The past 12 months have seen McGregor put in performances that would secure his place on this list – but it’s his journey outside of the Octagon that makes him such a draw.
Rewind to December 2015 when McGregor had confirmed his status as the pay-per-view king in the UFC franchise, by knocking out reigning featherweight champion Jose Aldo with a single punch. The build-up that preceded it marked McGregor as one of sport’s greatest trash-talkers, but it was the punch that secured his position as one of sport’s greatest fighters.
McGregor had the world at his feet. The next step was up, so he signed a contract to fight UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in March. If he were successful, he’d become the franchise’s first dual-weight champion.
This was unchartered UFC water. There had been other fighters moving through the weight classes, but never a two-weight champion, and never one with the crossover appeal of McGregor. Fate struck. Dos Anjos pulled out with a broken foot, and the dream was supposedly shelved. Instead, McGregor went up a division again to welterweight. What possessed him to challenge the division’s baddest man Nate Diaz is beyond us, but we’re sure the words ‘why not?’ crossed his mind.
He packed on 26lb to fight at welterweight, yet was still relatively undersized going into the fight in March. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off – at UFC 196, he lost by a second round submission. Excuses or judgements formed a bulk of the critical analysis, but McGregor offered none.
This was the nexus in McGregor’s career that made him the complete athlete. While there’s a hunger for the armchair pundit to say ‘I told you so’, McGregor accepted his loss with the kind of humility we didn’t think one of sport’s most provocative stars possessed. He is human after all, and it made the comeback so much sweeter. Like all good Hollywood stories, McGregor returned to face his demon at UFC 202. On August 20, he won via a narrow majority decision for victory and redemption.
At the time of writing this, McGregor is set to face UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez to reignite his bid to become a two-weight world champion. Win or lose, he’s already secured his legacy as one of the planet’s most talented and watchable athletes.