McGregor eyes July return against top ten opponent

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On the road to a full recovery, Irish MMA star Conor McGregor caught up with PETER CARROLL to talk about his rehabilitation, coming home to Dublin and fame. The Irishman also revealed the key role he is playing in the UFC’s selection of a date for their Dublin card, what type of opponent he wants to face on his return and which Irish fighters he believes deserve an opportunity on the world’s biggest MMA stage.

“The Notorious” Conor McGregor became obsessed with martial arts from a young age. From Crumlin Boxing Club to local kickboxing gyms, trading techniques with Ireland’s first UFC competitor and his close personal friend Tom Egan and eventually on to Straight Blast Gym – he was primarily building his combat arsenal, but it also provided him with an outlet that kept him active and out of trouble.

Such was his reliance on the arts that when he spent some time away from John  Kavanagh and Co, McGregor’s mother got in contact with the SBG boss to get her son back on the mat.

In August, after putting on a one sided showcase en route to victory over Max Holloway, an anterior cruciate ligament tear to the Dubliner’s knee took him away from his passion again. This time, removed from the physical acts that he repeated in the gym day after day on his ascent, McGregor made sure that his head never left the game.

“I still can’t do everything, but in time I’ll be back grappling,” said McGregor, hell bent on his comeback. “I’ve been able to do a bit of sparring since I’ve come back to Dublin and I’m still fitter and faster than everyone. Earlier on when I had just had surgery I was helpless, but the mind is a powerful thing.

“My mind never stopped thinking about movements and positions. You can’t let what you cannot do affect what you can do. Honestly, it’s like I’ve never been away. I feel like I’ve improved, I’m better than ever.

“I have to go back to LA in February for an agility test. Once they’re happy with what they see I’ll be easing into grappling again and I can’t wait for that. I’ve been thinking about that the same way as I did with my stand-up so I know I’ll be right back into the swing of things when I’m given the green light.”

 

Home Sweet Home

 

Any followers of the former double weight world champion’s Twitter account will be well aware that his time spent in rehabilitation in Los Angles wasn’t all doom and gloom. Despite his good times in the City of Angels the proud Irishman admitted that he is happy to be on home soil, settling back into training in the new state of the art SBG Naas Road complex, surrounded by familiar faces and willing sparring partners.

“I had a great time, it’s hard to complain about my time in LA. I had a nice car, an apartment, all the best surgeons were looking after me but, the only thing was I wasn’t with my team. I was away from my family and my friends too, it was tough.

“There’s no comparison between there and Dublin though. This is my birth place, this is where I grew up and I love my city. We’ve got the new SBG gym now too and where I only had myself to train with for the most part in LA, I have multiple bodies to train with over here.

“The facility is phenomenal and it’s just a short walk from where I live.  I got here at two o’clock today and I won’t leave until 10 and that’s what I’ve been doing everyday. The setup is perfect, people come to me here for sparring, the physios pop in to me, I have my food here – I have everything. I’m happy, you know?”

The most searched for sports personality on Google in Ireland for 2013, there is no denying the Crumlin man’s star power. Transcending the hurt business into the broader Irish consciousness, the sharply dressed featherweight has become somewhat of a trend setter to young men in his homeland but wants people to remember why the limelight became so firmly fixed on him in the first place.

“I like to look good,” he said, “and if it’s not a Louis Copeland suit, I’m head to toe in Dethrone.  It’s fuckin’ crazy seeing how big everything is after getting and I get a lot of love from people I meet, but I try to keep myself grounded. It’s all great, but people need to remember what I am.  Someone said to me recently, ‘you’re more of a celebrity than anything now’, and that pissed me off.

“My game is the fight game. When that door locks, that’s my speciality, I’m too clued in. You’ve seen me fight for how many years? The attention I’m getting is great, but once I get back in the cage you’ll see that nothing changes and nothing will stop me.”

 

Fighting Words


Reports coming from the UFC’s Manchester event in October, which McGregor attended, suggested that the Irish star would be moving up a weight division for his next fight. However, it appears that no such plans have been set in stone.

“Nothing is permanent, I’m still open to fights in the two divisions,” said McGregor. “I mean, I’m still in featherweight range. Even though I was injured I was looking after myself. I’ve fought at lightweight in the past and just because both of my UFC fights have been at 145, that doesn’t mean I’m staying here.

“I’ll have to wait and see what the UFC offer me. At the same time, if something interests me I might make an offer of my own. That’s always an option for me.”

