3 Biggest Lessons from Conor McGregor's Comeback

The UFC superstar appears to have refocused after a rash of bad decisions threatened his legacy.

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3 Biggest Lessons from Conor McGregor's Comeback
Image credit: Jeff Bottari | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Entrepreneur, investor and coach for CEOs, Entrepreneurs
8 min read
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This past weekend, Conor McGregor made his triumphant return to the UFC. He looked in fine form, dismantling Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, a top-ranked fighter who has more wins and fight-finishing bonuses than any other fighter ever, in just 40 seconds. If referee Herb Dean had not given Cowboy every reasonable chance to defend himself, the fight might have been over in half that time.  

This outcome was far from guaranteed. Conor’s rise to the top is the stuff of legend. The son of a taxi driver in the poor Irish neighborhood of Crumlin, in Dublin 12, he grew up longing to fight his way to fame and fortune. Ireland had never had an MMA champion, and he was literally laughed at when he predicted he would one day be a UFC champion. But no one laughed at him when he knocked out Jose Aldo, who had been undefeated for a decade, in a record-breaking 13 seconds, and became the undisputed featherweight (145 lb.) champion. Then he made history again by going up in weight class and capturing the lightweight (155 lb.) championship. After his historic win, he took the mic and taunted his haters, “I would like to apologize...to absolutely no one!”

Conor stepped away from the cage to see what else he could conquer. He started a whiskey distillery, Proper 12. He traded his MMA gloves for boxing gloves and got in the ring with Floyd “Money” Mayweather in a match that was as much spectacle as substance. Conor dominated early, but Floyd showed the skills that made him one of the greatest of all time by readjusting his strategy and winning by TKO in the 10th round. 

Related: From MMA Champ to Whiskey Entrepreneur: a Conversation With Conor McGregor

Conor returned to the cage to take on Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov, the undefeated champion. You could see leading up to the fight that Conor was going beyond promotion and becoming a wild man. He attacked a member of Khabib’s fight camp by throwing a moving dolly at a coach bus, breaking the window and injuring two other fighters on the card who had nothing to do with him. A member of Conor’s entourage yelled racial and religious slurs at Khabib during the fight. The night ended with a WWE-like (but completely real) brawl. 

Afterward, Conor’s life swung from wild highs to painful lows. A fan ran up to him asking for a selfie, and Conor snapped and broke the fan’s phone. He spent money like crazy and lost money in his MMA promotion. He and long-time partner Dee Devlin had a second child. He was in Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes, yet was on many lists of worst sportsperson of the year. Then he hit what many consider his lowest point when he sucker-punched a 50-year-old man who turned down a drink at an Irish pub.

This is when I realized that Conor was going through what I call the tunnel. The tunnel is what many people call a “midlife crisis,” but it has nothing to do with age and everything to do with your perceived place in the world. This is an important stage most men refuse to go through. It’s where you feel uncertain, unfocused, and disconnected. It’s the stage where you question your purpose in the world. You still have the tools to do well in the world, but your motivation is missing, and you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. This is when you have to search deep down inside yourself, and find a way to listen to that inner voice deep down inside you to find your new purpose in the world, not as a warrior, but as a king.

Related: 5 Marketing Lessons From UFC Legend Conor McGregor

Conor had ascended to be one of the greatest warriors in the world. But when you’ve already reached the top, you sometimes want to chase the feeling of reaching the top again. But you can’t do that, it’s a formula for failure. With no clear goal, he began to sedate himself. He had so much drive as a warrior, but that warrior’s edge was no longer serving him. I hoped at the time that Conor would get the help that he needed to get out of his tunnel and find a new outlook on life. Maybe it was time for him to step away from fighting and focus on being a businessman, father, and husband.

When the UFC announced that Conor would return against Donald Cerrone, I, like many others, underestimated him. As Marvin Hagler famously said, “It’s hard to get up at 5:30 and go running when you’re sleeping on silk sheets.” I wondered if Conor should have stuck to selling drinks and promoting other fighters, I didn’t see how he could get back the hunger that once propelled him to the top of the fight game.

This weekend, I got my answer. Leading up to the fight, Conor was unusually deferential to Cowboy. Instead of being a wide-eyed, trash-talking maniac, McGregor praised Cowboy for being a family man and a game competitor. He promised he was abstaining from alcohol in preparation for the fight. He wasn’t fighting like a warrior. He was showing signs that he had put his demons behind him and was fighting like a King. After his quick win, McGregor not only embraced Cerrone, but went over to Cerrone’s grandmother and the two shared a warm hug. When I saw Tony Robbins in Conor’s corner, it all came together.

Tony had been working with Conor to help him rediscover himself. Conor was able to listen to that inner voice. He learned to quiet the doubt inside of him, and do what he knew he needed to do. He said he was not just back to who he was, but “better than who he was.” Conor was happier with himself than he’d been in a long time. He had come full circle. 

I believe Tony showed Conor that if he wants to win, he can’t win with the old version of himself. He can’t win fights with the same strategy as he did before. He has to become a different version of Conor. He had to become a different human being because his biggest opponent is always himself. 

Related: Conor McGregor's Business Partner on the Pivot That Created a Powerhouse Agency

This is what every entrepreneur needs to understand. If we want to make a comeback, we need to evolve and reinvent ourselves. Because doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results, is insanity. 

Here are my 3 biggest takeaways from watching McGregor and Cowboy fight.

1. Look for a worthy opponent to increase your capacity.

In a big change, Conor honored his opponent from the beginning. He didn’t talk trash, he praised him, and afterward, he showed respect towards Cerrone and his whole family. That’s the mindset of a king. To know that even when you've beaten your opponent, it doesn't mean he’s less than you, because he made you strong.

2. Use everything you have to win the fight.

McGregor used a shoulder strike that may have looked insignificant at first, but the move completely disrupted Cerrone’s game plan. That set him up for the winning blow. Sometimes in business or in life, we want to only have the winning strike, but we don't look at the small moves that make a big difference.

3. You’re only as good as the people who are in your corner.

McGregor hiring Tony Robbins as his coach gave him a different perspective than just hanging around yes men. Sometimes you need to be around people who will tell you the truth. If you’re not surrounded by people who will challenge you and expand your capacity, you’re going to get into a rut and stop innovating. Because you’ll be the victim of your own hype. 

This is what I love teaching my clients. To look at failures as feedback. Because life is always giving us exactly what we need in order to expand and grow. We’ve seen examples of McGregor over and over again, in business and in life. Your comeback is just around the corner. All you have to do is learn from your failure.

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