Think back to the start of 2020. No lockdown, no coronavirus, fans at every event and Conor McGregor was returning.
He had set out a plan. Beat Donald Cerrone at UFC 246, step in for the lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov in April since he believed someone would drop out, then fight again later in the year to solidify his legacy. Three fights, one year.
The first third of that came true, when he battered Donal Cerrone with his shoulder and a head kick for the knockout win in just 40 seconds. The second part also came true, as the title fight fell apart due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions meant Khabib couldn’t travel to the USA. However, because of no fans and travel restrictions and the fact he refused to be a back-up anymore it was Justin Gaethje who stepped in for the short-notice fight. Gaethje proceeded to knockout Tony Ferguson and be crowned the interim champ.
After Khabib’s father fell ill with the coronavirus, Dana White announced that the division was essentially on hold until that fight could be made. McGregor decided to retire because of that announcement, stating that he didn’t understand why the UFC couldn’t make a fight between himself and Gaethje in between to set up a showdown with Khabib. The fight has now been made for October 24th, but McGregor hasn’t commented other than to say Khabib will be “s******g his pants” at the idea of Gaethje being across the Octagon from him.
Since that retirement, Conor has largely ignored the MMA world. He’s not commented on fights, he’s not posted (much) training footage, he’s not been calling anyone out.
Tony Ferguson recently commented in an interview that he would be open to fighting McGregor in his comeback fight to get back into title contention, while the new superstar of the 170lbs division Khamzat Chimaev also called him out on Twitter. Following the call outs, Conor tweeted two words – “I accept”.
The MMA world went crazy and Dana White was under the impression that McGregor’s tweet was in direct response to Khamzat Chimaev, although he also stated that he had no interest in making that fight happen any time soon. That same night, McGregor tweeted again. This time it said “tinatanggap ko”, which translates directly to ‘I accept’ in Filipino.
That would, to me, say he was calling out boxing legend Manny Pacquiao which is a fight that has long been rumoured since both were beaten by Floyd Mayweather. Now Dana White has come out and stated publicly that “he guarantees” McGregor won’t fight in 2020.
So if Conor’s year is really over, does he ever return? Or is this just a negotiating position from both sides. White famously told media that Georges St-Pierre didn’t want to return to the UFC just months before officially announcing he’d signed a new contract with the company and would fight Michael Bisping for the middleweight title.
Ferguson also mentioned Dustin Poirier in his callout, so that seems relatively easy to do while Chimaev should be nowhere near a fight like Conor McGregor any time soon despite the momentum he has right now.
McGregor is likely to continue to keep his eye on the divisions, with Jorge Masvidal also an option. But ultimately, McGregor doesn’t need another fight. He achieved everything he wanted except for beating Khabib Nurmagomedov. If that fight never presents itself to him again, it’s hard to see him getting motivated again to get back in the cage with everything he has in life.
At 32 years old he’s still in the prime of his career but the longer he stays inactive the less likely he is to ever return. 2021 could be the make or break year for The Notorious, with the lightweight title picture more clear, Jorge Masvidal’s reputation climbing again or even a potential Nate Diaz trilogy fight. If none of those work out, we may well have already seen the last of the biggest star MMA has ever seen.