Conor McGregor might seem untouchable but even he’s not immune to the constant bombardment of criticism he’s faced outside the cage.
As the biggest superstar mixed martial arts has ever known, McGregor always seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders and for a time it seemed like he was more than happy to put the sport on his back en route to becoming the first ever simultaneous two division champion in UFC history.
Following that feat, McGregor engaged in one of the most profitable boxing matches of all time when he faced Floyd Mayweather last year in a fight that reportedly earned him north of $100 million.
Afterwards, McGregor largely faded into the background while focusing on his family life at home in Ireland and rarely engaging in any kind of media. When he did return to the spotlight it was for all the wrong reasons when McGregor attacked a bus filled with fighters ahead of UFC 223 that ended with his arrest in New York back in April.
Now McGregor is finally ready to return to the cage as he prepares to face Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event at UFC 229 on Saturday night but he says the expectations of him have shifted yet again.
When he was on an incredible streak that included two world titles and a pair of pay-per-view performances that set all time UFC records, McGregor was accused of talking too much rather than just going out there and competing. In the lead up to UFC 229, McGregor has now faced criticism for not promoting his fight enough as he’s remained focused on training rather than doing every interview that’s asked of him.
“What do they want? Do they want me here to fight or do they want the comedy roast special?” McGregor said when speaking to the Mac Life in Las Vegas. “That was the situation with this press conference [ahead of UFC 229] and they wanted the world tours and they wanted this and that and I’m a bit confused what you’re asking here. One minute there’s too much talk, there’s not enough action and there’s not enough fighting. Then when it’s fighting, there’s not enough talk.
“With all due respect to everyone, f–k everyone. I’m just here for my own self. This is something in me that I’m just itching to get in there and compete and do what I do best.”
On top of the intense obligations to promote his upcoming fight, McGregor admits that the aftermath from his win over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 rubbed him the wrong way.
McGregor barely had time to celebrate winning two UFC titles before one was stripped away from him so an interim featherweight belt could be introduced to help save a pay-per-view card in shambles.
Then McGregor was stripped of his second world title due to inactivity and frustration eventually turned to rage, which inevitably led him back to the Octagon for his upcoming fight.
“I spent my entire life’s work to win those two UFC world titles,” McGregor said. “I set out a goal. I put everything, absolutely everything, sacrificed so much to gain to win those world titles and then as soon as I win the second world title, I hadn’t even been offered a featherweight contest and the featherweight title was taken off of me and handed back to a man [Jose Aldo] that I had a crazy history with, I traveled the world with, two year build up, he ended up pulling out last minute. When I ended up fighting him, I knocked him out inside 13 seconds and then they give him the belt back as soon as I walk out of the Octagon at Madison Square Garden. Then a month or two, the lightweight belt’s stripped from me also.
“So these kinds of things irritated me, especially seeing what way it goes — who the belts are given to, who are challenging for the belts, who the person who has the belt is facing to get the belt. Many things irritated me in the game and just watching it all unfold, I became a lot more hungry to come back and show who the real king is.”
For all the irritation about media obligations and title belts being stripped that bothered McGregor, the desire to right all those wrongs was more than enough to draw him back into the fray once again.
Now McGregor says he’s more motivated than ever before and pity the man who stands in his way Saturday night.
“I’m certainly itching for a fight,” McGregor said. “It’s good to be back.”