Conor McGregor aiming for return before UFC Dublin card as a lightweight

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Conor McGregor is down, but he's not out. Not if you talk to him, anyway. Give him 15 seconds to tell you how he's doing and two themes quickly emerge: the man is on a mission and looking to break records. According to the Irishman, he views himself as close to untouchable, but if he lacks anything, it's enough time to do everything he views himself capable of conquering.

But before any of that is possible, McGregor must first get healthy. After partially tearing several key ligaments in his knee during his bout with Max Hollaway at UFC Fight Night 26 in August, McGregor's sole focus has become getting healthy so he can get back to action.

"I'm following the identical route that GSP took," McGregor told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour when referring to his recent knee surgery and ongoing physical rehabilitation. "Same surgeon, same everything, same rehab. And [GSP] was 10 months and the doctor, the surgeon recommended he could've come back earlier. My physician thinks I'll be back full training in six months the way I'm going.

"I'm a super freak," McGregor says without the slightest hint of irony. "I'm a specimen of movement."

For a man facing an injury this debilitating, there's no shake or quiver in his voice. His attitude is as positive as ever.

Still, McGregor's life is nothing but rehab at the present moment. He's currently in Los Angeles, living in a rented apartment by himself so he can follow, to the letter, all of the necessary steps that make his return to action as fast as humanly possible.

Where he is now, there's no family. He has no friends in the city. He's basically alone the majority of his time. Only a rep from his management checks in on him every once in a while. "I'm on my own here, dedicating myself," he notes. But in hearing him speak, there's no sense of sorrow of self-pity. McGregor is as affable and forward-thinking as ever. "This is just a new phase to what's going on in my life, another story, another chapter that I will overcome."

There's also some reason for optimism, relatively speaking. The doctor who operated on his knee isn't just the same one who performed on Georges St-Pierre, but NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as well. Physical therapy isn't fun, but it's moving along at the appropriate pace. In fact, it's moving so quickly, the confident featherweight believes he'll be a model for how to recover from this injury.

"I will do whatever it takes to get me back to full health," he states. "I plan on setting records here. But at the same time, I'm going to set records on my return. People are going to study me, study this injury, study how I came back from this. At the same time, I'm going to listen to instructions. I'm not going to rush it either. I'm well aware that if you rush this injury that you're right back to square one. I'm taking instructions, but honestly, I plan on setting records here.

"Scientists have already gotten in touch. They want to pay big money to study my body after I'm gone. I'm a specimen of movement, my friend."

It's a serious injury, one which the UFC is paying to have treated properly. But for all the injury's severity, McGregor only found out how bad it was and how long he'd be out through social media.

"I found out on Twitter," McGregor said of his damaged knee and the layoff he'd be required to take. "I was already planning my next contest. My next contest was going to be a top 10 opponent. There was no doubt in my mind. I believe Diego Brandao got that fight I was supposed to get against [Dustin] Poirier. I believe that was my fight.

"I was calling out everyone, planning my next contest and then I go on Twitter and I see this thing Dana White tweeted, 'FOX Sports: McGregor injury, 10 months, ACL, MCL, PCL," McGregor still says with both surprise and disdain. "I was sitting there in shock."

The obvious question is what's the next move once everything heals up? For now, it's simple more rehab. McGregor claims he's doing everything he can to facilitate the process. He does 500 sit-ups a day, 100 push-ups and can already ride a stationary bike. But what about are return to the Octagon? After all, with the UFC planning a return to Dublin, Ireland in late 2014, it only makes sense McGregor himself, the fans and UFC management would want him competing at the event.

"I believe I'm going to be back before the Dublin card. That's my aim," McGregor contends. "Have a contest back, maybe at 155. I feel too fast for these guys at 155. At 145, it's just too damn easy. I might have 155 on my return and then a meaningful fight at 145 in Dublin.

"I know I'm going to make it look easy. No one has the mind I have. No one has the intelligence I have to this game. It's going to be like I never left. And not only is it going to be like I never left, I'm going to improve. I study this game and my movements. I take notes. It's what I've been saying: this is just a new phase of training."

McGregor notes UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby doesn't want the natural featherweight to take a bout outside of his traditional weight class, so there's an open question about whether that's McGregor being McGregor or if it will actually happen. The popular Irish fighter also notes it's still too early on the path to the road back to call out any names of who he'd like to fight.

"It's a long way away to be calling people out, but I'd love a 155 fight. A 155 fight I thought was in slow motion on Saturday night if I'm being honest. I believe I'll be too fast for these guys, any of these guys.

"I fought at 155. I've held belts at 155. I've knocked people out at 155. There's a different dynamic, there's pros and cons to it," McGregor argues. "A lot of the 155'ers are sluggish. I honestly feel I could go in there and light 90 percent of that division up."

Whether returns before or after the Dublin card, no one really knows. For now, McGregor is where he is: in an apartment in Los Angeles, either doing push-ups and sit-ups in his room or getting physical therapy on his healing knee.

And despite the length of the recovery process as well as its uncertainty, there's no hint of anything but enthusiasm when he speaks. Nothing seems to have dampened his drive, interest in the game or desire for conquest. For McGregor, this is all just part of the same exact story. No matter what else, he is certain this is all part of his destiny.

"I'm still going to be whooping ass and creating headlines," he says of his return to fighting. "I'm buzzing to get back."

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