Conor McGregor has already done enough in his career to suggest he will go down as one of the finest fighters the UFC has ever produced but the Irishman claimed: “I feel like I’m only starting.”
McGregor was just the third fighter in the company’s history to become a multi-weight champion and the first to hold two titles simultaneously after adding lightweight gold to his featherweight crown in November 2016.
Fame and fortune followed a year later as a boxing bout against Floyd Mayweather reportedly netted McGregor more than 100million US dollars, while he is still the most recognisable and bankable figure in mixed martial arts.
He acknowledged his achievements but insists he is hungry for more as he ends a 12-month hiatus from the octagon at UFC 257 this weekend, when he will take on old rival Dustin Poirier at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.
“I feel like I’m only starting,” said McGregor at the final pre-fight press conference. “Everyone says ‘You’ve done it all, you’re so rich, what are you doing here?’ Am I not allowed here?
“I want to be here and perform for the fans. I’m a young man, I’ve got many highlights. All the money, all the belts and everything, it comes and goes. You know what lives on? A fighter’s highlights.
“You look at Roy Jones Jr’s highlights, Mike Tyson’s highlights, Muhammad Ali’s highlights, I still look at them today.
“I want my highlight reel to be like a movie. That’s what I’m after, I’m looking to get in and perform and put on amazing highlights that I can sit as an old man with my son and just watch them back and enjoy life.
“I’m just loving my life, please don’t be trying to get rid of me, guys. I love it here, I helped build this. I have plenty of motivation. What does the champ-champ do? He does it twice. I conquered it, let’s conquer it again.”
McGregor was cutting a swathe through the featherweight division when he first came up against Poirier in September 2014 – and the Dubliner poleaxed his American foe inside two minutes at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
This time, the pair are bidding to reassert themselves in a 155lb division that is currently in limbo, with Khabib Nurmagomedov still champion despite retiring after beating Justin Gaethje last October.
UFC president Dana White has held talks with Nurmagomedov and revealed the Russian could be tempted to make a comeback if he sees “something spectacular” between the two headliners.
Both combatants have already lost to Nurmagomedov but McGregor warned his long-time adversary “the world knows this war is not over” as he chases a rematch, having previously alleged he was ill-prepared for their October 2018 bout.
Irrespective of Nurmagomedov’s opinion, McGregor is relishing the chance to steal the show in his first fight since stopping Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds last January, which took his MMA record to 22 wins and four losses.
His conditioning has been questioned by some members of his opponent’s team, but McGregor made the championship weight of 155lb on Friday morning, with Poirier one pound heavier, which is permitted for non-title bouts.
Ahead of an event at the 18,000-capacity Etihad Arena, where 2,000 socially-distanced spectators are set to attend, McGregor said: “I’m in some shape and I am coming to put on a masterpiece, so I’m excited about it.
“I know his team have been spouting about the conditioning, I have put in a lot of work to get myself correctly to the 155lb frame.
“I got 40 seconds inside the octagon in 2020 which caused major frustration, it’s not enough, I need more. I believe I can get him out there and possibly will hit him early and hurt him, but I hope for a good, long bout.”
The build-up to the fight has been largely respectful but Poirier (26-6) insists he is there to upset the odds, saying: “I’m trying to put my family in a better position and this is no different.
“I know what a win over Conor McGregor means in combat sports and I know that whoever wins this fight is fighting for gold.”