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Conor McGregor vowing to keep aggression in the Octagon

LAS VEGAS — Can “Notorious” be notorious if he’s no longer notorious outside the Octagon?

That’s a question to be answered at UFC 246 Saturday night, when Conor McGregor returns from a 15-month layoff to fight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the main event at T-Mobile Arena. ESPN+ PPV will live stream the main card.

The UFC’s first dual champion and self-proclaimed biggest star, McGregor says he’s a new man, rededicated to MMA after a tumultuous year during which he spent too much time going in and out of court rooms. From smashing someone’s cell phone to punching a man in an Ireland pub, McGregor made headlines for all the wrong things, including a reported investigation into a sexual assault case in Ireland.

After apologizing for his actions, McGregor seems more humbled and appreciative of what he has as he heads into an important welterweight fight with the well-schooled Cerrone. He has turned from boastful to respectful.

“I’m just very honored and happy to be here back on United States soil and back here in Las Vegas,” McGregor said during a news conference Wednesday at the Palms. “I’ve had so many amazing moments here. My life has changed here in America. I’m very grateful for this country and very honored to be here and perform for the people. To come here and entertain these people is something that gets me up in the morning.”

McGregor needs to start 2020 in a much better fashion than 2019 ended. He made a contrite apology in August for punching a man in an Irish pub after the gentleman declined to taste McGregor’s Proper Twelve whiskey. The video of the incident turned off many of his Irish fans.

“That’s not who I am,” McGregor said once the video aired.

That incident came after he was arrested for smashing the cell phone of an English tourist in Miami who was trying to take his picture, though the charges were later dropped.

Earlier this year, McGregor completed court-ordered community service for throwing a dolly at a bus full of MMA fighters after a press conference at Barclays Center.

McGregor has eluded jail time in all the incidents, but seems to understand he is running out of second chances. He has presented himself as a more humble person as he prepares for Cerrone, blaming himself for not being as committed as he could have been and promising to be the best version of himself come fight night.

He said he endured the most “structured” training camp of his career and even abstained from drinking whiskey.

“I made a promise to my fans to my team and my people that I would abstain and stay focused and give it my all and I’ve done that,” he said.

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregorZuffa LLC via Getty Images

He also blames himself for being 2-2 in his last four MMA fights. Some have suggested the nearly $100 million he made for a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather in 2017 fattened his wallet but blurred his focus and inflated his ego. There were questions about his dedication to training leading up to his loss by fourth-round submission to Khabib Nurmagomedov in his last fight in October 2018.

“I’ve turned over a new leaf,” he said.

McGregor has built his brand on outlandish boasts and an explosive personality that has continually landed him in trouble. “Notorious” was a fitting nickname that has proven dangerous to live up to. Now we’re to believe he’s “Not-so-Notorious.” As he put it recently, “I went from apologizing to absolutely nobody to apologizing to absolutely everybody.”

McGregor said his calmer demeanor displayed at Wednesday’s news conference is more about Cerrone than some conversion.

“I’m as real as it gets,” he said. “I react to how the situation is. This situation seems to be a little different There’s nothing false or fake. It’s just me being real.”

McGregor said his intensity as a fighter won’t be affected by his attempt to be a good citizen. Punching people in pubs is out; beating people up in the Octagon isn’t.