Conor McGregor is back.
Well, back in front of the media, at least. McGregor opened up in a lengthy, detailed interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani yesterday. The topics of discussion were many. First, McGregor responded to his latest controversy. A video recently arose of him punching an elderly man in the face in Dublin bar last April. For what it’s worth, McGregor came clean and owned up to his mistake.
But the topic of discussion soon shifted to McGregor’s MMA return as expected. The former UFC champion said he still wants his rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov. It’s not the only fight he’s willing to entertain, however. In fact, “The Notorious” was reportedly in talks to face slugger Justin Gaethje this summer.
And there’s always a trilogy bout with Nate Diaz looming overhead. The timing couldn’t be better for that fight. Diaz returned from three years out of action to outlast Anthony Pettis in an impressive performance at last weekend’s UFC 241. While Diaz appears focused on Jorge Masvidal, a third fight with McGregor could be too lucrative to pass up.
McGregor himself was nonchalant about the trilogy in his discussion with ESPN (transcribed via Bloody Elbow), claiming he understands why Diaz may not want it. Overall, McGregor insisted he simply has to get back in the cage:
“If [Diaz] does not want the trilogy bout, no problem. I don’t blame him. Look at the fights, look at the damage. They were intense bouts. That does not matter. It does not matter now. It’s time for me to just get back in.”
The two longtime rivals split a pair of classic, high-profile fights in 2016. Diaz won the first by submission after filling in on short notice. McGregor got some measured degree of revenge when he won a close majority decision in a five-round war at UFC 202 that summer. Diaz insisted he won that fight, and now seems intent on fighting ‘Gamebred.’ So McGregor acknowledged that Diaz knows how to play the game. But with that established, McGregor claimed Diaz has it all wrong about their previous exchanges:
“Nate is a crafty individual,” McGregor said. “I did not feel like I was being boxed out. I boxed Nate out in reality.”
Regardless of who boxed who out in the first pair of fights, a third match-up could do record-setting business. Diaz proved he can still draw huge based on the reaction he received at UFC 241. McGregor, in turn, maybe isn’t the star he was during his fateful run of 2016 and his match-up with Floyd Mayweather the following year.
He’s still the biggest star in MMA nonetheless. If and when his return fight is announced, much of the past year’s transgressions will be forgiven. You still get the sense that fans’ patience with McGregor’s outside-the-cage issues is growing thin. The fact he’s without a win in the Octagon since November 2016 undoubtedly plays a role as well.
Are you buying what Conor McGregor is selling about his trilogy with Nate Diaz?