Conor McGregor's path to UFC 246: Success, history, controversy

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The moment we knew Conor McGregor was a star (1:57)

Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi discuss the early days of Conor McGregor in the UFC and the atmosphere that surrounded him. (1:57)

As Conor McGregor nears his return in UFC 246, Dana White remembers the first time he heard the name that would forever change the promotion.

White was in Dublin to receive an award from Trinity College in 2013 when he invited UFC fans on Twitter to join him at a nearby pub after the ceremony. Drinks would be covered by the UFC president.

It was that night, Feb. 11, when he first heard a name that would become the most talked about in UFC history.

"The place was packed, full of people," White said. "I was in there with the fans all night, and everybody kept talking about Conor McGregor."

When he flew back to Las Vegas, White asked his matchmakers about McGregor. Sean Shelby was familiar with the featherweight out of Dublin, and White flew McGregor in for a meeting.

"The first time I met him, we flew him into Vegas and he and I went to dinner, and I was blown away by him," White said. "When I got in my car, I called [then-UFC owner] Lorenzo [Fertitta] and I said, 'Let me tell you what, I don't know if this kid can fight, but if he can even throw a punch, this kid is going to be a huge superstar.'"

McGregor would make his UFC debut two months later in Stockholm, Sweden. He was able to throw a punch, and White's instincts were prescient about McGregor's star power.

McGregor began a meteoric ascension that topped out by him becoming the first fighter in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously. But that was followed by spectacle, defeat and legal trouble away from the Octagon.

The next chapter of McGregor's career begins Saturday, when he faces Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone at UFC 246. Can McGregor return to peak form? Does he still have the fire that fueled the early stages of his career?

Before we get the answers, let's take a look at how we arrived here.

Jump to:

2013-15: Perfect start | 2016-17: Bouncing back, making history

2018-19: Trouble in and out of Octagon | 2020: The next chapter

2013-15: Perfect start

A blistering UFC debut

McGregor scores first-round TKO over Marcus Brimage in 67 seconds on April 6, 2013.

McGregor is 12-2 as a professional mixed martial artist as he makes his UFC debut in the prelims of a Fuel TV card in Stockholm, Sweden. The accuracy and power in his left hand live up to the hype.

Significance: McGregor tells reporters afterward that Brimage was too caught up emotionally in the prefight trash talking, which led him to overthrow his shots. McGregor says that when he's outside of the Octagon "it's a game," and he feels like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, but in the Octagon it's emotion-free. That philosophy plays a meaningful role throughout McGregor's career as he becomes the sport's biggest trash-talker.

Quotable: "I'm the mental champ." -- McGregor

Watch this fight from Mousasi vs. Latifi, on ESPN+

A costly win over Holloway

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Cormier details how McGregor beat Holloway

Daniel Cormier breaks down Conor McGregor's fight vs. Max Holloway and explains how McGregor sets up strikes using feints and also puts himself in dangerous positions. For more Detail, sign up for ESPN+ https://plus.espn.com/

McGregor tears his ACL in unanimous-decision win over Max Holloway on Aug. 17, 2013.

McGregor is unable to get the finish for the first time in 14 pro wins. Considering the fighter Holloway would go on to become, that's hardly a blemish for McGregor, who wins every round and is awarded a 30-26 decision by one judge.

Significance: McGregor tears the ACL in his left knee in the second round, and he won't fight again for 11 months. But the victory is significant in that it comes against an opponent who will go on to build a Hall of Fame career.

Watch this fight from Shogun vs. Sonnen, on ESPN+

"We're not here to take part, we're here to take over"

McGregor scores first-round TKO over Diego Brandao on July 19, 2014.

Significance: McGregor headlines a Fight Night card in just his third UFC bout. The card is held in McGregor's hometown of Dublin, and the passionate fan base that travels around the globe to support him arrives four hours before the main event to support a card full of Irish fighters who went 5-0.

McGregor shows no ill effects from the torn ACL he suffered 11 months earlier vs. Holloway.

Quotable: "What's next is me and [then-UFC CEO] Lorenzo Fertitta in the back with whiskey to talk football stadiums. Football stadiums and world titles, that's what I want." -- McGregor

Watch this fight from UFC Dublin on ESPN+

"You know what's next, the world title is next"

McGregor scores a first-round TKO of Dustin Poirier on Sept. 27, 2014.

Poirier tried to antagonize McGregor in 2019, hoping McGregor would choose him as the opponent for his return bout instead of Cerrone. But McGregor reminded Poirier of what happened the last time they fought.

"I fed you to the canvas in 90 seconds bro," McGregor tweeted.

