UFC’s Conor McGregor on his struggles and future

MMA


Editor’s note: Ariel Helwani’s interview with Conor McGregor has been edited for length and clarity. The entire conversation will be rebroadcast Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Ariel Helwani: Last week TMZ posted a video where you appeared to get into an altercation with another man in Ireland. Can you tell us your side to that story?

Conor McGregor: In reality, it doesn’t matter what happened there. I was in the wrong. That man deserved to enjoy his time in the pub without having it to end the way it did. And although it was five months ago, I tried to make amends, and I made amends back then. But that does not even matter. I was in the wrong. I must come here before you and take accountability and take responsibility. I owe it to the people that have been supporting me. I owe it to my mother, my father, my family. I owe it to the people who trained me in martial arts.

That’s not who I am. That’s not the reason why I got into martial arts or studying combat sports. The reason I got into it was to defend against that type of scenario. I have been continually making steps to do better and be better.

I’m just here to own up to that and move on and carry on and face what’s coming with it.

Did you in fact punch that man?

In respect to the whole entire situation, we’ll let it play out with what happens with it. What happened was a little hazy for me, also. It was many months ago, like I said. And I have been making amends to make it not happen again and to be better, to be a better father, to be a better human, to be a better role model to these kids. I know a lot of kids are looking up to me, and sometimes it kind of takes me [aback].

But I have to realize that’s not the attitude or the behavior of a leader or a martial artist, of a champion. I must get my head screwed on and just get back in the game and fight for redemption, retribution, respect — the things that made me the man I am. And that’s what I will do.

Where do things stand with it right now?

What can I say? It does not matter. There is no answer to what was done. I was completely in the wrong. There’s no need to even discuss what began it, what was going on outside, inside — any of that. I was completely in the wrong; it was unacceptable behavior, and I accept that.

It got released the day after my daughter’s christening, so we had such a great time with my family and then … I just have to wait and see what happens and whatever comes my way, I will face it. Whatever comes my way, I deserve it. I will face this head on. I will not hide from it. I was in the wrong. It was completely unacceptable behavior for a man in my position. What happens, I will face.

Since this video came out, you’ve been criticized heavily. What is it like for you to read this, to see this? What does it mean to see people who have been so loyal to you for so many years turn on you?

As far as my fellow colleagues, I deserve to be called out on it. I deserve to be called out on that behavior. It’s just unacceptable. There’s no excuse to it. I deserve everything that comes my way with it. And as far as like the fans and seeing the fans disappointed in me, it hurts me so much, because … everything I’ve done is for the fans. I’m a fan-favorite fighter. My whole entire career has been based for the fans. Never pulling out, never turning down weights, sports, rules — anything.

I’ve always done it all to light the game up for the fans and to create fanfare. And to see them disappointed in me, it hurts me to my soul more than you’ll ever know. So, like I said, retribution, redemption, respect. I will come and I will regain all of those.

This incident happened a few weeks after your incident in Miami. … Do you believe you have an anger problem? Is this something you need to fix?

In that Miami trip, I was preparing for battle. I brought my mother out. It was her 60th birthday. I brought the whole family out. We went out and then the situation arose. I need to just stop reacting to the bait. People are trying to bait me into things. Am I the fish or am I the whale? I must be calm. I must be zen. I must lead by example. There’s so many people looking up to me. How can I react in this way?

I need to get a hold of this, and like I said, I’m working very hard to do this. And I’m taking the necessary steps, and I’ve been on a great trajectory. And even before the Miami incident, I was on a great trajectory and then I had a little slip. And then I back up. I’m just trying my hardest, Ariel. I swear on my life, I’m trying my hardest, and it’s been, what, five months since that one? And that’s it. I just have to take what comes and move on. Learn from every single experience in my life and try and do right for the people that want me to do right. …

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Conor McGregor tells Ariel Helwani what he went through during and after the fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov and adds he’ll never step away from fighting. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc

Could you tell us your side of that story in Miami? And where do things stand now as far as that incident is concerned?

