse on trash was not far from the surface, especially in regards to Nurmagomedov. For McGregor, it’s important to get revenge for that loss. Against Nurmagomedov, who was on the 24th. October eliminated after his win over Justin Gaethje, he may not be so lucky.

Nurmagomedov, who defeated McGregor at the six. October 2018 reports, lost his father Abdulmanap in July to heart failure complicated by a coronavirus and said he promised his mother that the fight with Gethene would be his last. McGregor acknowledges Nurmagomedov’s marital status and wishes him well, but is unwilling to suspend the rivalry.

I think he’s afraid to fight me, McGregor said. That is absolutely true.

And I don’t blame him. That night I fought with the best of him. He fought the worst of me that night. He knows it, I know it, his team knows it. I have the answer to destroy this man.

But to be honest, I didn’t feel like McGregor wanted to fight any particular guy after Poirier.

He’s been telling us for years that the enemy doesn’t matter. Sometimes I thought so, sometimes not so much. This time? I really believed him.

What I saw at the end was a motivated, calm, cool and composed McGregor.

Error! The file name is not specified. Can McGregor and Nate Diaz put an end to their lightweight trilogy? McGregor loves that idea. AP Photo/Isaac Bracken

Even the idea of an almost empty arena, without the enthusiastic fans who follow him around the world, did not disappoint. In fact, he had hoped the Etihad Arena would be completely empty – there were only 2,000 fans – so the sound of his punches and kicks would have more impact.

I would have liked that, he said. There will be a few thousand fans, but my performance will go on. It looks like no one is in the arena yet.

Last year, before the fight with Cerrone, I noticed McGregor was in a zen state. But it was a hard Zen state, if that makes sense. He had a strong energy. I didn’t feel it this time. I felt pure serenity.

Seven years ago, McGregor had to beat Poirier to be considered a lightweight contender.

He needs to pass him again on Saturday to be considered a lightweight competitor.

There are similarities, but the differences are more pronounced. Mr. McGregor is not involved in the waste discussions that derailed Mr. Poirier’s attention in 2014. Instead, he pledged a donation to the Good Fight Poirier Charitable Foundation.

How could I disrespect Dustin, McGregor asked. One, for [his charity work], and two, for how he handled his last loss, and how he came back, and how he got up and became a champion. To me, it’s adorable, and I’m really looking forward to competing with him.

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1:45

Conor McGregor reveals his strategy in the fight against Dustin Poirier and whether he prefers a long fight to a quick knockout.

And McGregor is not planning what would be a perfect year for him, as he did in our interview last January. It didn’t work very well last time, he said. Let’s just say I need competition, good competition.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about the future. McGregor has talked about wanting to end Nate Diaz’s trilogy, perhaps the lightweight, and Pacquiao’s boxing later this year, and he hasn’t given up hope of revenge from Nurmagomedov. The goal remains to have three or four fights this year.

But it’s the end of the day. While he talked about his next opponent after his win over Cerrone last year, he now faces a different scenario as his fight ends Sunday morning, local time.

When you lose weight, you start craving certain foods, he says. I’m in the mood for American pancakes. So, after the fight, I’m going to have a big plate of American pancakes and real Irish coffee and I’m looking forward to it.

After the turmoil of 2020, it’s probably not a bad idea to set an achievable goal.

 

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