There have been a few dates thrown around for McGregor’s return, initially it was April or May, but it seems that the SBG man is looking more toward the end of the summer to guarantee a performance at peak condition.

“The Notorious” also revealed that he wants to get a fight in before he finds himself under what will definitely be the biggest spotlight he has had to deal with so far in his young career, when the UFC makes its second appearance in the Irish capital.

“It’s gonna be June or July, there’s no sense in rushing back, I’ve got to do this safely,” said McGregor taking a clever approach to his recovery. “There’s a card in Las Vegas around then that might have an Irish interest and I don’t think they’ll mind me fighting then even though the Dublin card is looking like it will be in September.”

With an ever growing list of fighters taking exception to McGregor’s comments and general swagger, a lot of talk has been focused on who he will face in his next outing in the octagon.

Cole Miller threw is hat in the ring for the second time earlier in the week when Ariel Helwani gauged his interest in fighting McGregor, the American replied positively  citing his belief that the Dubliner had jumped “right to the top of the line” because he is “from a country where (UFC) are trying to get fans”.

Regardless of Miller’s sentiments, McGregor outlined his hopes to face a top ten opponent in his next contest. He also revealed that Diego Brandao’s date with Dustin Poirier back in December was initially scheduled for him.

“It’s hard to say who I’ll be fighting when I get back because the landscape of the division has completely changed and it will change again. Cole Miller or any of them guys don’t matter to me, I’m on a plateau by myself, I’m in a different class.

“I didn’t even hear what Miller said on The MMA Hour. I did see him the first time he was talking and I could see by the way he was speaking that he didn’t want to fight me.

“He’s not on my level. When I comeback I want to fight someone in the top ten, somewhere around the Poirier mark. See that fight he had against Brandao in December? That would’ve been my fight and I want to pick up where I left off.”

 

The Second Coming

There is no doubt that McGregor is one of the main reasons that 2014 will see the UFC making it’s first appearance on the Emerald Isle in five years, since UFC 93 back in January 2009. However, such is his importance that he has received personal phone calls from Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC CEO, gauging when his European prospect will be ready for action.

“Lorenzo was only on the phone asking me when I’d be ready to comeback,” he said. “I told him July and then he started talking about moving the Dublin card forward, but that’s just too soon, if it was for Dublin I probably would rush my rehab.

“So I told him September would be perfect for Dublin, but that date can change. These guys are fuckin’ billionaires, they don’t mind cancelling things and rebooking them. I was hoping to hit them up in March to be back in for May but it didn’t work out that way. But believe me they’re waiting for me.”

Dana White previously spoke about how UFC 93 in 2009, where Tom Egan became the first fighter from the Republic of Ireland to compete in the UFC, had played a part in McGregor going on to become the fighter he is today. The former double weight world champion forecasted what the impact of this year’s show in Dublin will have on the sport in Ireland.

“I can only imagine what impact the UFC returning to Dublin will have. I think a lot of people have gotten into the sport after seeing my UFC fights and the other guys competing in Europe and it’s hard to think it could actually get bigger over here.

“Kids come into SBG and there looking at high quality athletes doing their thing and under the tutelage of John Kavanagh they have endless potential.

“As far as Dana saying that UFC 93 helped to build me as a fighter, no way, I was already en route. Tom might not have got that fight if I wasn’t off doing other things. It was the luck of the draw, but even then I would’ve whooped anyone they put in front of me,” he declared.

Finally, McGregor named some of the Irish fighters he believes are in with a shot of getting a place on the Dublin card while also revealing how he is using his influence to give his countrymen and women a better chance of getting onto the bill.

“I think the best thing about it is that it’s gonna give the other Irish fighters a chance,” said McGregor of the UFC’s return to Dublin. “I was thinking about that when I was talking to Lorenzo too, some of the guys are only one or two fights away from getting called up and September gives them more time than July.

“Paddy Holohan really impressed Dana when he was over there recording TUF and Cathal Pendred and Chris Fields were filming another season of TUF not too long ago, so they’ll definitely be in with shot. Ais Daly is trying out for TUF 20 and I’m sure she’ll make a big impression so she could get on to it.

“Philip Mulpeter only lost a narrow decision to a UFC veteran a few weeks back, two wins and he’ll be in. There’s flyweight world champion Neil Seery as well, he’d give any of the guys in the UFC trouble and he should be on that card,” he finished.

By Peter Carroll – @PetesyCarroll

Owner/Editor of SevereMMA.com. Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.