Conor McGregor’s future’s bright again

Conor McGregor stared out through his oversized glasses and even through the still blurred vision of the most brutally punishing night of his life, things looked a whole lot rosier. The unnecessary spectacles — Chief Brody meets Deirdre Barlow — are apparently a fashion statement. Who are we to argue with what’s trending?

Conor McGregor’s future’s bright again

But it was a statement of a whole other kind that defined Saturday night for the Dubliner.

He knew as much as he hauled his battered and bruised — but not broken — body aboard the stage for some reflections on a UFC 202 headline bout that had already been catalogued as an all-time combat classic.

“This was a hell of an important fight for me,” said McGregor less than an hour after he had somehow stood tallest in a brutally brilliant battle of wills with Nate Diaz at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

“Everyone from the media to the fighters wrote me off this one. They tried to say if I lose this one, I’m done. It was a hell of a fight. He’s a hell of a competitor. The whole lot of it brought out the best in me, forced me to look at myself truly.

“It was not easy, It was a war. I got to show my heart in there. I took it to him and stayed in it and got the win so, I’m very happy.”

He had so many reasons to be. The primary one being that he survived the deepest, most debilitating fight of his professional life and came back out the other side with a healthy slice of revenge for March’s surrender to the Californian.

He also earned the small matter of the biggest base fee in UFC history, $3m (€2.65m) with as much as triple that to follow from pay-per-view funds.

But for the 28-year-old who likes to tell the world he redefined this $4bn enterprise, the most important reason to be cheerful is that he is now most definitely back on track, his reputation burnished by this redemption tale that particularly appeals to the Stateside mainstream.

“Just the way it all went down,” he reflected on a back-forth-and-back-again battle that left the arena breathless and defied suspicions that McGregor might not last the pace of a marathon trench war.

“I’m sitting back and I’m looking at everyone. I don’t care what anyone says, I brought this game to another level. They can deny that all they want, but I did.

“They said I was done and it certainly lit a fire under me. Every single person doubted me. Every single fighter doubted me. Doubt me now.”

The three knockdowns Diaz suffered in the space of the first one-and-a-half rounds might have been the highlight reel shots that McGregor will take away from this night. But the telling blow came not with his fists.

He had sat on his stool and sucked in deep and long after the third round, a stanza that ended with him up against the cage, unable to break out from a flurry of Diaz deliveries, both fighters already badly bloodied.

A potentially devastating second successive defeat was never more likely. The Notorious needed something to stem the tide.

It came from his feet as he landed a crippling kick to the ribs that froze Diaz. There were a few more precious moments to come, including that late, late takedown but it was that blow which ultimately secured a majority decision victory, one judge unable to split them.

“I just kept on kicking,” McGregor said of a vastly improved strategy from coach John Kavanagh, built upon leg kicks and a constant mix of attack.

“I’m sure it set up some of the shots that I landed. I didn’t just head hunt. I hit the leg. I hit the body. I did hurt him with a lot of my shots. It was clean work in there tonight.

“I tell you one thing, his face was opened up and he still just came at me. You’ve gotta respect that. How can you not?”

You can’t not. After a soul-sapping battle of wills such as this, you have to salute the men in the middle of it all. But the moments after the bell, when Diaz hauled McGregor up off the canvass and embraced him, left you wondering why there can’t be even a semblance of the same respect in the build-up.

Maybe through those oversized glasses McGregor can see that a little clearer now — his diversion up to welterweight exposed flaws; he righted so many of them but inside and outside the cage, things can always be improved.

“I cracked him, I mean three times I think I dropped him, yeah?” said McGregor as Diaz and so many more called for an immediate rubber match to decide this defining rivalry.

“But I was patient, I learned that lesson. The game plan worked well. John Kavanagh’s book is in stores now: Win Or Learn. We learned this time. I’m very grateful for it.”

With or without faux lenses, the future is all of a sudden bright again.

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