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What’s different about Conor McGregor’s return at UFC 246? Everything, and that’s why he’s primed for a busy 2020

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In the buildup to Conor McGregor’s return to the Octagon against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 246, something seems off. Fans didn’t see pre-fight antics, and they didn’t hear any of the usual hostility coming out of the former UFC champion’s mouth in any of his media appearances.

The magnitude of a McGregor fight is still in the air, but it seems like a new version of the man who would dance around at press conferences and taunt opponents has surfaced: a new and improved Conor McGregor.

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The Notorious One has become, well, notorious for the hype surrounding any of his bouts, and it tends to be more entertaining for some than any of the actual punches or kicks the sports superstar could ever deliver. Ahead of this fight in Las Vegas, it appears as if McGregor wants his actions to do the talking for him, and it feels like a breath of fresh air.

He said he had a flawless camp, and that he feels great at a new weight class of 170 pounds. He said he feels more mature, and mentioned that he’s enjoying his training more than he ever has.

“I’d say it’s a new Conor,” McGregor said to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani during an interview before UFC 246. “I just feel reinvigorated, you know? Excited. That’s it.”

“I’ve come full circle. I’ve experienced everything in this business. And I have a solid team of masters, tacticians behind me that I discuss my feelings and my thoughts with them, and we brainstorm.”

McGregor described 2019, a year full of legal troubles that included sexual assault allegations and an assault of an elderly man at a bar that was caught on camera, as a “learning year.” Looking ahead to 2020, the former UFC champion is looking to get back on track with his eyes on the prize.

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“2020: the year of perfect vision,” McGregor told Helwani. “I know what I want to do and what I enjoy doing. And this is what I enjoy doing. And so I’m going to keep doing it. Now I’m doing it full steam ahead, and I’m in the best shape of my life, mental and physical.”

McGregor has already laid out his plans for the new year in the past, hoping to start his “season” with a bout on January 18, followed by a fight against the winner of the Jorge Masvidal-Nate Diaz fight from UFC 244 (Enter: Masvidal), with a lightweight title shot against the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson rounding out his plans.

He’s shown interest in numerous other events, with the potential for a fight on the UFC 248 card in March depending on how he performs at UFC 246. He’s added the possibility for a return to boxing, or a matchup in the Octagon with another contender like Justin Gaethje. All in all, he’s getting his ducks in a row for a powerfully prosperous 2020 if things go according to plan.

So, what’s changed about McGregor as he prepares to clean the slate in the new decade? For one, he’s a father, and it seems like he’s realizing the power that Father Time could have on him in addition to that fact.

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“I am absolutely amazed, and I’m very, very blessed,” McGregor said. “What a time for it to happen for me, right on the money for me. I needed my kids to help me. And they have helped me. And I’m very, very happy and very, very proud.”

The other thing that’s changed, which has been noticeable to everyone in the week leading up to his return to the Octagon, has been McGregor’s respect for his opponent.

While that could change when faced with the challenge of a personal rivalry with fighters like Nurmagomedov or Mayweather, it seems like McGregor understands the value that respect between fighters can have before a bout, and that a fight can be promoted without insults and physicality.

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“I have respect for Donald [Cerrone],” McGregor said at the pre-fight press conference before UFC 246. “It’s hard not to respect Donald. There will be no bad blood here. But, there will be blood spilled. Make no mistake about that.”

If that blood is spilled in McGregor’s favor on Saturday night at UFC 246, the Octagon could become a familiar place for McGregor in 2020, and possibly even more in years to come. If that’s the case, fans can only hope that they continue to see the new and improved McGregor, which seems to be motivated, hungry and ready for war.

“I’m going to be active,” McGregor said when discussing 2020. “This is a spark to me. I’m gonna go in here and do what I please in here and put on a show for the fans and get a beautiful win. Look at me: three weight divisions. I mean, I want to own this. So I’m very, very excited and very happy.”

“Long may the opponents continue to come, and I’ll continue to knock them down.”

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