Return Of The Mac: What Conor McGregor's Return Means For Both Him And The UFC

The 'Notorious' one faces Michael Chandler later this year
09:00, 07 Feb 2023

Nearly two years will have passed by the time Conor McGregor climbs back into the Octagon this year. The ‘Notorious’ UFC superstar has been out of action since July 2021, when a broken tibia led to the doctor pulling him out at the close of the first round of his third fight with Dustin Poirier. It has been a long road back, but the Irish superstar finally has a fight confirmed. McGregor will serve as one of the coaches on the next series of The Ultimate Fighter, before fighting rival coach Michael Chandler at the close of the season.

The fight looks well-matched at this point in their respective careers. McGregor and Chandler have each lost three of their last four fights. Both have been beaten by Poirier. You could make the argument that each fighter is more of a factor at the box office than they are in the cage these days.

The TUF element comes into play here too. The best seasons of the UFC’s groundbreaking reality show have not always featured the best fighters. They have featured the most engaging personalities. Coaching a team on TUF is not about titles or prestige, it is ultimately about two personalities meshing to create a compelling narrative. As far back as TUF 3, when a washed-up Ken Shamrock and the much-younger Tito Ortiz broke viewership records, it has been clear that the UFC’s reality juggernaut is sold on stories rather than fights.

There is the germ of a grudge between the pair already. Chandler has been calling out McGregor ever since debuting with the promotion in 2021. Injuries and out-of-the-cage issues have prevented the fight from happening, but Chandler has been rewarded for his patience. For him, the benefit here is clear. Despite his dwindling skills, McGregor is still the biggest name in MMA. A win over the ‘Notorious’ one will propel Chandler to new heights of acclaim and earning potential.

The benefits are clear to see for McGregor too. After a difficult few years, the potential is there for a quick return to the top table. The Irishman has not won a UFC title fight since 2016. The industry-defining two-belt champion of old has been replaced with a 34-year-old as infamous for his run-ins with the law as his exploits in the cage. A convincing victory over Chandler puts him right back on top.

The pair arguably have little to lose either. Chandler has wanted this fight above all others, and is probably in a position where even a loss would be better than never facing Conor at all. McGregor will always have the lucrative fallback of the world of influencer fighting, where any number of Paul brothers or stray Furys would surely delight in a crack at him. While this fight is a Last Dance at relevancy for the pair, it is one that is more fight-to-win than just-don’t-lose.

Of course the UFC stands to gain the most here. Not only do they get two fascinating coaches for TUF, but they get a box office bout at the end of it. If McGregor wins then his ascent to his old throne sells itself. If Chandler wins, there is mileage in what Conor’s conqueror does next. And of course, if the fight is exciting and close, a rematch will be a viable option too. 

This is one of those rare scenarios in combat sports where everyone's a winner. There is something to be gained for the UFC, McGregor and Chandler. To use a well-worn cliche, the real winner could be the fans. The UFC hasn’t quite been the same without its ‘Notorious’ antagonist. His return, no matter what happens, is sure to command our attention.

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