That [Miami] incident has been completely handled. Again, it does not matter what the person says or how the situation arose. It does not matter — I was in the wrong. And that’s handled and in the past. I’m happy now to keep moving forward, and I’m focusing on the positive.

You asked me about Miami and the heckler in Miami. I would rather focus on the occasion with my family. That was an unforgettable moment to bring my mother out for her 60th birthday. I’m trying to focus on all the good in my life and recognize that I do make mistakes and learn from them, not to make them again. But still focus on the good, and please Lord allow more of it to happen for me.

I know you’re a historian, a fight game aficionado … You’ve seen this story before. You’ve seen the guy who rises up the ranks and gets himself in trouble repeatedly. Are you worried that the same thing is happening to you?

Sometimes I feel like I feed into it and I give it fuel. I’m in a position that not many fighters, very few … I can make this generational. I can either be rich and spoiled and blow it all in this generation and leave it all behind in ruins or I can get my head together and build and make it generational — the children of my children’s children. So, if I have this opportunity before me, if I don’t execute this and get this right, make this happen for the children of my children’s children, all of my successes, all of everything I’ve achieved will be void, will be meaningless to me.

Are you worried it’s too late?

I must get this right and I must not go down that path, the written path, the cliché of the fighter that has it all and ruins it. I need to be aware of my past, of the past of other individuals, and learn from it and grow — and that’s what I’m doing. That’s what I’m working hard to do every single day. …

I study every single scenario that’s happened to me. I study every single scenario that’s happened in the game. I’m eager to come back here. We will see what will happen in the future. I’m going in confident with a lot of knowledge gained about myself, about my skill set, about my mindset. I look forward to implementing them and getting back on track.

Look at Nate Diaz. Last fight three years ago, defeated by me. Came back and won. And it was a motivating experience for me. Look at Stipe Miocic, came back after a knockout loss. Won his title back against the man that knocked him out. There’s so many stories of this over and over again. And mine is gonna be the greatest one of all. …

The game is far from over for me. And I’m very excited. I had a little road bump. I was preparing for July at Madison Square Garden. I was in phenomenal condition, Ariel, mentally and physically, the best I’ve ever been. … Then a little slip-up again, and I’m just trying to find that balance and get motivated again, and I’m looking for inspiration everywhere.

Like I said, I took great motivation from watching Nate go out and do his thing. And even looking at Nate, there’s many things that were amazing about that whole performance for me from Nate; but one of the ones … that stood out for me is the very first thing he said postfight was “The Nick Diaz Army.” He gave a shout out to his brother, and I hope his brother is doing well. I hope Nick is doing well, a soldier of the game, of the real fight game. And he gave him respect straight off the bat. That’s why the fans love Nate. That’s why I love and respect Nate, you know what I mean?

Why did you tweet out that you were retired?

You don’t understand the amount of things that go on behind the scenes, Ariel. Sometimes I just need distance. … I’ve done so much for the company back to back to back, nonstop. I built this house. Royce [Gracie] can say he built this house. I certainly laid bricks and blocks down myself for this game. And then when so many things are going on backstage and between my inner team and in the outer team and in the business side of it, sometimes you just need to take a back step.

But retirement, I don’t think I will ever retire from this game, Ariel, never in my life. I’ll be fighting until the day I go out. There’s no doubt about it. I mean, it’s just the way it is. It’s in me. It’s bled in me, and I will take it with me to the grave.

How did you break your hand?

Sparring. … I had scheduled a charity boxing bout in my old club, Crumlin Boxing Club. Many people couldn’t fly, can’t fly to Vegas and come and see me fight. So I wanted to show up to my old club. I wanted to rekindle that relationship when I got back there I realized how much of a grave error I made in the [Floyd] Mayweather buildup. …

We put on a great show for the fans. And it was for the fans, my people around, and also to rekindle relationships. But it was also to begin preparation. We’ve done four rounds in the bout. So it was training for me also for the future upcoming bout. And then, obviously, then we had a spar scheduled the following week between myself and John [Kavanagh]. … I need to rekindle my relationship with my coach and get that back on the MMA side. So we scheduled the spar with another young up-and-comer. But with mixed martial arts, the gloves are so small, 6-ounce gloves — the room for damage and injury, it’s so big, it’s so high.

