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UFC 257 in-depth: Conor McGregor’s enigmatic return

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Looking passed the usual ranking implications, predictions, and week-to-week momentum shifts.

“It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 A.M when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas.” - “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler

Conor McGregor hits tremendously hard. He’s an incredible striker and able to perform under the brightest lights. The double champion did not earn his titles with anything less than the combination of absolute dedication and remarkable talent.

Beyond those basics, however, McGregor has always been an enigmatic force of nature. “Can he stop takedowns?” was the first question that really followed McGregor through his early UFC fights, and even eight years later, the answer is somewhat undefined — the result of only having fought strikers and two of the best wrestlers of his era with little middle ground.

Each time McGregor provides an answer that helps dispel some of the “Mystic Mac” fog, he does something to complicate the puzzle. He might change weight classes, pursue a boxing match, or briefly retire. Maybe a bar fight, wild party rumors, or lawsuit are what muddy the waters in his off-season.

Speaking of, another unique element to consider: Conor McGregor is allowed an off-season.

Now 32 years of age, McGregor is in the 13th year of his professional career in a sport where athletes are very lucky to perform well for a decade. He’s dropping to Lightweight for the first time since Oct. 2018 and hasn’t fought in a year. That adds up to a potential recipe for disaster or an afterthought, depending on how the fight unfolds.

By the unique McGregor standards, this rematch with Dustin Poirier is damn near transparent in its circumstances. This is a fight to get McGregor back to the Lightweight title. It comes only a year after his last victory, which is not an unreasonable layoff for the sport’s biggest star.

Yet, a great deal of mystery still surrounds the inexplicable knockout artist. Is McGregor genuinely motivated? There is a reason why so many “best version yet!”-type quotes emerge whenever he returns to action. UFC, his coaches, and McGregor himself all spend a good deal of oxygen telling anyone willing to listen how he’s definitely invested in his upcoming fight.

Referring back to the classic Hagler quote, it takes a certain level of obsession to accomplish what McGregor did in his run to twin titles. Often, that obsession is fueled by struggle, and it has been many years since McGregor faced financial hardships.

He could end up a billionaire without ever fighting again, and that’s not to mention the potential for easy money in beating up a Paul brother or two. With his legacy already set in stone as an offensive dynamo and two-division champ, what is McGregor’s motivation in trying to defeat Poirier a second time and move on to a belt he already captured? If McGregor felt a dip in motivation to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov — the GOAT of the 2010s decade — how are we to know his mind is correct for a bout with smaller stakes and little bad blood?

It better be significant, because Poirier will violently punish a half-ass effort.

The mystery of McGregor is not an accident — it’s a huge part of his appeal. His riddle was strong enough to mesmerize half the sporting world into believing MMA angles could defeat the most dominant boxer alive. The man has proven himself capable of incredible feats, but credible reasons to doubt also surround him.

That’s why fans tune in. The only way to gain any insight into McGregor is to fork over $70 for the pay-per-view (PPV).


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 257 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 257: “McGregor vs. Poirier 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.