Ariel Helwani's MMA Show: Conor McGregor denies allegations; expects to make $80M vs. Cerrone

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McGregor explains decision to fight Cerrone at 170 pounds (1:26)

Conor McGregor says he can beat Donald Cerrone at any weight and explains why their UFC 246 fight is at 170 pounds. Order UFC 246 on ESPN: https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv. (1:26)

Watch the complete episode of Monday's Ariel Hewani's MMA Show here.

Conor McGregor is focused and ready for his return to the Octagon this weekend at UFC 246. McGregor sat down with Ariel Helwani ahead of his battle with Donald Cerrone for a wide-ranging interview focused on his life after his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, current goals and future aspirations. For more from this interview, click here.

Getting back on track

"I find I'm at my best when I must do something, and I know I must do it, and I do it. I execute it. And that's what I'm doing right now. That's what I have done. The training has been phenomenal. My coaches, my team, everyone's been in sync together. And we've had a great camp and we're very, very happy here. And obviously, it's good to be back in Las Vegas. I hadn't been in Vegas in a while. Am very excited. Very happy."

Why he still fights

"For me, it's not about money. I'm in a position where it's forever money. This is not for money for me. No amount of money will stop my hunger for this and my hunger to compete and entertain and just live my life the way I want to live it and the way I enjoy to live it. Too much money without an awareness of it in the past can be dangerous. There's no limits. There's no boundaries. You can do anything. You can go anywhere. I know what I want to do and what I enjoy doing. And this is what I enjoy doing. And so I'm going to keep doing it. Now I'm doing it full steam ahead and I'm in the best shape of my life. Mental and physical."

What he'll take away from a turbulent 2019

"A learning year, a year of figuring out myself and my situation. 2020, the year of perfect vision. I've actually got better vision than 20-20. I was in the eye exam and they said I have 20-15. The last one they said 20-10, then the lady was like 20-15. 20-10 is like a bionic eye. So I think I've got good eyesight. Let's just say that."

His kids saved him and his career

"My heart is full with my kids. They are here with me now in Las Vegas. We have a Vegas residence, and it's great to be back in the Vegas home with the family. Dee's here, my sisters are here helping out. I am absolutely amazed and I'm very, very blessed. What a time for it to happen for me. Right on the money for me. I needed my kids to help me. And they have helped me. And I'm very, very happy and very, very proud."

Not responding to allegations

"Time. Patience. Patience is a skill we must master. Patience is one of the most valuable skills a human being must master. And I'm working hard to master it, and I feel I'm getting there. So time, time will show. That's it. Right now, I'm focused on the bout. Focused on positivity, good thoughts. And I'll say a prayer for those who try to cross me or try to bring harm to me with these types of things, and that's it.

"Yes, of course (he denies the allegations). Yes, f---ing, Ariel, come on, seriously? Time, please, that's all. Time will reveal all, time will tell all. And then that's it."

How did Cerrone become his opponent?

"Well, I said I'd fight him. I mean, me and Donald had a history. And it's an exciting bout. It's a fan-friendly bout. It's a fight that excites me. And it's a fight that I said I'd partake. And I appreciate it. I appreciate Donald. He's fought a lot of times. He's also a family man, with his grandmother and these things. I appreciate that. And I respect that.

"I also respect the method he went about [getting the fight], with the Proper whiskey and you know. So much work goes into these things, and to have a bit of respect, I appreciate that. And I look forward to having a good bout.

"It's going to be a good night. I'm going to shine here on Jan. 18. I'm going to create magic inside the Octagon, like I have done many times before. But this is gonna be something special."

Abstinence from alcohol for this camp, different from camp for Khabib

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McGregor: I had venom in me during Khabib lead up

Conor McGregor reflects on the buildup to his fight vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov and says he's in a much better place now.

"(I haven't had a drink since) three, four months ago, maybe, yeah. I was drinking all bleeding fight week the last time (training for Nurmagomedov). I was on the Conan O'Brien show ... [motions to his mouth, simulating taking a drink].

"I don't know (what I was doing), just not living the life that I should be living, and that's it. I'm not going back there. I mean, I'm in a great spot now, and that's it. And I've put ... I've made mistakes. And, you know, I've been man enough to admit them and correct them. And that's what I've done.