So we needed to come together and realize that this is not the way to do it. So we went into the spar, and although it was scheduled a spar, it was not spar; it was another fight on the record, it was crowds in attendance. It was a behind-closed-doors fight. And I caught the guy with a right hand, dropped him.

When he dropped, I went down on him with an emotional left hand and banged the left hand off the side of the head and my whole hand, boom. And that’s it. It’s like it just needed it to happen and then that’s it. I had to go under the knife; I had to get surgery on it.

It’s been a psychological battle with the left paw, the famous left paw, but it was the right hand that put the opponent down in the first place. My right hand has been doing great work. I’ve been doing really great work with my right hand, and even more so now that my left hand has been out of action.

But I’m back now. I’m back. Yesterday, I met with the surgeon. He said to me originally, September to grapple. But I was with him yesterday. He said now I can grapple, so I’m going to go back into my grappling, and I’m already put boxing again. Of course, I haven’t stopped kicking. Of course, I haven’t stopped on my fast conditioning training; I’ve been on my work, so let’s get a goal now. Let’s see where we go, and I’m excited now.

If it wasn’t for the hand injury, do you think you would’ve already fought this summer?

Yes, yes, yes. I was preparing for the end of July at Madison Square Garden. … We were getting there in conversation. There was opponents discussed. I did not really mind the opponent. I wanted similarities to Khabib Nurmagomedov, to prepare for that, because he doesn’t want to have the rematch, whatever. …

Let’s get me back in the mix. It’s a forgetful business, Ariel, you know that yourself. So look, Nate was out of the game, and now he’s back and he’s on top. It’s a crazy business we are in. But make no mistake, the skills are there for me and I know what I can bring to the table and what I will bring to the table, and I’m very, very excited to give my fans something to cheer about again. You know what I mean? I do this for my fans, for the people that are supporting me, for that people that dare to dream the highest of high heights. So I look forward to my triumphant return, Ariel.

What is the state of your relationship with the UFC brass right now?

I always have a great relationship with the UFC. It’s brand over fighter. One of the things that kind of slowed it down backstage was when they tried to make me the co-main event and all of these type of things. But it’s just business. We have a great business relationship with UFC. I respect the UFC very much. It’s a part of me, the UFC, and that’s why I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be shown a little bit. … Because I understand, I know every inch of the game and what can bring it to the next level. And I wanted that respect.

That’s where I was kinda going, and then they were trying to push me back. But it’s all business, and business is not emotional. I have a great respect for the people in the UFC, for Lorenzo [Fertitta] that built it, for Dana [White], of course, and the people that are involved in it now, so there’s no dispute at all. We are all eager to get this back on track.

Why do you continue to tweet about fights each week?

I love the game, Ariel. I watch it from the start to the finish. I watched the prelim to the finish. Come on. That’s why. Hey, can I not engage in the game? … I love this game. This is my game. I absolutely — I love it. Look at it. Everything that I’ve been talking about, I always jumped in; I wanted to say things to help boost people. I don’t know. A lot of the things that’s been connected to me, the [Dustin] Poirier[Max] Holloway fight. … There’s so many things in the fight game that’s been connected to me that I’ve been speaking on. …

This is what I love to do, and this is what I live for, Ariel. I’m a fighter first, you know what I mean? I’m an entrepreneur and I love my other game, my games, my businesses, these are my loves, but I’m a fighter first and foremost and I love it dearly.

Were you surprised that Nate [Diaz] wasn’t targeting you next?

We spent almost 50 minutes in an Octagon together. They were intense bouts, Ariel, very, very intense bouts. But Nate is a crafty individual. He opened up the deck [against Anthony Pettis] … Jorge [Masvidal]’s on a two-fight win streak at the moment, [but] he didn’t really have a great run in the lightweight division. I know he’s on a two-fight streak, and he was present in the arena [for Diaz vs. Pettis]. I didn’t feel like I was being boxed out. I boxed Nate out, in reality.

