Before he can step back into the Octagon, Conor McGregor will have to step back into the UFC’s pool of drug tested athletes. A move he seems reluctant to make.
Conor McGregor hasn’t really seemed like a full-time athlete since winning the lightweight title belt off Eddie Alvarez in 2016. That victory was followed by a year of buildup for a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather, which was followed by a year of buildup for a title fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov. Then came a year of assault allegations and contract negotiations all for a single fight against Donald Cerrone and another year of build up to two bouts against Dustin Poirier, the last of which came more than a year-and-a-half ago.
The last 18+ months has seen McGregor rehab a brutal leg injury, face more assault allegations, and shoot a movie. At the moment, he’s just wrapping filming on the latest season of the Ultimate Fighter opposite former Bellator champion Michael Chandler. At some point this year, the two men are supposed to face off inside the Octagon…maybe…probably.
One major stumbling block to that teased 2023 return is the UFC’s drug testing agency, USADA. Following his most recent Poirier loss, McGregor withdrew from the UFC’s pool of active athletes, apparently to pursue more advanced forms of injury rehab to repair his broken leg. To return to competition UFC regulations state that he’ll need to re-enter the pool for at least six-months and pass at least two drug tests.
When asked about his re-entry with USADA in a recent interview with the MMA Hour, however, McGregor was evasive—noting that he had been in contact with the agency, and was of the belief that completing the two tests was more important than the six-month window.
“Yeah, well, I mean this—it’s—I’m not rushing the thing, alright,” McGregor said when asked about getting back into the UFC’s drug testing pool. “There’s hurdles and whatnot. But, we’re in contact, we’re in constant communication, and there’s an interview scheduled and a meeting happening, and then it will be official.
“But, the six-month thing is not—what they had said was: It’s two clean tests and off I go. So that’s why I’m not—I assume it won’t be too long.”
Conor McGregor talks USADA.#TheMMAHour pic.twitter.com/LhLgVsvmqU
— Jed I. Goodman © (@jedigoodman) March 16, 2023
If that’s the story that McGregor’s management team has been telling him, though, it might be that he’s been misinformed. In a statement to TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter USADA unequivocally rebuffed McGregor’s assertions, noting that they had “not received notice of his coming out of retirement to compete.” They also made clear that the ‘two tests, six-months’ requirements are not an either/or scenario. Both are expected to be completed.
“While we meet with all athletes who enter or re-enter the testing pool, we do not currently have a meeting set with Conor and, as of today, we have not received notice of his coming out of retirement to compete,” the agency said in a written statement.
“The UFC rules are clear that, in addition to two negative tests, an athlete must make themself available for testing for six months before returning to competition. This is a fair way to ensure an athlete does not use the retirement status to gain an unfair advantage by using prohibited substances during the retirement period, which would enhance their performance unfairly if they ultimately decide to return to competition. While the rules permit the UFC to make an exception to the six-month rule in exceptional circumstances, when the strict application of the rule would be manifestly unfair to the athlete, our position, which we have made clear, is that Conor should be in the testing pool for the full six-month period.”
USADA’s stance seems clear as to what they want to see from McGregor on his return. It is interesting to note, however, that the language leaves plenty of room for UFC meddling. Whatever the drug testing agency expects, it may very well be that McGregor has already come to a deal with Dana White & Co. to bypass the six-month window for his own convenience. The UFC president has made it clear time and time again that McGregor is at a level of superstardom where they’re very willing to grant special exceptions. That may just be the case again when all this shakes out.
In the meantime, the Ultimate Fighter Season 31 is set to premiere on May 30th on ESPN and will run weekly through mid-August. When (if ever) fans get to see Chandler and McGregor actually face off in the Octagon remains to be seen.
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About the author: Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. Host of the MMA Vivisection and 6th Round, he has covered MMA and the UFC since 2013.(full bio)