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Conor McGregor getting back in the cage - but is it for the last time?

Jonty Dine, Sports Reporter

Analysis - UFC 303 could well mark the end of one of the most enthralling careers in sports history.

After a three-year absence form the cage, the 'Notorious' Conor McGregor will finally return on 30 June to fight 'Iron' Michael Chandler.

Once regarded as the greatest fighter on the planet, sitting as high as second on the pound for pound rankings, it will be a shell of the former man who enters the octagon next month.

His rise to the top of the sport was unlike anything the mixed martial arts (MMA) world had ever seen.

The perfect blend of charisma and skill, his knock-outs were as iconic as his one liners.

His ascent saw him mow through future hall of famers Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier en route to his shot at gold.

Then just two years after joining the UFC, the Irish phenom became first ever double division champion, knocking out legendary lightweight champion Jose Also in just 12 seconds in what was the culmination of a year-long campaign of psychological destruction of the Brazilian.

During a worldwide press tour to promote the featherweight title fight, McGregor took every opportunity to get inside Aldo's head - from claiming he was the 'real king of Rio' - to stealing the champion's belt.

After usurping Aldo, McGregor put on an absolute clinic against Eddie Alvarez to also claim the lightweight strap.

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UFC president Dana White allowed his biggest star to take a year out in order to take part in a blockbuster boxing match against the undefeated Floyd Mayweather.

Despite a 49-0 record, such was the aura of McGregor at the time, many respected commentators in the combat sports world were backing McGregor for an upset.

Of course, the veteran Mayweather put that delusion to bed in round 10 of their mega fight, and though his mystique may have faded slightly as a result, McGregor's bank account exploded, taking home $100 million.

The monumental pay day seeminlgy marked the end of the McGregor era.

Going from a social welfare recipient to the Forbes list for highest paid athletes appeared to douse the fire which ignited both a sport and a nation.

Upon his return to the UFC, the cracks began to appear during his highly personal feud with Khabib Nurmagomedov.

His once witty remarks were now threats, targeting the Russian's religion, family and home of Dagestan, all while sipping on his new line of name brand whiskey.

The man responsible for classic mic moments such as "precision beats power, timing beats speed," and "we're not just here to take part, we're here to take over," was now resorting to personal attacks on spouses and throwing dollies at bus windows.

Nurmagomedov gave McGregor a stark reality check at UFC 229, dominating him for four rounds before forcing him to submit to a neck crank.

The humility McGregor showed after his first UFC loss to Nate Diaz - "I will not make excuses, this is the fight business" - was nowhere to be seen, as he continued to attack his opponent online, and also announce the first of his many faux retirements.

It was here where he would start making headlines not for his feats in the cage, but his antics outside it - from punching an old man in a bar who refused his whiskey to slapping a cellphone out of a fan's hand.

Fans continued to abandon McGregor as the allegations of assaults, both physical and sexual, piled up, most recently a woman claimed to be raped by McGregor at an NBA game in 2023, a case which was later dropped.

He offered a glimmer of hope to his long suffering fan base with a 40 second demolition of Donald Cowboy Cerrone in 2020, but his second round TKO loss would be the first time in 27 professional fights he was rendered unconscious, calling into question his future as a fighter.

The trilogy bout with Poirier would cement his decline, as he fell backwards on a broken ankle, symbolising his fall from grace.

It has been another three years of inactivity for McGregor, and at UFC 303, Chandler could well hammer the final nail into the coffin.

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