“I am the Floyd Mayweather of MMA.”
Of all the zingers from Conor McGregor and all the intensity present in the first UFC 229 press conference, this quote form Khabib Nurmagomedov was one of the most meaningful of the entire event. What gave it meaning isn’t so much the accuracy of the statement, but its relevance. That statement from Khabib Nurmagomedov captures the one thing that Conor McGregor most stands to gain as a competitor at UFC 229: redemption.
When Conor McGregor lost to Nate Diaz at UFC 196, that defeat consumed him. All McGregor wanted was to get that loss back. He was still the reigning 145-pound champion, and even though he was yet to become a “champ-champ,” the options were aplenty for the Irishman. But there was only one fight that McGregor would accept for both his legacy and his peace of mind, and that was a rematch against Nate Diaz.
“After the fight, Lorenzo (Fertitta) and I went up to Conor’s house that he was renting here in Las Vegas and started talking about, ‘what are you thinking, what’s next?’ And he was obsessed, obsessed with fighting Nate Diaz again,” Dana White told ESPN in 2016.
“Obviously Lorenzo and I tried to argue with him and say let’s go back down to 145 and defend your title, or if you really want the Diaz fight that bad, do it at 155. And he wants to fight at 170. Even his coach, Coach (John) Kavanagh, tried to get him to get off this rematch and off the 170-pound fight, but it’s what he wanted,” White said.
Not only did Conor McGregor demand to fight Nate Diaz again, but he needed the fight to happen at the same weight class, 170, a division in which he was undersized and had never competed in prior to UFC 196. This, without question, speaks to the competitive gorilla that dwells within McGregor and the fact that he cares about more than money and fame, but most certainly also cares deeply about the family name he so proudly invokes when speaking of the McGregor family line. Conor McGregor is a very prideful man that does not accept defeat lying down, and his insistence on fighting Nate Diaz again demonstrated that.
McGregor was able to put his restless mind at ease by being victorious in his rematch against Nate Diaz. Being the ultra-competitor that he is, McGregor has been vocal about the need for there to be a trilogy bout between himself and Diaz to officially settle the score; but for the time being, McGregor was able to find redemption by not only gaining that victory in a record-breaking UFC 202 event, but also by going on to become the first ever fighter to hold two championships simultaneously in the UFC three months later.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any such rematch in sight against Floyd Mayweather. Now McGregor and combat sports fans should know better than to hold that loss against him. After all, it was his first ever boxing bout against arguably the greatest boxing technician of all time who was yet to suffer defeat. We know that. But does someone with the competitive fire of McGregor know that? Is he capable of accepting that? He may have no choice but to. With Floyd Mayweather practically guaranteed to be unwilling to accept a “proper fight” against McGregor and with a boxing rematch also being far-fetched, this time there didn’t seen to be any redemption for McGregor to claim. While in his prime, McGregor had, at least in the eyes of many fans, forsaken the sport that blessed him with fame and fortune, allowing himself to be stripped of both of his championships by refusing to compete again against fighters who many believed presented him the most difficult challenges: Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, among others.
After making nine figures in his fight with Floyd Mayweather and already realizing his dream of becoming a two-division UFC champion, Conor McGregor didn’t just agree to make his return to the Octagon, he agreed to do it against the most feared fighter in the lightweight division and arguably in the entire UFC. Indeed, he is making his return against the Floyd Mayweather of MMA, an undefeated fighter who rarely gets hit and finds himself on the favorable end of one-sided scorecards and dominant performances whenever he competes. Conor McGregor had the opportunity to hand Floyd Mayweather his first loss. Now, he has that same opportunity at UFC 229 against Khabib Nurmagomedov. So while Conor McGregor is unlikely to ever see Floyd Mayweather in a competitive environment again to earn the redemption he was able to seize against Nate Diaz, he can do the next best thing: hand a bitter rival the first blemish on what is, on paper, the best record in the sport of MMA.
Conor McGregor probably won’t get a chance to redeem himself against Floyd Mayweather, but he could find redemption by doing something that may be more meaningful: defeating the Floyd Mayweather of his own sport, someone with whom there is a personal vendetta and who presents a puzzle that no one has been able to solve. The redemption Conor McGregor stands to find at UFC 229 is that of a prodigal son who could have taken the money and ran, but instead charged right into the most dangerous scenario with the highest reward: being the only one to hand Khabib Nurmagomedov his first career loss.
We all know that Conor McGregor is the king of the UFC pay per view, but a victory over the dominant force of nature that is Khabib Nurmagomedov could very well make him the king of the pound-for-pound rankings in addition to being the 1 in 26-1. No, McGregor probably won’t ever defeat the Floyd Mayweather of boxing. And that’s OK. Boxing isn’t his sport. It has no real bearing on his legacy. That fight was a win-win situation for McGregor. But with the competitive psyche that Conor McGregor possesses, you can be sure that McGregor still seeks redemption.
Being victorious in a “proper fight” that happens to be the biggest in UFC history after a two-year layoff against a man who, by all accounts, is the Floyd Mayweather of MMA, has more meaning for McGregor’s competitive legacy than any other fight ever could and is the redemption that McGregor needs…not for the opinions of the hardcores who doubted his Octagon return or the “casuals” who’s fanhood depended on it, nor for the nation of Ireland that would stand beside him unconditionally…but for himself.