It's Time for Conor McGregor to Get Back to Basics—and MMA

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterOctober 1, 2020

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregorJordan Strauss/Associated Press

Conor McGregor has a lot of irons in the fire. He can buy and sell me 100 times over. But I have a friendly suggestion for him that I can't keep bottled up any longer.

It has nothing to do with his novelty boxing match with the 41-year-old Manny Pacquiao, his whiskey company or anything else. My suggestion is for a new pursuit, and I think it could be the perfect activity for him. It's called "mixed martial arts," or MMA for short.

This is a newer sport. Unlike boxing or other combat sports, it allows for kicks, knees, elbows, grappling and other such things. I think McGregor may have the skill set to compete there, particularly for a little outfit called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Familiars know it as the UFC.

I know it sounds ambitious, but if he puts his nose to the grindstone, I think he could have success in this new competition. 

As it stands, he's doing everything but. Last week, ESPN's Ariel Helwani broke the news that Pacquiao (62-7-2) and McGregor (22-4 MMA, 0-1 boxing) were in "serious talks" for a bout in late December or early January, likely somewhere in the Middle East. That's all according to Audie Attar, the manager for both fighters. That has to be a convenient setup.

Pacquiao is a former champion in a record five different weight classes. But he's diminished at this point, an aging lion surrounded by predators looking to make a name on his back.

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On Wednesday, McGregor announced he'll be facing elite UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier (26-6-1), whom he defeated back in 2014, in something called "martial art sparring" for charity. UFC President Dana White said he offered the two an actual fight in the UFC, which Poirier promptly accepted on Twitter. However, McGregor was silent, likely in part because of the strained relationship between him and White. Air sparring it is!

McGregor recently posted a photo on Instagram in which he was looking properly swole. He appears to be in a good place physically, at least. Still, we all know these bouts with Pacquiao and Poirier aren't about athletic prowess or the thrill of competition.

If you're the proud proprietor of the featured whiskey brand at Buffalo Wild Wings, you aren't in it for prestige. This is about McGregor giving himself another turn in the money booth. A bout with Pacquiao would be huge. He made $85 million in his 2017 bout with Floyd Mayweather, which was the second-highest-grossing pay-per-view of all time.

This all happens as alarm bells continue to go off regarding McGregor's personal life. Earlier this month, police in Corsica took him into custody and questioned him on suspicion of attempted sexual assault and indecent exposure. He faced similar allegations in 2019 in his native Ireland and, as a result, is the subject of two separate and ongoing sexual assault investigations there. He also was arrested in 2019 after punching a man in a Dublin bar.

All taken together, McGregor has burned through public trust like toilet paper at a Jimmy Buffet concert. At this rate, it would be hard for him to argue against a public that loses faith in him.

This moves us right along to the UFC, most notably White. He and McGregor do not have a good working relationship. McGregor recently posted messages between himself and White supporting his contention that White and the UFC are in the wrong as far as negotiations are concerned. White responded by saying that was "one of the dirtiest things you can do." So it goes.

McGregor has, now and in the past, expressed concerns that the UFC wasn't keeping him active, playing straight in negotiations, paying him enough, co-promoting events with him, and putting him too far down the card. White responded to it all with his usual ham-fisted bluster, which will not facilitate a McGregor return to the UFC.

McGregor's understandable frustration with the UFC's intransigence appears to be to retire and unretire and retire again and so on. His most recent retirement was in June—yes, this June, less than four months before the Pacquiao and Poirier announcements. Furthermore, Attar told Helwani that McGregor would return to the UFC next year. You'll forgive me if I believe that one when I see it.

If I was giving McGregor unsolicited advice (which I am), I'd tell him to return to where his bread is buttered. McGregor is a smart and talented person in several areas, but MMA is what he does best.

To focus on big payouts and outsized glory denies him the opportunity to build a legacy based on what he was put on Earth to do. It's a disservice against yourself, in a way. What does he really want to be remembered for? How many infinity pools can you own?

As my Appalachian relatives used to say, you have to dance with the horse that brung you. McGregor's horse is fighting. So, you know, why not give MMA a shot? Why not swallow your pride and your dislike of White and let yourself do your thing? Why not find a way to stage MMA matches independently of the UFC's notoriously restrictive contracts? There are moves he can make if he wants to make them.

It's easy for the guy on the sidelines to say, but if McGregor got in that cage before, knowing the risks and relatively low rewards involved, it means he felt drawn to it. He wasn't doing it for the money then (he was on welfare when the UFC signed him), so why hold out for money now as he sits atop a mountain of gold doubloons?

Just give it a try, Conor. Who knows? It might even make you happy.