The fight takes a little longer than that, but being taken out in 106 seconds doesn't sound much better, especially when McGregor had predicted it was going to be a first-round stoppage.

One particular congratulatory tweet stands out as Khabib Nurmagomedov and McGregor exchange pleasantries.

Significance: McGregor arrives as a championship contender, and he makes his call for a title shot in the Octagon after the fight. He doesn't get his wish right away, but it doesn't take long.

Quotable: "What the other featherweights don't understand is that it's a whole 'nother game when they get hit by me." -- McGregor

Watch this fight from UFC 178 on ESPN+

McGregor gets his first taste of UFC gold

McGregor scores a second-round TKO of Chad Mendes for the interim featherweight belt on July 11, 2015.

After featherweight champ Jose Aldo pulls out of his title defense against McGregor with injured ribs, Mendes is tabbed as a late replacement with an interim belt on the line. It is the toughest bout by far for McGregor since he joined the UFC, but he overcomes the challenge.

Significance: The crowd of 16,019 inside the sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena sets a live gate record, and White says the pay-per-view units will rank among the UFC's highest. Not only does the bout speak to McGregor's drawing power, but the victory over an elite grappler like Mendes suggests that the one area of McGregor's game many thought was a weak link perhaps isn't so vulnerable. Next up is a unification bout against Aldo, whose decision to pull out with an injury draws McGregor's scorn.

Quotable: "In my opinion, Jose went running. I had bigger injuries leading up to this fight than a bruised rib, and I still showed up and performed. In my eyes, Jose went running. If he wants to come back, he can come back -- but I swear to God, his day will come." -- McGregor

Watch this fight from UFC 189 on ESPN+

Undisputed featherweight champ

McGregor knocks out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds to unify the title on Dec. 12, 2015.

It is McGregor's fifth straight win by knockout and is the fastest finish in the history of UFC title fights.

Thank you for all the kind messages! I am extremely grateful and proud to be in the position I am in. To the naked eye it was 13 seconds, but to my team and my family it has been a lifetime of work to get to that 13 seconds. Congratulations to the staff at the UFC on a historic week in the sports history and an amazing 2015 for the company. It is an honor to be playing a part in this great companies continued growth and success and an honor to top off a phenomenal week in the sports history. Thank you to all the fans who travelled and made this week what it was!! The traveling Irish are untouchable when it comes to creating the atmosphere needed to make a week like this what it was!! I am forever blown away by the support of my country. We have changed the game forever!!! Respect to a great champion in Jose Aldo. The true greats will always overcome adversity. I wish him and his loyal team well on their journey back. Much respect. Thank you all!!!

A photo posted by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on

Significance: There is no doubting McGregor now after he knocks out an all-time great in record time. The postfight talk turns to McGregor moving up to lightweight, possibly fighting the winner of Cerrone vs. champion Rafael dos Anjos.

Quotable: "Nobody can take that left-hand shot. He's powerful and he's fast, but precision beats power, timing beats speed. That's what you saw there." -- McGregor

Watch this fight from UFC 194 on ESPN+

2016-17: Bouncing back, making history

Nate Diaz is not surprised

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McGregor on loss: I'll take it on the chin and bounce back

Conor McGregor speaks with Todd Grisham about the lessons he learned about fighting at welterweight against Nate Diaz at UFC 196 and how he responds to Jose Aldo and others criticizing him on social media.

McGregor taps out in the second round as Diaz wins by rear-naked choke on March 5, 2016.

McGregor had planned to move up to lightweight to challenge dos Anjos and possibly become the first fighter to hold two belts simultaneously, but dos Anjos withdraws with a broken foot. McGregor then decides to jump up another weight class to welterweight to face Diaz, who will have just over a week to prepare.

McGregor's left lands in the first round and bloodies Diaz's face early. But McGregor is facing a bigger man who is able to withstand the attack, and Diaz's power and ground game ultimately prove decisive. It is Diaz's ninth submission win in the UFC, one off the mark set by Royce Gracie.

Significance: McGregor draws the first $1 million disclosed purse in UFC history. His 15-fight win streak is over, but jumping up two weight classes negates some of the sting.

Quotable: "I'm humble in victory and defeat. He took the fight on short notice and done the job. He was efficient. I was not. These things happen. I'll learn, and I'll grow. I'll face it like a man." -- McGregor

Watch this fight from UFC 196 on ESPN+

"I have decided to retire young"

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Speculation runs rampant about McGregor's retirement tweet

ESPN MMA writer Brett Okamoto explains why Conor McGregor's tweet about retiring young is peculiar and speculates on the motives behind it.

