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Conor McGregor reflects on initial doubts after UFC 264 injury, wants two fights in 2023

Conor McGregor is aiming for a busy 2023 campaign.

With filming wrapped on The Ultimate Fighter 31, the former two-division UFC champion made a special in-studio appearance Wednesday on The MMA Hour, where he looked back on his road since UFC 264 and looked ahead to his upcoming UFC return. McGregor is set to face fellow TUF 31 coach Michael Chandler later in 2023, and if he has his druthers, it’ll be the first of a two-fight schedule for what’s shaping up to be his comeback year.

“For sure [the goal is two fights in 2023], I can see it moving pretty fast when it moves,” McGregor told host Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “We’re gearing up and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes and all, but I feel it will move fast. There’s no issue why it shouldn’t move fast. So I assume late summer [for Chandler], maybe a little bit later depending — I would like that. And then of course, that’s still half the year left.

“I wish for consistency. I’m working for consistency. Like I said before, I’ve had this on-off thing for a couple of years and it’s been frustrating, but be it for different reasons. But I’d like to just get past that and just get into this consistency bracket. And I feel I will, I feel I can, and I’m excited for it.”

McGregor, 34, has not competed since badly injuring his left leg in the second of back-to-back stoppage losses at the hands of Dustin Poirier in 2021.

The gruesome injury ultimately sidelined McGregor for more than a year and required intensive rehabilitation to overcome. McGregor admitted Wednesday that he even initially doubted whether he’d ever be able to fight again at full strength, however those doubts quickly subsided and were replaced by motivation to build himself back for a UFC return.

“At the time, I thought, ‘You know, maybe I won’t be able to do this again.’ For sure, that was in my thoughts,” McGregor acknowledged.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you’re willing, you’re able. You’ve only got to look at guys like the other ‘Notorious’ in the sport, the only other ‘Notorious’ in the sport is a guy, ‘Notorious’ Nick Newell, with no hand. There’s a way. If you’re with disabilities or something that’s wrong, you can find a way to compete. Look at, there’s another guy, Zion Clark, a wrestling champion — he’s got no lower half of his body. I saw him at the event, he had his MMA debut just recently, won, but I see him walk on his hands. I’m never stopping this. I’m continuing. I would wheel out into that octagon and execute into the open guard if I couldn’t brace on the leg. That was in my thoughts, that was my thoughts.

“So thank God, my surgeons, the doctors, the UFC care that I had, and all the help that I got, I was able to recover from it,” he continued. “And I’ve got the power in the leg, I’ve able to brace on it, I’m able to kick with it. I’m kicking hard, I’m kicking fast. And you best believe I’m looking to take this guy out with the steel bar on my leg, for sure.”

McGregor confirmed that his fight against Chandler will likely take place at 170 pounds. The Irishman has bulked up significantly since his injury and called for a welterweight title shot if he’s able to break his two-fight slump and win his comeback fight.

Winning a belt at 170 pounds would make McGregor the first-ever three-division champion in UFC history. He previously earned titles at featherweight in 2015 and lightweight in 2016. McGregor holds a 2-1 record as a welterweight in the UFC, splitting a two-fight series with Nate Diaz before demolishing Donald Cerrone in just 40 seconds in his most recent win.

But a question of motivation still looms large.

Why would McGregor even want to put himself in such danger again, especially after landing at No. 33 on Sportico’s recent list of the top 50 highest-paid athletes of all-time?

The answer, it turns out, is simple.

“Competition, man. Competition. It’s the best buzz ever,” McGregor said. “Why would you not want to do it? How would you not want to make this walk and experience this whole thing? It’s highly addictive and I’m highly addicted. So that’s it.”

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