A video of Conor McGregor punching an older man inside a Dublin bar surfaced online last week, and seeing the video was "like a dagger into my heart," McGregor told Ariel Helwani in an exclusive interview with ESPN on Thursday.
In the interview, McGregor expressed regret for his actions in April, when he struck the man in an ugly incident in his native Ireland. The former two-division UFC champion came clean and took full responsibility for his "unacceptable behavior" in that event.
"I was in the wrong," McGregor said. "That man deserved to enjoy his time in the pub without having it end the way it did. ... I tried to make amends and I made amends back then. But it doesn't matter. I was in the wrong. I must come here before you and take accountability and take responsibility. I owe it to the people that have been supporting me. I owe it to my mother, my father, my family. I owe it to the people who trained me in martial arts. That's not who I am. That's not the reason why I got into martial arts or studying combat sports. The reason I got into it was to defend against that type of scenario."
The Gardai, Ireland's national police, are investigating the incident at The Marble Arch Bar on April 6, a spokesperson confirmed to ESPN last week. The Gardai do not comment on named individuals. McGregor said he would accept any consequences.
"Whatever comes my way, I will face it," McGregor said. "Whatever comes my way, I deserve it. I will face this head on. I will not hide from it. I was in the wrong. It was completely unacceptable behavior for a man in my position."
The pub punch was McGregor's second run-in with the law in two months. McGregor was arrested and charged with smashing a man's cellphone and stealing it outside a Miami club in March. Those charges were dropped in May. McGregor admitted he was in the wrong with regard to that situation, too.
"I need to just stop reacting to the bait," McGregor said. "People are trying to bait me into things. Am I the fish or am I the whale? I must be calm, I must be zen. I must lead by example. There's so many people looking up to me. How can I react in this way? I need to get ahold of this and, like I said, I'm working very hard to do this."
Conor McGregor tells Ariel Helwani what he went through during and after the fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov and adds he'll never step away from fighting. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc
McGregor, 31, is the biggest star of the UFC, having been a part of four of the top pay-per-view events in promotion history. He also fought Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match in 2017, a bout that earned him upward of $50 million, he has said. In the interview with Helwani, McGregor expressed concern that his current lifestyle will squander the fortune he has made in combat sports.
"So, if I have this opportunity before me, if I don't execute this and get this right, make this happen for the children of my children's children, all of my successes, all of everything I've achieved will be void, will be meaningless to me," McGregor said. "I must get this right and I must not go down that path, the written path, the cliché of the fighter that has it all and ruins [it]. I need to be aware of my past, of the past of other individuals, and learn from it and grow and that's what I'm doing."
McGregor said he's "eager" to return to the UFC. He's currently recovering from surgery on a broken left hand he suffered in May. The original plan was for him to return in July, possibly against Justin Gaethje at Madison Square Garden, McGregor said, but the hand injury prevented that. A fight before 2019 is over is a possibility, he said.
For a comeback bout, McGregor said it doesn't matter whom he faces. He mentioned former rivals such as Khabib Nurmagomedov, Nate Diaz, Dustin Poirier, Jose Aldo and Max Holloway, as well as possible new foes such as Tony Ferguson, Frankie Edgar, Jorge Masvidal and Gaethje. McGregor said he is in a good position as far as negotiations with the UFC. A stake in the company is no longer a "sticking point" for his return, but it remains something he wants.
McGregor said he took inspiration from Diaz's victory over Anthony Pettis at UFC 241 last weekend in Diaz's first fight since losing to McGregor in 2016. McGregor also mentioned Stipe Miocic's ability to overcome his knockout loss to Daniel Cormier and finish Cormier at UFC 241. The Irishman said he yearns for his own chance to make a triumphant return after his loss to Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in October 2018.
"Mine is gonna be the greatest one of all," McGregor said.
In March, McGregor announced on Twitter his retirement from the UFC. In the interview with Helwani, however, McGregor said he is anything but retired -- and he's not sure he ever will hang up the gloves. At the moment, it seems McGregor's primary focus is getting back in the Octagon.
"I must get my head screwed on and just get back in the game and fight for redemption, retribution, respect -- the things that made me the man I am," McGregor said. "And that's what I will do."