So we’ll see what happens. If he does not want the trilogy bout, no problem. I don’t blame him. I was ready to go against anyone, and I was preparing for the end of July, and this happened — and that’s it. I must deal with it and accept it and learn from it, and that’s what I will do. …

For that fight in July, did you have an opponent waiting for you?

I believe it was leaning towards Justin Gaethje at that time, but look, the game changes so quick. Everyone just comes and goes. It’s a forgetful business. It is a cruel, cruel business, Ariel. Only for the amount of history I’ve made, the amount of iconic moments that’s happened in my career — they would’ve loved to have thrown me away. …

Think about the people that haven’t had what I’ve had, that’s gone through the trauma and the battles for the fans. That’s what we deal with for the fans and for our family and for the people. And then when it’s all said and done, they just discard you, and it’s a cruel business. …

I’ll be always around, Ariel, you know that. There will always be something, and I will always be looking for something [that’s] got to do with this game because I love it dearly. I’ll always be invested into this game. My son, I’m training my son in the skills of all the martial arts that I’ve learned over the years. If he wants to run with that, I’ll guide him all the way; he doesn’t, I will not. You know what I mean? I’m like, this sport is my life. This is what gave me this life and God blessed this life. So I’m just eager to get back.

If the UFC came to you today and said Conor, who do you want and what do you want? Is it the winner of Khabib-Poirier? Who do you want in this highly anticipated return fight?

In the return flight? You know, I want my world title back, and I want that redemption. The camp was incorrect. I learned so much on that. Knowing the commitment I had in that camp and knowing the performance I put on, you know what I mean? He ran away for that first round, Ariel. He didn’t throw a punch. He shot for the legs before he threw a punch. The first round I should’ve been talking to Herb [Dean]. He says he was talking to me in the cage; there wasn’t a whisper out of him until he ended up in a dominant position. The only reason he ended up in that dominant position was because I walked around with disrespect towards him because he was just running around the cage. I switched off for that millisecond. He got that lucky shot — even after he got that lucky shot, although it was a beautiful shot.

Even after he got the shot, I bounced back up and engaged, and what did he do? He shot again. But whatever. There’s many great things that I can take from that and, and I can — I can come back and avenge that, but I’m not gonna wait around. …

If you’re asking me who, whoever, if it’s — if Dustin goes in and does it, Dustin. If Nate, Nate. If Jorge, Jorge. I don’t know. … I don’t even know Jorge that well. I’ve seen the last two, and I saw the Al Iaquinta bout. But I mean anyone: Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, Holloway rematch, Jose Aldo rematch. There’s so many belts for me Ariel, so many.

And in reality, it does not matter who. It’s just about me getting back in, and being who I am — not a shell of myself, not half-committed. I was almost — if I had to say what I was, I was too committed in the gym. And not committed enough outside of it. The training sessions were too serious. And then when I left the gym, it was gone from my mind. I would go off into, into the jungle, and you cannot do that. You cannot be half in, especially in a game like this. And I paid the price for it and that’s it.

True or false: You will fight again this year?

I would say true. I would say we can get that done. Like I said yesterday, I spoke to the surgeon about grappling. I’m going to begin grappling now. I’m already in shape. I have not lost my condition, so I’m in shape. I just need to sharpen up the grappling and just see how the grip feels on the wrist and things like that. But I can punch fully, so I would, I would; what are we now, August, come on. I would say so. I would look for that. Yes, for the end of the year.

Would it be fair to say that the prime option would be Khabib if he gets by Poirier? And you still think you can beat him? No warm-up fight — you can just get in there and avenge that loss?

I dove in on one foot; my foot was a balloon. My toes came out of the socket. The guy that came into the cage had to break them back in a place, and I hobbled in there and walked him down and did not give two s—s. And that was with a bad camp; that was with a half-committed camp. There’s no doubt if that’s what’s there, that’s what I’ll take. But if not, I’ll take whatever’s there — and there’s plenty there.

