UFC 246: Conor McGregor vs Donald Cowboy Cerrone, Mystic Mac’s greatest challenge
Conor McGregor has one mission this week, and it’s bigger than beating Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 246 on Sunday – he must remind us all who he used to be.
Remember the old Conor McGregor? The ascendant Conor McGregor? The Conor McGregor who made promises and predictions that sounded foolish until he made them come true?
Remember 13 seconds? Remember the two fights with Nate Diaz? Remember him hosting two belts, and apologising to nobody, because the double champ does what the f**k he wants?
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Remember when Conor McGregor created something from nothing, taking his sport – and for a while, it really was his sport – to heights nobody could have ever imagined?
Do you remember it? Do you remember what he used to be like, the things he used to do, and the way he used to do them? Conor McGregor certainly hopes you do. He hopes those things that were once true can be true again.
In the preliminary media McGregor has done this week, his focus has been on recapturing the vibe of those furious early days. He’s said he wants to fight three times this year, like he used to.
He wants to take the lessons he’s learned in recent years and fuse them with the hunger that once consumed him.
“For me, it’s not about money,” McGregor said on ESPN this week.
“I’m in a position where it’s forever money. This is not for money for me.
“No amount of money will stop my hunger for this and my hunger to compete and entertain and just live my life the way I want to live it and the way I enjoy to live it.
“Too much money without an awareness of it in the past can be dangerous.
“There’s no limits. There’s no boundaries. You can do anything. You can go anywhere. I know what I want to do and what I enjoy doing.
“And this is what I enjoy doing. And so I’m going to keep doing it.”
But those early days feel so long ago now, and so far away. They’ll never be forgotten, but so many other things have happened since.
Now, we remember the boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, a fever dream of the viral age, which filled column inches and television segments and lined plenty of pockets, but offered no true sporting contest, save in the minds of the truly deluded.
We remember the blood feud with Khabib Nurmagomedov, when McGregor’s swagger was dented, and his legend cracked and thrown down in the dirt with true venom that spilt over into an ugly post-fight brawl.
We remember the scandals outside the Octagon, which keep piling up and up and up. It has been so long since McGregor has done what made him famous in the first place that people are starting to forget what it looks like.
His fight with Cerrone will mark five years to the day since his two-round execution of an overmatched Dennis Siver in Boston. That was McGregor’s final bout before he fought for his first UFC title, and it was when he truly began to transform into what he’d always told everyone he could be.
He was still on the rise in those days, not yet at the top of the fighting world, but heading towards it with a breakneck speed and a singular focus.
For the first time in so long, McGregor must be ascendant again. He has a to touch a world he seemed to leave behind a long time ago, because who would have ever guessed McGregor would need to climb another mountain and prove himself once more, after all the things he’s done?
Sunday’s fight will be another blockbuster, the biggest UFC card of the year, unless McGregor fights again this year and the Irishman still has plenty of disciples, but now he must forge some anew. It has been too long since he touched greatness, too long since we have seen the things that created believers in the first place.
Win or lose on Sunday, McGregor will still be the biggest name in MMA, still the glittering jewel in the UFC’s crown.
But to attain his former status, if that’s even possible, and take back the status and prestige that seem to be slipping away from him, he must reach back into the pas, to the ancient days before the belts and the arrests and the Mayweather money, before the Diaz rumbles and the Nurmagomedov vendetta.Even the most ardent devotee can’t go on faith forever.
McGregor needs a knockout, preferably a classic, from the famous shotgun left. And perhaps more than that, he needs the killer line, the post-fight internet sensation that sends a lightning bolt around the world and makes him seem like a fable come to life.
He needs to be the old Conor McGregor again. Do you remember him? Do you remember what it was like?
Originally published as Return of Mystic Mac: Conor’s greatest challenge