UFC 246: Has humility changed Conor McGregor for Octagon comeback?

Sunday will mark the return of the biggest name in combat sports - Conor McGregor.

The brash Irishman will enter the UFC Octagon against American veteran Donald Cerrone in his first fight since October 2018.

That night in Las Vegas, the 31-year-old lost his lightweight title to Russian grappler Khabib Nurmagomedov, setting off a chain of events that almost cost McGregor his freedom. 

Tensions between camps sparked a post-fight brawl that resulted in heavy fines and suspensions for all. 

In March, McGregor was arrested in Miami, after forcefully taking a man's phone and smashing it on the ground outside a nightclub.

Then, in August, tabloid website TMZ Sports posted a video of McGregor punching an elderly man in the face inside a Dublin pub. 

McGregor was charged with assault, but escaped jail-time, after making a deal with prosecutors. 

The former UFC double-division champion has spent more time in court than the cage in the last 15 months, but that will all change this weekend, when a re-focused McGregor makes his comeback.

Speaking to renowned mixed martial arts podcaster Ariel Helwani, a reflective McGregor says he is anxious to prove he is still a must-see attraction. 

"I let a lot of people down, but I am in a position where I needed to take control of things and not shy away," McGregor said.

"Life is a crazy rollercoaster - we all have ups and downs in this life. 

"I find I am at my best when I set out to do something - if I say I must do it, I do. I execute it and get the job done. 

"That's what I am doing right now. My training camp has just been phenomenal and I am very excited for this fight."

"I had a couple of little slip-ups"

Out-of-cage mishaps and the crazy, cross-code boxing match against Floyd Mayweather saw McGregor almost fade from the memories of MMA fans.

Debuting in 2013, McGregor's first 10 UFC fights took place over less than three years, but his fight with Nurmagomedov has been his only Octagon appearance since November 2016, leading to speculation he was done in the fight game. 

But McGregor says he is still very much a player and is eyeing 2020 as his fighting rebirth.

"I can't focus on the external stuff - I can only control my internal stuff," he tells Hirwani. 

"My confidence is high, my belief is high and my thoughts are strong. I feel like I am better than who I was in 2016, when I was at my best.

"I have matured, I have come full circle and I have experienced everything in this business. Now I know what I need to do and I am going to do it. 

"I had a couple of little slip-ups and I ended up in a damn cell. Everything kind of slipped away from me, but sometimes certain things need to happen to get things right. 

"That's what happened to me and here I am now. I've made mistakes, but I've been man enough to admit and correct them. 

"I am as real as it gets. What you see is what you get with me. If I am in the wrong, then I am in the wrong."

It's not about the money

But his passion for the sport and not money has motivated McGregor to get back in the cage. The Mayweather fight alone made him enough money to buy a small island, while the Nurmagomedov clash earned him almost US$80million.

"I love it - this is all for the love of the game we play. I love this business, there is no business like the fight business.  

"For me, it's not about money. I'm in a position where I have forever money now. 

"No amount of money will stop my hunger for this, and my hunger to compete and entertain, and live my life the way I want to live it. 

"Too much money without an awareness of it can be dangerous. There are no limits or boundaries. 

"You can do anything you want, go anywhere, but I know what I want to do, and that's to compete and enjoy what I'm doing. I am in the best shape of my life, both physically and mentally."

2020 and beyond 

Many potential opponents were mooted for McGregor's return, before Cerrone got the nod from UFC matchmakers.

On paper, the fight is a dream match-up of two skilled strikers with fight-stopping power, but McGregor predicts a quick night, albeit in a slightly more humble manner than previously. 

"It's an exciting fight that excites me and the fans. 

"Donald has fought a lot of times and is also a family man. I appreciate that about him and I respect that. 

"I look forward to having a great bout with him. It's going to be a good night and I am going to shine inside the Octagon. 

"This fight is a sparring session I feel... I will go in there and put on a show for the fans, and get a beautiful win."

As for what's next after Sunday's fight, McGregor is keeping his options open, but ultimately he wants a rematch with UFC lightweight champ Nurmagomedov.

"Let's see how the fight plays out and then all the options will be on the table. 

"I'd love that fight [Nurmagomedov]. It has to happen and it must happen - in Moscow. "Russia is a great place, a great country and the fans deserve that fight, and I look forward to settling that."

Join us on Sunday for live updates of UFC 246 from 4pm.