McGregor is not that guy anymore

Backside on the canvas, back to the cage, leg bent in a way legs aren’t supposed to be bent and Conor McGregor still wouldn’t stop bleating and badgering.

He was screaming for his latest loss to be officially declared a doctor’s stoppage, not a TKO at the hands of Dustin Poirier, a distinction without much of a difference.

He was screaming at Poirier that next time — unlike the last two times — he’d hand him some hellacious whipping, which given the circumstances was comically sad.

He was screaming about Poirier’s wife because, well, McGregor learned long ago when people might be on the verge of tuning him out, just get meaner and cruder and more and more ridiculous.

The thing is, people may stop listening to Conor McGregor pretty soon. His post-fight diatribe sounded more like a guy begging for continued relevance, begging Poirier and other elite fighters not to leave him behind, than any tangible emotion. It’s hard to imagine even McGregor believed what he was saying.

“I was boxing the bleeding head off him, kicking the bleeding leg off him,” a frenzied McGregor said to announcer Joe Rogan. “This is not over. If I have to take this outside with him, it’s on outside.”

Oh, it’s over. At least this era of McGregor. He was carried out of a Las Vegas Octagon on Saturday night — his left leg in a splint — and into the crossroads of his career.

Conor McGregor battles Dustin Poirier (top) in their lightweight bout during UFC 264 on July 10. (Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Conor McGregor battles Dustin Poirier (top) in their lightweight bout during UFC 264 on July 10. (Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Dublin, Ireland native has one victory in four years — over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

He’s been brutalized in his last three bouts — one by Khabib Nurmagomedov and twice now by Poirier. He no longer looks capable of his early match swarms that used to overwhelm psyched-out opponents. His once-lethal left doesn’t seem to carry the same pop.

He’s switched up styles and strategies so often that he looks unconvinced in any of them — attempting a single-arm guillotine on a black belt such as Poirier was a sign of desperation that ended predictably.

The leg break ended this one at the end of the first round, but Poirier had dominated that round — all the bluster about how McGregor was going to murder and torture Poirier hadn’t come close to materializing. He looked en route to being knocked out.

That said, McGregor remains, by far, the biggest draw in combat sports. T-Mobile Arena was filled with A-list celebrities and even a former president. UFC president Dana White said pay-per-views were trending toward 1.8 million, one of the best nights ever for the sport.

Recent record aside, McGregor is still an upper-level fighter as he hits his 33rd birthday this week. His lower tibia will be patched back together — while more gruesome to look at, it’s an easier heal than a ligament or tendon. He’s got plenty of career left if he wants it.

It’s just not the career he had.

The antics, the insults, the trash talk that mesmerized the world made McGregor a very rich and very famous man. That was, in large part however, because he could back it up with skill and guile and a fury that he always said was borne from life on the Irish dole.

McGregor would get all worked up before the fight, but then he’d deliver a hell of a knock. Win or lose, he’d send everyone home pretty happy. He was a fighter’s fighter, not just some self-marketed star. Give the man that. And he can, no doubt, still dish out some hurt in there.

Yet the visual of a slumped-back McGregor — broken and beaten — hurling outrageous insults and improbable promises of future dominance might make even Conor cringe when he sees it on replay. Take it outside? He couldn’t even stand up. Poirier — had he wanted to sink to McGregor’s level — could have just walked over and smacked him around again for mentioning his wife. That’s what would happen on the streets.

Conor McGregor battles Dustin Poirier (top) in their lightweight bout during UFC 264 on July 10. (Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Conor McGregor battles Dustin Poirier (top) in their lightweight bout during UFC 264 on July 10. (Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This was a dog barking from inside the gate.

How long can McGregor keep up all the yapping, all of his supposed rage-induced outbursts? He once threw a loading dock dolly through a bus window because he was supposedly so angry with Nurmagomedov, only to later get dominated. Now this.

Does anyone keep taking it seriously unless he starts backing it up with victories again?

McGregor isn’t in Poirier’s class any longer. Nor Khabib’s (if he ever unretires). Same with Charles Oliveira or Alexander Volkanovski, the UFC’s respective current lightweight and featherweight champions. McGregor once owned both belts at the same time.

It happens. Age happens. Injuries happen. MMA happens — a sport where innovation and improvement must be constant. McGregor’s millions happen.

What’s the motivation for a man who has risen from poverty and become not just a fight star and not just a businessman but a business, man. Whiskey. Boxing. Social Media. Fashion. Who knows, he may be headed toward a real billionaire’s strut.

There are more fights to be had, just a little different kind. McGregor could always summon the anger for a trilogy fight with Nate Diaz. There was a dustup this week with Rafael dos Anjos, a former lightweight champ who is 36 and on the downslope of his career. The PPVs will still spin.

There is also the possibility of taking on YouTube star Jake Paul in a boxing match that, if McGregor could get out of his UFC contract or get the promotion to bend, might earn another nine-figure payday like when he fought Floyd Mayweather in 2017.

Or McGregor could just go off and enjoy his fortune.

His talent as a fighter and a promoter has served as rocket fuel for the sport. Each skill needs the other, though.

Conor McGregor, laid out awaiting a stretcher, with no bite to back up the bark, just isn’t that anymore.

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