Conor McGregor was once seen as one of the greatest fighters on the planet. But after his loss to Dustin Poirier at UFC 257, can he regain the magic that saw him shoot to the top of the UFC?
Unfortunately for fans of the Notorious One, the likely answer is no. The Conor McGregor that lit up the UFC after he arrived in 2013 is probably gone for good. On that note, let's have a look at five reasons why the old Conor McGregor doesn’t exist anymore.
#1 Conor McGregor is no longer a young and hungry fighter
The story of the classic movie Rocky III is well known by fans of combat sports.
In the movie, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa achieved his dreams by becoming the world heavyweight champion, only to become complacent once at the top of the mountain. Famously, Mr T’s Clubber Lang brought Rocky down to earth with a bump, forcing him to go back to basics to win his title back.
Unfortunately, while the Rocky character succeeded in his redemption arc, real life isn’t usually so forgiving.
It’s easy to see parallels between the Rocky Balboa character and Conor McGregor. The Irishman started at the bottom of the UFC and worked his way to the top, eventually winning both the UFC featherweight and lightweight titles.
But those wins came half a decade ago, and McGregor is no longer the young and hungry fighter he once was. Where the Notorious One once dreamed of derailing UFC legends like Jose Aldo and Eddie Alvarez, he’s now a legend with a target on his back.
And unlike Rocky, there’s no metaphorical 'eye of the tiger' for McGregor to regain. In real life, once a fighter loses that hunger – particularly in the unforgiving world of the UFC – it’s basically impossible to get that back.
#2 Conor McGregor has made more money than he could possibly dream of
Part of the reason that Conor McGregor has likely lost the hunger that got him to the top of the UFC is that he’s made more money than he probably would ever have dreamed of through fighting.
McGregor once lived off welfare cheques when he was back in his home country of Ireland. But since reaching the top of the UFC, every time he’s fought, he’s made millions of dollars.
The Notorious One reportedly made around $5 million for his fight with Dustin Poirier in January. He likely made much more than that when his cut of the UFC’s pay-per-view revenue was included.
For his 2017 clash with boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, McGregor reportedly banked around $130 million. And in fact, the Notorious One was named the world’s highest-earning athlete for 2020, having made a total of $180 million despite only fighting in the UFC once.
Essentially, McGregor has made more money than he likely knows what to do with. He’ll never need to bite, claw and scratch for every penny he can get again, and neither will his family.
The Notorious One is a made man. So is it any surprise that he can’t fire himself up for a fight against someone wanting to take money off his table like he once could?
#3 Conor McGregor has spent too long away from the UFC
Perhaps the most frustrating possibility for fans of Conor McGregor is the idea that he might’ve wasted his fighting prime by not actually fighting in the UFC.
McGregor’s best year inside the UFC was arguably in 2016. That year saw him defeat Nate Diaz in a classic fight before he unseated Eddie Alvarez for the UFC lightweight crown in probably his greatest-ever performance.
At the time, the Notorious One was 28 years old and in his athletic prime. Anything seemed possible for him. Unfortunately, the Irishman then chose to pursue his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather rather than continue competing in the UFC.
By the time he stepped back into the octagon, two years had passed since the Alvarez fight, and Conor McGregor looked rusty in his defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov. Following that loss, another 15 months passed before McGregor fought in the UFC again.
The Notorious One still isn’t old for a UFC fighter – he turns 33 next month. But even so, it’s hard to get away from the idea that he’s probably past his athletic prime at this point and has spent too long away from the UFC to remain sharp enough to compete at the top level in the promotion.
UFC 264 will mark McGregor’s second fight of 2021, but even that won’t be enough to get him as sharp as he was half a decade ago.
#4 Conor McGregor's aura was destroyed by Khabib Nurmagomedov, and he has never recovered from that
When he arrived in the UFC, Conor McGregor had two losses to his name. But after a handful of fights inside the octagon, he had built an aura of invincibility like few others had before him.
McGregor’s wins over Dustin Poirier, Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo made him one of the UFC’s most feared fighters. And even his loss to Nate Diaz didn’t fully destroy that aura, largely because the Irishman immediately avenged the defeat just a few months later. However, any idea that McGregor was invincible was cruelly shattered by Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229.
Nurmagomedov basically destroyed the Notorious One in one-sided fashion, beating him up on the feet and on the ground en route to a fourth-round submission. The Russian didn’t just make McGregor look human, as Diaz had. He made him look like a rank amateur.
Despite defeating Donald Cerrone in his next fight, McGregor has never truly regained the aura that made him so dangerous in his initial surge through the UFC ranks.
McGregor is still the UFC’s biggest-drawing star, but for other fighters, he’s now on the same level as them. Once a fighter loses that aura of invincibility, they never get it back – and that is looking like the case for Conor McGregor.
#5 Conor McGregor has become too boxing-focused to succeed in the UFC
Ever since his UFC debut in 2013, Conor McGregor has been renowned for the knockout power of his punches. In fact, of his ten UFC wins, six of them have come via KO, thanks to those heavy hands.
But to label McGregor nothing more than a power puncher – at least in his initial run in the UFC – would be wildly unfair. The Notorious One was a fantastic fighter in general on his feet, using his kicks to set up his punches and vice versa.
If anything, at times, McGregor’s striking style resembled fighters inspired by traditional martial arts – the likes of Lyoto Machida and Stephen Thompson – more than a boxing-based fighter.
However, since his foray into the squared circle in 2017, McGregor seems to have become more and more focused on his boxing game. Against Dustin Poirier at UFC 257, Conor McGregor looked much like a one-dimensional puncher and fell victim to Poirier’s low kicks before succumbing to a second-round KO.
Could McGregor go back to his old style? It’s possible, but based on other fighters who fell into a similar trap in the past – Rampage Jackson for instance – it seems doubtful.
And if he can’t regain that old, flashier style, then the Conor McGregor that fans fell in love with half a decade ago is almost certainly gone for good.