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Conor McGregor on ‘frustrating’ 2020: ‘I felt like I was shelved’

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Conor McGregor started 2020 with a plan to fight three or four times. He only fought once. In an interview with ESPN leading up to his return at UFC 257, McGregor explains what happened from his point of view.

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Last year, 2020, was supposed to be when Conor McGregor came back to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for a “proper” run. Instead, the Irish sports star kicked off the year with a quick knockout of Donald Cerrone and then never made it back into the cage.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Blame coronavirus for shutting the world down. Blame UFC for concentrating more on getting its weekly events rolling than the difficult demands of its biggest stars. Or, blame McGregor himself for “retiring” in July out of frustration when he couldn’t secure himself another bout.

Now, it’s 2021. McGregor is back, and once again headlining the first pay-per-view (PPV) card of the year, UFC 257 on Jan. 23rd. He’s finally sitting down for media interviews, and ESPN’s Ariel Helwani asked “The Notorious” who he blamed for the non-event 2020 ended up being for him.

“As always we focus on the positive side,” McGregor said. “I had a great 2020. I had a great performance. I opened the show. Highest pay-per-view. Highest gate. Fastest main event knockout. An extravagant blockbuster event that set the UFC off on a trailblazing run. And I’m very happy about that, very proud of that.

“As you said, I was satisfied but not overly satisfied,” he continued. “I was ready to continue. It didn’t go that way. It is what it is. I still have that inside of me now, I’m still ready to go.”

Not willing to drop it at that, Helwani pressed McGregor on specifics regarding potential fights in 2020.

“There was a lot of talks about me coming back, I was so eager to come back. I wanted to come back,” McGregor replied. “The Tuesday after the fight against Cerrone I had that meeting with Lorenzo and Dana and the conversation was ‘What do we do now, what’s next? What was the next bout?’ We couldn’t, had not got the answer at that dinner. And it just didn’t come to fruition. I was eager, I was trying to get things moving, and it just didn’t happen with all the circumstances surrounding it, the year and what went down. It just went the way it went and it is what it is.

“I feel now, I have transformed myself into a Lightweight frame again,” he continued. “I did it healthily and am full of energy and vitality and I’m ready to showcase myself at 155 pounds. At my absolute best and I’m very excited about that. Doing that opens up a lot of options for me. There are many lightweight contenders, and many options. I’ve heard Nate is coming back down to 155, which is exciting. There’s boxing escapades, and things. I don’t think what happened last year will happen this year.”

As for the retirement, McGregor said he didn’t see himself ever truly retiring from combat sports. When he first announced he was leaving (again), Conor told ESPN, “Whatever I say, the UFC want to go against it to show some kind of power.” And while he toned down the rhetoric in this interview with Helwani, he did admit he felt like he’d been “shelved.”

“It was out of frustration,” McGregor said. “When you’re trying to get things moving and it’s just not happening ... you’re getting shelved, it felt like I was shelved almost. I felt like if I’d been run out a couple more times that year, not only would my skillset and sharpness be in tune more, we’re also talking 800 million in revenue for the company.

“It was certainly out of frustration, but it is what it is, the past is the past,” he continued. “I felt like I got what I needed to get off my chest, and I felt like it’s been reciprocated well and the other side has come back as well. So I’m in a great spot and I’m excited to come back, and that’s what we’re focusing on: the positive side of it and the future.”

McGregor rematches Dustin Poirier at UFC 257 on Jan. 23 on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi. For more UFC 257 fight card news click here.