McGregor tweets that he's decided to retire on April 19, 2016, although Dana White isn't sure what to believe. McGregor doesn't show up for a news conference later that week, and the UFC pulls McGregor from the UFC 200 card the following week, canceling his rematch vs. Nate Diaz.

White says he's pulling McGregor because the fighter doesn't want to honor the promotional requirements for the fight. "Conor did not want to come to Las Vegas and film the commercial and be a part of the marketing," White says.

McGregor posts on Facebook two days later that he's not retired, but he's tired of the promotional requirements and just wants to fight. He agrees to go to New York for a news conference, but that's it. The UFC doesn't budge and cancels the fight.

Significance: After McGregor-Diaz 2 falls through, the light heavyweight unification bout between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier is elevated to the main event, but that fight is scratched because Jones fails a USADA test. Miesha Tate's bantamweight title defense against Amanda Nunes becomes the main event, and Nunes wins her first UFC belt. It is the last card under Zuffa ownership, as the UFC is sold to talent agency WME-IMG.

Quotable: "It is time to be selfish with my training again. It is the only way. I feel the $400 million I have generated for the company in my last three events, all inside eight months, is enough to get me this slight leeway. I am still ready to go for UFC 200." -- McGregor

Mayweather says bout vs. McGregor is possible

Rumors of a crossover bout between Floyd Mayweather and McGregor pick up steam on May 8, 2016.

Mayweather says it's possible while McGregor tweets out what a poster might look like for the fight.

Quotable: "Every time I go out there and compete, my number is, of course, $100 million or better. I feel I can demand that." -- Mayweather to FightHype.com.

"The king is back"

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McGregor more calculated in win over Diaz

UFC featherweight Frankie Edgar explains how Conor McGregor was able to pull off a majority decision victory over Nate Diaz in their rematch at UFC 202.

McGregor ekes out a majority-decision win over Nate Diaz at UFC 202 on Aug. 20, 2016.

McGregor battles back from adversity after getting tired in the middle of the fight to persevere in one of the best fights of the decade. For a while, it looks as if things will end up just like the first fight -- McGregor starts fast and slows down -- but McGregor is able to find another gear in the late rounds.

Significance: UFC 202 becomes the highest-selling pay-per-view event in promotion history. It is the first UFC PPV under WME-IMG, now known as Endeavor. A trilogy with Diaz seems inevitable, especially given how well the rematch sold and what seems like legit bad blood between the camps. But White recommends McGregor return to featherweight to defend his title.

Quotable: "One minute, it looked like Conor was gassed, and he got a second wind. Diaz got dropped a couple of times, it looked like he was done, and he came back. It was an absolute epic fight." -- White

Watch this fight from UFC 205 on ESPN+

McGregor makes history

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McGregor needs to be recognized as the greatest fighter

Chael Sonnen breaks down Conor McGregor's dominant performance against Eddie Alvarez, with McGregor holding championship in two different divisions at the same time.

McGregor becomes the first UFC fighter to hold belts in two weight classes simultaneously as he destroys Eddie Alvarez on Nov. 12, 2016.

McGregor adds the lightweight belt of Alvarez, a former Bellator champ and one of the most decorated 155-pounders of all time, to his featherweight title with three knockdowns in the first three minutes of the fight. He finishes Alvarez at 3:04 of the second round.

Significance: McGregor's status is at its height. He calls out the new owners of the UFC -- WME-IMG -- and says he wants a piece. "Where's my share? Where's my equity? If I'm the one bringing this, they've got to come talk to me. That's all I know. You want me to stick around and keep doing what I'm doing? I want what I deserve. What I've earned." The card takes place at Madison Square Garden, the first UFC card in New York since the lifting of a longtime ban on MMA.

Quotable: "You know, Eddie Alvarez was saying Santa Claus isn't real. Santa Claus is back, you know what I mean? The guy is special. And what's next? We'll let him enjoy this moment. I'm gonna enjoy this moment. And we'll talk business later." -- White

Watch this fight from UFC 206 on ESPN+

The beginnings of an ugly rivalry

Undefeated lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov calls out McGregor on social media on Nov. 23, 2016.

One of Nurmagomedov's coaches had said a week prior that McGregor was ducking his fighter, and Nurmagomedov chimes in with a long social media post to make clear his intentions. "Don't chicken out please," Nurmagomedov tweets. "I know I'm a bad matchup for you, but you're the champion and you need to fight the best."

No longer a "champ champ"

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Okamoto thinks UFC took belt away from McGregor

Brett Okamoto believes the UFC took away Conor McGregor's featherweight title and examines what McGregor's relationship is like with the UFC.