"I mean, I might not be perfect, Ariel, right? But with a good sleep and a full belly, I'm damn close."

Possibly $80 million for Cerrone bout?

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McGregor expects to make $80M vs. Cerrone

Conor McGregor says he's signed a new deal with the UFC and estimates how much he'll make to fight Donald Cerrone. Order UFC 246 here on ESPN https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.

"We've got a good deal. Very happy. Very excited to see how it unfolds, right? Like I said, this is a new setup with it, but I'm confident it's gonna be a good and nice paycheck. I'm estimating a good $80 million. They think I'm toast, Ariel, but I'm still the bread."

A rematch with Floyd Mayweather?

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McGregor has interest in Mayweather rematch

Conor McGregor expresses interest in a boxing rematch vs. Floyd Mayweather and looks back at what went wrong for him in the first bout.

"I'd like to rematch Floyd. I think we should rematch Floyd. I mean, he's flirting with it, and they want all this. And he can go and pick someone else. It's not gonna be the same. It's not. I've done phenomenal in that bout.

"I know I'd beat Floyd, I'd beat Floyd if we rematched, when we rematch. He's not gonna do a mixed martial arts bout like he said. It was supposed to be me boxing, and then we'll do a mixed martial arts bout. That was what was said. And it came out of his mouth as well, and it was not written, but it was a verbal agreement. And obviously, that's not gonna happen. I'm not going to push him on that, either. But I would like to box him. I think that would be a good rematch.

"You never know (if it could happen this year)."

A Manny Pacquiao boxing match?

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McGregor opens up about potentially boxing Pacquiao

Conor McGregor says there have been talks to box Manny Pacquiao and proclaims he'll win a boxing world title. Order UFC 246 here on ESPN https://plus.espn.com/ufc/ppv.

"We're actually close to signing (with) Manny. There's been talks about the Manny fight as well. There was an offer made on that, yeah.

"Just not yet. Not yet. Very much so (a possibility)."


Celebrities make their picks on Conor-Cowboy

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Celebrities predict McGregor-Cerrone

Action Bronson, Becky Lynch and other celebrities make their picks for Conor McGregor's fight with Donald Cerrone.

Coach Kavanagh: This is the best Conor has ever looked

It's perhaps the biggest cliché in combat sports as a fighter heads into a bout.

"This is the best he/she has ever looked ..."

John Kavanagh, the head coach of McGregor, knows that all too well. Only, he really means it when it comes to his prized pupil.

Kavanagh said on the Helwani Show that he couldn't be more pleased with how McGregor's training camp has gone for Saturday night's UFC 246 main event fight with Cerrone. Perhaps somewhat surprising considering all the time off McGregor has had, thanks in part to various legal issues. But he said that based on the past few months of training, the biggest star in MMA should look like the fighter that once held two UFC titles simultaneously.

"The last few months have been incredible," said Kavanagh. "I feel you can say words and people that like us will believe it and people that don't like us will say it's just words. I can see where they're coming from, and the proof will be on Saturday night.

"That's where you're going to see -- I start calling it vintage Conor, but I actually think it's new and improved Conor. If Conor was to fight the guy that beat Eddie Alvarez (for the UFC 155-pound title in 2016), this Conor would win smoothly."

Kavanagh admitted that he didn't think seeing McGregor back in elite form would ever have been possible after he achieved household-name status.

McGregor had two UFC titles and all the money he could have dreamed of after his boxing match with Mayweather. What could possibly push The Notorious one?

"Like I actually thought after the Eddie fight, I thought it would be hard for him to be motivated to train like he used to ... because he had set out some goals and achieved them," Kavanagh said. "What was going to drive him again? Of course, the Mayweather fight came along and obviously that was a historical opportunity. But after that I just felt, well, you have the featherweight and the lightweight belts and you have enough money for your grandkids, so what was it that was going to make you train again? I found it hard to see a reason. I'm glad he did find his reason, but I just didn't see it at the time. I'll be honest, I started focusing on the next wave of guys. ... I thought our particular journey was nearing its end."

