/Opinion: The sports world is better with Conor McGregor back in the octagon

Opinion: The sports world is better with Conor McGregor back in the octagon

Sports just got more reckless. 

Sports just got more bombastic.

Sports just got more violent.

Because Conor McGregor is back — with a first-round TKO win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone on Saturday night. And, man, most of us missed him during his 470-day absence from the UFC octagon.

Maybe we even needed him.

Sure, the Super Bowl is right around the corner, and March Madness, The Masters and big events to follow will keep us entertained. But not like the most riveting showman in combat sports can.

There he was at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, flying across the octagon the instant the fight began.

Using his left shoulder to pound Cerrone, appearing to break Cowboy’s nose.

Delivering a headkick that sent Cerrone to the canvas.

Unloading a barrage of punches before the referee ended the fight and delivering the most poignant moment of the night.

With a bloodied Cerrone still dazed and on the ground, McGregor embraced him gently, like you might a wounded child, and kissed him on the forehead.

How sweet, right? Well, moments later, during a post-fight interview, McGregor was crowing about his new whiskey and new offerings (1.75 liters!), baiting possible opponents and bragging about combat feats.

“You know, I made history here tonight,’’ he said, noting he was the first UFC fighter to secure stoppages in three divisions — featherweight, lightweight and, Saturday night, welterweight. “…So there you go again. Etch my name in history one more time.’’

Etch his name in history. Sounded even sweeter and cockier with that Irish accent. 

No one seemed to begrudge him the moment. Certainly not the man he stopped.

More:Conor McGregor stops Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in first minute to win UFC 246 headliner

Cerrone, who holds the UFC record for most victories, was as gracious in defeat as he was bloody.

“I’d never seen anything like that,’’ Cerrone said of McGregor’s shoulder strikes. “They threw we way off guard. He busted my nose, started bleeding and stepped back and headkicked me. I was like, ‘Oh, man, this happened that fast?’ I got my ass whipped early.’’

It was the perfect reminder that there’s nothing like Conor McGregor. Nothing as entertaining inside — and maybe even outside — the octagon.

There were realistic fears that the best of McGregor was behind us. He hadn’t fought since October 2018, when he lost by submission to Khabib Nurmagomedov. He hadn’t won a UFC fight since beating Eddie Alvarez in November 2016. His most publicized punch in more than a year was a suckerpunch — landed on an older man in a bar.

Conor McGregor made a winning return to the octagon against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.

But, fair or not, the talk of legal issues and erratic behavior and the potential decline or Conor McGregor ended Saturday night. The speculation began.

What’s next for Conor? Who’s next for Conor?

A rematch against Nurmagomedov?

A matchup against welterweight champion Jorge Masvidal?

An eventual rematch against Floyd Mayweather?

There’s only one thing for sure.

Sports just got a whole lot more fun.