McGregor is forced to vacate his featherweight title on Nov. 26, 2016, two weeks after adding the lightweight belt and becoming the first fighter ever to hold belts in two weight classes simultaneously.

McGregor never defends his featherweight title after winning it with a 13-second KO of Aldo on Dec. 12, 2015. Instead, he opts to move up to welterweight to face Diaz in two epic bouts in 2016, losing the first and winning the second.

Significance: Aldo, who had beaten Frankie Edgar on July 9 for the interim belt, is elevated to undisputed featherweight champ. McGregor is expected to take time off to start 2017 for the birth of his first child.

Quotable: "He should take time off. He has been fighting nonstop. Nothing wrong with him taking time off. It's good for him and [girlfriend Dee Devlin], and it's good for the baby." -- Dana White

"The impossible deal is now done"

Mayweather announces his Aug. 26 bout against McGregor on social media on June 14, 2017.

White says the idea of McGregor fighting Mayweather was broached by 50 Cent when they happened to run into each other, but he was skeptical at first and would later say it's impossible. But fan reaction creates a momentum that White can't resist. "Everywhere I went, it was all anybody asked me about," White tells ESPN. "Then once I started to really feel it, that's when I started to take it serious, and I made an offer."

Significance: It has the possibility to break records for the most watched and highest-grossing pay-per-view ever.

Quotable: "I'm going to step in there and shock the whole goddamn world." -- McGregor

MayMac, the ultimate money fight

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Mayweather's win goes as planned

Andre Ward says Floyd Mayweather followed a methodical fight plan to score a 10th-round TKO win over Conor McGregor, although he was surprised how much Mayweather was hit.

Mayweather stops McGregor by TKO in the 10th round of a fight he probably could have stopped sooner on Aug. 26, 2017.

Mayweather starts slowly, takes a look at McGregor, then starts to pick him apart.

It is a fight to generate revenue, and in that respect, it succeeds.

Significance: Mayweather reportedly makes more than $100 million, while McGregor pockets more than $30 million. The event reportedly generates about 4.4 million pay-per-view buys, making it the second-biggest domestic PPV of all time, after Mayweather's 2015 fight against Manny Pacquiao.

McGregor says this week that he'd like a rematch with Mayweather or perhaps a bout with Pacquiao.

Quotable: "I now, at 28 years of age, have my eyes firmly set on the 'highest-paid fighter' and 'highest-earning athlete' accolades." -- McGregor

2018-19: Trouble in and out of the Octagon

McGregor no longer a UFC champion

Dana White announces on March 2, 2018, that the UFC will strip McGregor of his lightweight title due to inactivity. The plan is to award the title to the winner of the Nurmagomedov-Tony Ferguson bout scheduled for April 7, but Ferguson tears a ligament in his knee after tripping on a cable on a television set. Nurmagomedov ultimately fights and beats Al Iaquinta to become lightweight champ.

Significance: Now it's McGregor who must persuade Nurmagomedov to fight him.

McGregor formally charged after Barclays Center melee

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Dana White calls McGregor incident 'most disgusting thing' in UFC history

Dana White voices strong displeasure after an ugly incident at UFC 223 media day, in which Conor McGregor and his entourage attacked a bus, injuring several people at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

McGregor and more than a dozen other men storm the loading dock at Barclays Center in Brooklyn after UFC 223 media day on April 5, 2018 and are arrested.

They are in search of Nurmagomedov, who earlier in the week slapped McGregor's teammate Artem Lobov. McGregor throws a metal dolly at a bus carrying UFC fighters, including Nurmagomedov. The window shatters, sending glass cascading onto several people inside. A few are injured, including two fighters who have to withdraw from fights at UFC 223 that coming weekend.

McGregor turns himself into New York police and is charged with three counts of assault and criminal mischief. In July 2018, he takes a plea deal, pleading guilty to disorderly conduct to avoid jail time. McGregor receives a sentence of community service and anger management classes.

Significance: McGregor is fortunate he didn't seriously injury anyone or receive jail time. If his plan is to build heat for a Nurmagomedov fight, it's a dangerous and reckless way to pursue that goal.

Quotable: "This is the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company." -- White

McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov is set

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Helwani: McGregor not easing into his return

Ariel Helwani breaks down Conor McGregor taking the fight with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and how much of a win it is for UFC.

Dana White announces on Aug. 3, 2018 that Nurmagomedov will defend his lightweight belt against McGregor on Oct. 6 in Las Vegas.

It will be McGregor's first UFC fight since Nov.12, 2016, when he beat Nate Diaz. He then boxed Mayweather on Aug. 26, 2017. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook opens with McGregor as a +150 underdog and Nurmagomedov a -180 favorite.

