Conor McGregor has finally realized the fight game has moved on without him

Conor McGregor comebackPhoto by Ed Mulholland/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

  • Conor McGregor has finally realized that the UFC has moved on without him.
  • McGregor has not actually won a fight since 2016.
  • Since then, he's been stopped by Floyd Mayweather in 2017 and submitted by Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018.
  • The former UFC champion knows he must work his way back up the rankings, rather than go straight back to a title shot.
  • He now knows the UFC is bigger than him. "It's brand over fighter," he said.
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Conor McGregor spoke to ESPN in his first interview for 10 months on Thursday, and the former UFC champion finally seems to realize the fight game has moved on without him.

McGregor has not won a fight since 2016. Since then, he has lost a boxing rules bout against Floyd Mayweather in 2017 and suffered a heavy fourth round defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov the following year.

This year, he has been the subject of plenty of negative headlines. He was arrested in March for allegedly slapping a phone out of a fan's hand, stomping on it, then walking away. Weeks later, he posted then deleted a tweet in which he called Khabib Nurmagomedov's wife "a towel." Meanwhile, Irish police were also reportedly investigating McGregor over sexual assault allegations.

Read more: Somebody's going to end up hurt or shot' if the Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor rivalry escalates, UFC fighter says

Most recently, a video appeared to show McGregor throw a left hand punch at a 50-year-old man sitting on a stool in a Dublin pub. He apologized this week, saying he needs to get his "head screwed on."

But when it comes to the sport that made him a champion, world famous, and a millionaire many times over, McGregor appears to have been humbled somewhat.

His comments in Thursday's interview appeared to suggest he understands that the lightweight and welterweight divisions have moved on without him, and that he is not bigger than the UFC itself.

  • McGregor said he is motivated by Nate Diaz's recent comeback, a fighter who shunned him after the bout and instead challenged Jorge Masvidal to a welterweight ruckus.
  • McGregor suggested it does not matter who he comes back against, and he appears to realize he has to work up from the bottom.
  • McGregor said he knows the UFC is "brand over fighter."

Read more: Nate Diaz vs. Jorge Masvidal 'for the baddest mother------- in the game belt' is a bout Dana White wants, but it leaves Conor McGregor in the cold

"I am eager to compete," he told ESPN. "I've not been outlawed from the game. I have a lot to say. I am eager to come back here."

McGregor highlighted success stories from his former rival Nate Diaz, who returned from three years in the abyss to dominate Anthony Pettis on Saturday. Later that night, Stipe Miocic reclaimed the heavyweight belt from Daniel Cormier, after he lost it by knockout the year before.

"Look at Nate Diaz, [his] last fight was three years ago, defeated by me and came back and won. It was a motivating experience for me.

"Look at Stipe Miocic, [he] came back after a knockout loss, won his title back against the man who knocked him out. There's so many stories of this … and mine will be the greatest of all. The game is far from over for me. I'm very excited."

Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregorPhoto by Harry How/Getty Images

But neither Diaz nor Nurmagomedov want to fight him right now. Diaz wants to defend his mythical "baddest mother-f----- in the game belt" against Jorge Masvidal, and Nurmagomedov challenged McGregor to actually win a fight before they negotiate a rematch.

This leaves McGregor out in the cold. And he knows it.

"[Khabib] doesn't want to have the rematch," McGregor said. "I just want to compete now, enough is enough. Let's get me back in the mix. It's a forgetful business."

He later listed a number of possible opponents including Masvidal, Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, Max Holloway, and Jose Aldo. He even said a bout against Frankie Edgar would be good, as it would provide him with a similar style to warm-up with before eventually challenging Nurmagomedov.

This shows McGregor understands that in "a forgetful business," as he called it, he must work his way back up the UFC rankings after fighting just once in the Octagon in three years, and losing that one bout.

"I always have a great relationship with the UFC," he later said, adding: "It's brand over fighter."

This is a change in tone for McGregor. Earlier this year he was talking about retirement as he was not getting an equity stake in the business. Even minority shareholders like Sylvester Stallone were offering him his own shares as a way of getting McGregor back in the cage.

But McGregor is now grovelling back to the UFC, speaking positively about the relationship between the promotional firm and himself.

"It's just business," he said. "It's a part of me, the UFC. I have a great respect for people in the UFC. There is no dispute at all and we are all eager to get this back on track."

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