It wasn't over, but it seemed doomed during training camp for McGregor's fight with Nurmagomedov in October 2018.

There were times where McGregor would be out of sight for days at a time, Kavanagh said. McGregor also seemed to be motivated by the wrong reasons. It was all about getting back at Nurmagomedov for an altercation that took place in April 2018 involving Nurmagomedov and Artem Lobov, McGregor's teammate and friend.

"It was not good. The whole training camp was driven by revenge and by venom," Kavanagh said. "Even when he came down to do those sparring sessions, they weren't spars, they were fights. So it kind of makes a tiny bit of logical sense that you celebrate a fight. You don't celebrate a sparring session. ... As soon as he could finish somebody, then he was gone, he was out of the gym."

Now, Kavanagh said, it's not out of the question for McGregor to possibly fight three times in 2020. Not something you'd expect from an MMA megastar, but the coach said it's what's best for McGregor's well-being.

"I see this is who he is. It's him at his healthiest, physically and mentally when he's in training camp," Kavanagh said. "The motivations are healthy. That's him at his best. What else was he going to do? He's not going to take up golf and sit around all day. He's obsessed with this sport, this lifestyle. ... It's good for him to be in the professional element of MMA. It keeps him on a good track."

Owen Roddy: Hard warm-up isn't going to do the trick

Early in Monday's show, both Dominick Cruz and Eddie Alvarez advocated for a hard warm-up for Cerrone, in order for him to shake some early fight issues he's had in big fights over the course of his career. But when McGregor's striking coach Owen Roddy weighed in, he dismissed the idea as being impractical, given the parameters of the UFC.

"I don't think so, to be totally honest," Roddy said of Cerrone stepping up his pre-fight routine. "Reason being, he does a five-minute round, five-minute spar, and then takes, let's just say 20 minutes to get out to the cage, and you're cold again after just having had a spar.

"And I don't really think... people say he comes out starting slow -- I don't think he starts slow, I just think it takes him a little bit longer to get the read of people. You watch him in a couple of his last fights, he comes out of the gates quick and he moves fast and he fires fast.

"But for [Cerrone] to get into his flow takes a couple of rounds. For Conor to get into his flow, it takes milliseconds. He needs one or two looks and he's got the read of you. And I think that's where the difference will be."

Anthony Pettis: Ready for return to lightweight

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Pettis details suffered cut before Diaz fight

Anthony Pettis explains how he suffered a cut on his hand right before his fight with Nate Diaz, and is now suing USADA because of it.

Coming off a loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 241 in August, Anthony Pettis said he's rejuvenated heading into his fight this weekend at UFC 246.

He'll need to be. His opponent is Diego Ferreira, who has won five in a row. Pettis, meanwhile, hasn't come close to putting together a streak like that in years. He's traded wins and losses in his past eight fights dating to 2016.

The fight with Ferreira is taking place at 155 pounds, which is a move back down in weight for Pettis, whose past two fights came as a welterweight. The former UFC lightweight champ said he's highly motivated for this bout.

"Really, I fell in love with the process of training again," Pettis said. "This camp, I did my own nutrition. I always have a nutritionist, but I made all my own meals -- I've never done that before. ... I fell back in love with the process and I'm excited about it."

Another reason for Pettis to be excited: his younger brother Sergio's first fight in Bellator on Jan. 25.

Sergio Pettis, a bantamweight with an 18-5 career record, had 14 fights in the UFC before recently signing with Bellator. He'll take on Alfred Khashakyan in Los Angeles.

Anthony Pettis said there's no way he'd miss it.

"To see where he's at right now makes me proud," Pettis said. "He's making good money doing a sport that we do as a family and he's about to go bring the Pettis name over to Bellator, so I'll be there."

Alvarez: Cerrone with the tools, but McGregor with the edge

Alvarez has been in the cage with McGregor. He has been in there with Cerrone. And those experiences tell him that Saturday night's fight will have been decided before either man steps into the cage.

"This fight, for Cerrone, is won or lost in the locker room before he comes out," Alvarez said during Monday's show. "He needs to be hot. He needs to do a full sparring round before he comes out. He needs to come out as if it's the second round."

