Conor McGregor Tells How Hand Injury Scuppered July Return Against Justin Gaethje

Stephen McCarthy-Getty
A lightweight tilt with Gaethje was almost sealed for July.

Former two-division UFC world champion, ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor appeared on a special ‘one-to-one’ interview with long-time mixed-martial-arts journalist Ariel Helwani on ESPN SportsCenter last night, where he discussed his recent altercation in Dublin, his fighting future and his relationship with the UFC and head coach John Kavanagh.

McGregor, who has not competed in active competition since October last year at UFC 229 in a neck crank submission defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov, explained how a July meeting at Madison Square Garden against surging contender Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje was set for his return. Surgery on a broken left hand in May scuppered the return with his doctor only recently clearing the Dubliner to return to grappling training. McGregor also commented on his second supposed retirement.

You don’t understand the amount of things that go on behind the scenes Ariel, sometimes I just need distance, ‘I’m like hold on I’ve rushed’. You must understand my foot was a balloon when I walked into that (Khabib) fight, I’ve got all this footage backed up from the entire camp. I broke my foot three weeks out from that fight and my foot was a balloon. I tore my knee, I tore my leg to shreds before the (Chad) Mendes fight. I’ve done so much for the company, back to back to back nonstop, like I’ve built this, Royce (Gracie) can say he built this house, but I’ve certainly laid bricks and blocks down to this game, and then when so many things are going on backstage and between my inner team and then the outer team and then the business side of it, sometimes you just need to take a backstep. Retirement? I don’t think I will ever retire from this game, Ariel, ever in my life, I will be fighting until the day I go out, there’s no doubt about it. It’s just the way it is, it’s (fighting) in me, bled in me. I will take it with me to the grave.

Speaking with Helwani, McGregor later confirms how a summer return was on the cards until he suffered a broken hand during a sparring session in May.

I was preparing for the end of July at Madison Square Garden, I was eager to get back, I had the game figured out and I have it figured out. I was on such a great trajectory Ariel, like I said I get to these great spots and ‘boom’, a little slip and then I have to build it up again. It’s just the life I’m in right now and I’ve just got to recognize it and take lessons from it and keep going and not let it happen again. Most certainly I would have been back in July, we were getting there in conversation, opponents discussed, I do not really mind the opponent, I wanted similarities to Khabib to prepare for that (rematch) cause he doesn’t want to have the rematch. Whatever, I just want to compete now, enough is enough let’s get me back in the mix. It’s a forgetful business Ariel you know that yourself, sure look Nate (Diaz) was out of the game, now he’s back and he’s on top. It’s a crazy business we are in, make no mistake the skills are there for me, and I know what I can bring to the table and what I will bring to the table, and I am very excited to give my fans something to cheer about again. I do this for my fans, for the people that are supporting me, for people that dare to dream for the highest of heights. I look forward to my triumphant return Ariel.

When asked by Helwani who the July opponent may have been, McGregor said; “I believe it was leaning toward Justin Gaethje at that time, but look the game changes so quick everyone just comes and goes it’s a forgetful business, it is a cruel, cruel business Ariel, only for the amount of history I’ve made, the amount of iconic moments that’s happened in my career, they would have loved to throw me away and discard me. Think of the other people who haven’t had what i had, that’s gone through the trauma and the battles for the fans , that’s what we do it for, the fan, the family, the people and then when it’s all said and done they just discard you and it’s a cruel business/ That’s why I was happy to see Nate back and I was happy to see, not just bounce back, but bounce back with some business on his mind. I know he doesn’t want to delve into that and I was listening to him talking about his CBD, and he was like, ‘I don’t really want to get into that’, I urge him to ‘get into that’.

Helwani then posed the question, who does “Conor McGregor want in his highly anticipated return fight?” “In the return fight, you know I want my world title back I want that redemption, the camp was incorrect I learned so much from that, and look, knowing the commitment I had in that camp and knowing the performance I put on. He (Khabib) ran away for that first-round Ariel, he didn’t throw a punch, he shot for a leg before he threw a punch. In the first round I should have been talking to Herb (Dean), he said he was talking to me in the cage, there wasn’t a whisper out of him (Khabib) until he ended up in a dominant position. I’m not gonna wait around, whoever. If you’re asking me who? Whoever. If Dustin (Poirier) goes in and does it, Dustin. If Nate, Nate. If Jorge (Masvidal), Jorge. 


I don’t know what Dana’s talking about size and all that, I don’t even know Jorge that well, to be honest, I just seen the last two (fights with Till and Askren). I saw the Iaquinta bout, anyone, Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, Holloway rematch, Aldo rematch, there’s so many bouts for me, Ariel, so many, and in reality, it does not matter who. I’m just about me getting back in and being who I am, not a shell of myself, not half-committed. I was too committed in the gym and not committed enough outside of it, training sessions were too serious, and then when I left the gym it was gone from my mind, and I would go off into the jungle. You cannot do that, you cannot be half in, especially in a game like this, and I paid the price for it. 

Potential opponent Gaethje has since been drafted into a headlining clash with Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at UFC Fight Night Vancouver, so it remains to be seen who emerges victorious between the pair, but the most likely outcome seems the winner of said bout may clash with McGregor before the end of the year.


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