Significance: Nurmagomedov is putting his undefeated record on the line while McGregor looks to get back to the business of winning in the Octagon after a long layoff. The fight already has a strong undercurrent of hostility after McGregor threw a dolly through the window of a bus that Nurmagomedov was in.

Quotable: White says he's not worried about any disruptive behavior from either fighter, despite the bad blood.

Melee follows McGregor tap-out

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The controversy that led to suspensions for McGregor, Khabib

Take a look back at the sequence of events that led to Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomdeov being suspended and fined.

After months of nasty trash talk from McGregor that crossed lines into religion and culture, Nurmagomedov finishes McGregor by submission in the fourth round with a choke on Oct. 6, 2018.

Nurmagomedov's wrestling rules the day, like it has many times before. McGregor was the underdog going in and has moments in the third round -- which is the only round Nurmagomedov has lost in the UFC -- but Nurmagomedov dominates otherwise.

The fighting doesn't end when McGregor taps out. Nurmagomedov gets into a verbal exchange with McGregor's corner, specifically McGregor training partner Dillon Danis. Nurmagomedov scales the cage and jumps at Danis, igniting an ugly melee at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Three Nurmagomedov teammates enter the cage and brawl with McGregor. Las Vegas Metro police officers detain several of those involved. All involved, including Nurmagomedov and McGregor, are later suspended and fined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).

Significance: After the Barclays bus attack, the postfight melee is another black eye for McGregor, Nurmagomedov and the UFC. Yet, none of the bad behavior affects anyone's bottom line. UFC 229 is the highest-selling UFC pay-per-view event of all time.

Quotable: "He talked about my religion, he talked about my country, he talked about my father. He come to Brooklyn and he broke bus, he almost killed a couple people. What about this?" -- Nurmagomedov

Watch this fight from UFC 229 on ESPN+

McGregor arrested for smashing cellphone

McGregor is charged with strong-armed robbery and criminal mischief, both felonies, for grabbing and stomping on a man's cellphone as the man tries to take his photo in the middle of the night in South Florida on March 11, 2019.

The charges and a subsequent civil suit are later dropped.

Report: McGregor under sexual assault inquiry

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Did sexual assault allegation influence McGregor's retirement?

Brett Okamoto reacts to a New York Times report that Conor McGregor is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault.

The New York Times reports on March 26, 2019 that McGregor is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault in his native Ireland.

He was arrested and released after questioning, according to the report, but he was not charged. The investigation is ongoing, the report says.

McGregor tweets hours before the report that he is retiring from MMA. It's the second time he's made such an announcement on social media.

Video shows McGregor hitting man in Dublin bar

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McGregor on bar altercation: 'I was in the wrong'

Conor McGregor apologizes for his involvement in an April bar altercation and tells Ariel Helwani whether he expects to fight in the UFC again.

A video surfaces on Aug. 15, 2019 that shows McGregor hitting a man in a bar after the man refused McGregor's offer of a shot of his whiskey.

McGregor expresses remorse during an interview with Ariel Helwani on ESPN, and he's later charged with assault. He ultimately is fined and avoids jail time.

Oct. 19, 2019: McGregor reportedly accused of second sexual assault

The New York Times reports on Oct. 19, 2019 that a second woman has accused McGregor of sexual assault. The report states McGregor has not talked to police or been charged. McGregor denies the allegation.

2020: The next chapter

McGregor's return bout is set vs. Cowboy

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Can Conor McGregor return to his former glory?

Brett Okamoto looks back at Conor McGregor's complicated journey, becoming the first double champion inside the UFC's Octagon and having multiple transgressions outside of it.

McGregor will face Cerrone on Saturday in Las Vegas in what will be his first fight since losing to Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018.

Many believe McGregor picked Cerrone, who lost his past two fights by stoppage, because he's a safer opponent than someone like Justin Gaethje.

McGregor opens as the betting favorite.

Significance: White says McGregor will be first in line for a lightweight title shot if he wins, which could put him back in the Octagon vs. Nurmagomedov. Some see that as unfair considering McGregor hasn't won in three years and the Cerrone fight will be at welterweight. White says it's a 155-pound bout that neither fighter has to cut weight for. McGregor states he also has an eye on welterweight champ Kamaru Usman, and he'd also consider fighting Jorge Masvidal after Cerrone.

Quotable: "I am back. I am back to who I am, and I look forward to going in and showcasing it on Jan. 18, and whoever is after that, again it does not matter. I'll be ready. This is the beginning of my 2020 season." -- McGregor