When you do return, will [Kavanagh] be by your side? What’s the relationship there?

John is a genius at the game, and having him in my corner is essential. You know what I mean? I felt a little bit slighted with some of these interviews going on, Ariel, and one of the things was [that he] hadn’t watched the fight back yet. When I heard that, I was like, I watched the flight back 898 times before I even got back to the house — from the T-Mobile Arena to the house, I watched the fight about 800 times.

And to hear that he hasn’t watched the fight back, I was a little bit taken back, and then I’ve got to ask him, I need a why. He has to coach me. … Maybe I need a why, but look, it’s — this is all, I understand. I understand that, that my half-commitment has led to these talks and this type of thing. So I’m just in the process of making it right, and we’ll get there. We’ll get there. But I need — John will be in my corner. No doubt.

What did you make of the pictures and content [Holloway] wrote online a few months ago?

It’s certainly a fight I’m interested in, young Holloway. I mean, you saw, it’s not as easy as you think to move up a division and to challenge for the second world title. You saw it with young Max, and I thought him coming over and doing that was a little cheap. …

This is another moment where I’m almost reacting to the bait. I’m like, hold on, I need to just, you know what I mean? I need to accept things, but the Holloway bout is certainly one I’m interested in, a lot of respect for Max … Max is definitely up there, top of list. And you know who else is top of the list? Frankie Edgar is also up there right there at the top of the list because he has similarities with Khabib. … I want these types of similar bouts.

Also Frankie has been very respectful. He wanted to say, “I want to tell my grandkids that I fought Conor McGregor one day.” And for me, when I heard that — this is going back many months — when he said that, I messaged Dana straightaway and said that’s the fight to make. And even though he lost the bout to Max in a close bout, I don’t care about that. Wins and losses in this game don’t mean anything. It’s the stories we are all on, the journeys we are all on. That’s why sometimes when things get a little bit personal …

Is Tony Ferguson a fight that you think should happen, as well?

Tony’s another warrior. I’ve got a lot of respect for Tony, also. … We have a strong stable of fighters. So it was wrong of him to turn his back on that. And I think you know, for Audie [Attar] and the team that were with him constantly and helped build him up and fought for him, I thought it was wrong.

But Tony’s also in the mix. We’ll see what happens. But you know, Tony has that 12-fight win streak, and they want him for the belt and all this stuff. Let’s just see what happens now in September in Abu Dhabi. …

Were you looking at the five-year anniversary of UFC Dublin with nostalgia? Did that fuel your return?

Of course. What an iconic night for the sport — and for the sport in Ireland. It made the sport in Ireland, really. It catapulted it into the mainstream, and it had nothing but good effects. So to be a part of that and then to think of the people that I’ve done it with, I came on with, of course I was sitting there nostalgia and again using it as motivation.

Even the opponent. I went through … I’m not sure how many opponents I went through. Supposed to be Cole Miller … then I think it was Andy Ogle, and then it was Diego Brandao. Diego was an amazing opponent. The Brazilian people, I have so much love and respect for the Brazilian people. … What an iconic moment for the sport in Ireland, and I’m just proud to be a part of it.

What are you actively doing to get back on track, to try not to be in trouble anymore?

I’m focusing on my family life. I’m also having long, hard discussions with myself. Daily discussions. Because it’s a daily thing, Ariel. … You could serve the world at my feet. I could either stomp on it or use it to rise me up. You know what I mean? I’m trying not to succumb to temptation. I’m trying not to give in to bait. I’m trying to be a family man, and I’m working hard every day. These are the things I’m focusing on. My kids. Like I said, finding my zone in martial arts.

We moved into a new property only a few weeks ago, and we had such a hard time to find it. I’m very happy with it. I’m settling down my family and raising my family. Looking for schools now. These are the things I’m doing, just to keep me focused while also continuing my training and my business.



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