That observation echoed the analysis of Dominick Cruz, who'd been on the Helwani show just moments earlier. It is well known that Cerrone is a notoriously slow starter and that "The Notorious" McGregor explodes out of the starting gate.

Alvarez is one of just three fighters who have faced both McGregor and Cerrone. He represents the last win on McGregor's resume, as he dropped his UFC lightweight championship via second-round TKO in a dominant performance by the Irishman on Nov. 12, 2016. Alvarez's last previous loss came against Cerrone, via decision, on Sept. 27, 2014.

The other common opponents for Conor and Cowboy: Nate Diaz and Dennis Siver.

Alvarez, who now fights for the One Championship, believes Cerrone has more diverse fighting tools than McGregor, when one factors in his kicks, knees, punch combinations and jiu-jitsu. Problem is, those skills often have revealed themselves only from Round 2 on.

How can Cerrone arrive in the cage for Round 1 ready to go? Alvarez recalled being backstage before one of his own fights and asking then-UFC flyweight Sergio Pettis to go a round of sparring with him. It ended with their coaches separating them because things got so heated. "I felt like I needed that," said Alvarez. "I needed to come out hot."

Alvarez also recalled sharing a dressing room with McGregor and gaining insight on why he is able to start so fast. "He was sparring and beating the s--- out of [training partner] Artem [Lobov] for like an hour," he said.

The key for Cerrone once the fight starts, said Alvarez, is staying in kicking range, where he's most dangerous, and out of boxing range. But he doesn't envision McGregor allowing that to happen.

"Conor's gonna force and pressure Cerrone," said Alvarez, "and he's gonna draw bad punches out of him, and he's gonna be able to counter those bad punches."

Dominick Cruz: The first round is key for Cerrone

Dominick Cruz has been watching a lot of film in preparation for Saturday's UFC 246 main event, for his ESPN show Unlocking Victory. He'll be breaking down each fighter's approach in great detail later in the week, but Cruz offered his vision for how Cerrone could push this fight into a more favorable direction for himself.

"Cerrone has to stay tall and he needs to make sure that he's throwing combinations, ending his combinations with a kick. The fight that I like to look back at with Cerrone -- if he shows up like this I think he'll do really well -- it's against Rick Story [in 2016].

"Rick Story was a big 170-pounder and Cerrone was coming over and he did really well in that fight. Now, Rick Story's standup is not Conor McGregor's standup, we all know that. However, it's a southpaw that's very powerful and it's more the habits that Cerrone uses in that fight, if you want to go back and watch, that I think would really work against a guy like Conor... It's long combinations -- slowing, finishing with kicks, either high or low.

"He's going to want to attack the body of Conor early. And he's going to want to attack the legs of Conor early. But more than anything, I think the key for Cerrone is to come out already having a first round of fighting in the back, so that when he shows up to that Octagon, he's in his second round already, because Conor McGregor comes out on fire in the first round and leaves almost nothing in the tank in that first round.

"Cerrone, if you look, habitually doesn't show up like that in the first... If you just watch any of [Cerrone's] fights, after the first round, when he comes out in the second round, he looks different. He looks awake. He looks like a different fighter. His punches are faster. His reactions are different. His defense is improved. Everything looks better.

"He takes a lot of damage, and he almost takes getting punched a little bit before he shows up in the second, third, fourth, fifth round. And he really usually wins those last four rounds, but that first round, rarely have I seen Cerrone come out awake. And never have I seen him come out as awake as Conor does in the first round.

"If he can make that adjustment, we'll have a very good first round, and if this fight comes out of the second round into three, four and five, I see it getting closer and closer, edging towards Cerrone with a good chance of getting this win."

Modafferi looking to stop Barber's momentum

"I have as many finishes as she does, by the way."

That's Roxanne Modafferi jokingly refuting the notion that Maycee Barber is the true finisher in their UFC 246 prelim fight on Saturday.

Actually, Modafferi has more finishes. She has four knockouts and five submissions, while Barber has five KOs and two subs. Why the joke, then?

Because those seven Barber finishes came in just eight career fights for the 21-year-old unbeaten flyweight. Modafferi, 37, has fought nearly five times as many times (23-16).