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How has the UFC changed in Conor McGregor's two-year MMA absence?

As 'The Notorious' prepares to make his eagerly anticipated return against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 exclusively live on BT Sport, we take a closer look at how the MMA landscape has transformed since the Irishman last stepped inside the octagon.

Conor McGregor finally makes his return to the UFC on Saturday night following an absence from MMA competition stretching back almost two years.

'The Notorious' challenges Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight world title in a mouth-watering clash that will be shown exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD, BTSport.com and the BT Sport app.

Join now to watch UFC 229: Khabib vs McGregor exclusively live on BT Sport

Plenty has changed in the world of mixed martial arts since fans last saw the brash Dubliner fighting on a night where he made history at UFC 205 in November 2016, becoming the promotion’s first ever reigning two-weight world champion.

McGregor subsequently stepped away from the UFC, turning his attention to boxing as he clashed with undefeated pound-for-pound great Floyd Mayweather in a lucrative showdown that would become the second-highest grossing pay-per-view of all time.

The 30-year-old fell short in the contest after being stopped by Mayweather in the tenth round, but he emerged with his reputation intact having enjoyed reasonable success against one of the greatest boxers of all time in his first ever professional boxing match.

Another subsequent lengthy break from competition saw McGregor stripped of his UFC lightweight championship in April - a period of inactivity in the division spanning 511 days since first winning the title against Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205.

Whispers of his imminent return grew in the months that followed but a series of high-profile incidents marred what should have been a triumphant homecoming for the UFC’s most famous son.

First, the Crumlin native drew the ire of mixed martial arts fans across the world after climbing into the cage to celebrate Straight Blast Gym stablemate Charlie Ward’s victory at Bellator 187 in November 2017, clashing with esteemed referee Marc Goddard in a vicious confrontation while Ward’s opponent lay dazed on the canvas.

The controversy led to plans for McGregor’s first comeback - a proposed title fight against Tony Ferguson at UFC 219 - to be shelved as UFC head honcho Dana White acknowledged the 21-3 (18 KO) fighter’s behaviour was “all over the place”.

But McGregor would create yet more chaos only five months later, in April 2018, as he stormed into the Barclays Center in New York ahead of UFC 223, launching a violent attack on a coach carrying Nurmagomedov and a host of other fighters away from the arena.

McGregor smashed through a window using an equipment trolley, injuring many of those inside the vehicle, including UFC stars Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg, who would later be removed from the card at the advice of New York Athletic Commission doctors.

The attack was said to be in retaliation to an earlier incident in which Nurmagomedov clashed with McGregor’s team-mate, Artem Lobov, backstage during fight week in Brooklyn, but it served to keep the Irishman exiled from the sport for even longer.

White denounced the act as “the most disgusting thing that ever happened” in UFC history and McGregor later found himself charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief.

The case was settled in July with McGregor being sentenced to perform community service after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct and for a while the former Cage Warriors champion went quiet.

But on August 3rd, White confirmed McGregor would finally make his long-awaited return to action, taking on arch-enemy Nurmagomedov for the 155lb belt at UFC 229 in Las Vegas.

When he makes his cage walk on October 6th, it will be one year, ten months and 24 days since his last MMA fight – and a lot has changed in the UFC.

There are no fewer than six new undisputed world champions in the promotion’s eight weight classes, with only light-heavyweight  king Daniel Cormier and welterweight monster Tyron Woodley managing to retain their belts in McGregor’s extended absence.

Cormier has also followed in McGregor’s footsteps, becoming the UFC’s second ever reigning two-weight world champion as he knocked out Stipe Miocic at UFC 226 to add the heavyweight strap to the light-heavyweight belt he claimed in May 2015.

Britain’s Michael Bisping ruled the middleweight division when McGregor last fought, becoming the first ever champion from these shores as he made one successful defence of the belt before losing to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 217 in November 2017.

St-Pierre would later vacate the title, allowing White to promote interim champion Robert Whittaker to the status of undisputed champion – a reign that began more than 280 days ago.

At welterweight, American wrestler-turned-knockout artist Woodley has made four defences of his 170lb belt, including a draw and a win against Steven ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, a one-sided victory over Demian Maia and, most impressively, a second-round submission win against the UK’s Darren Till earlier this month.

There has been movement in the lightweight divison, too.

With McGregor choosing to focus on boxing for the majority of 2017, UFC bosses were eventually left with little option but to strip him of his 155lb title, allowing the undefeated Nurmagomedov to fight for the belt against Al Iaquinta at UFC 223.

Interim champion Ferguson had been booked to face Nurmagomedov but he suffered a serious knee injury during fight week, allowing Iaquinta to step in at the last minute.

McGregor was stripped of his featherweight title only weeks after becoming the ‘double-champion' at UFC 205, allowing Jose Aldo to fight Frankie Edgar for a version of the belt.

The Brazilian outclassed veteran Edgar to win the interim title before being promoted to the status of undisputed champion – a mantle he would later lose to rising star Max Holloway, who remains the reigning king of the division.

At bantamweight, former pound-for-pound contender Dominick Cruz suffered a surprise defeat to up-and-comer Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207 to relinquish his status as champion.

Garbrandt was unable to hold the belt for long, however, losing to TJ Dillashaw at UFC 217 in November 2017 then being stopped in a rematch at UFC 227 in August.

But arguably the biggest shock during McGregor’s absence from the UFC was Demetrius ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson’s loss to Henry Cejudo for the flyweight championship at UFC 227, bringing to an end his record-breaking 2,142-day reign over the 125lb division.

After such a seismic shift in the landscape of the UFC, fans will be glued to their screens to see whether McGregor can pick up where he left off and reclaim his lightweight title in Las Vegas.

Yet the threat posed by Nurmagomedov is clear - could the Russian spoil the party and claim the most impressive victory of his career yet?

Watch UFC 229 exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD, BTSport.com or the BT Sport app from 1am on Saturday October 6th. Not a BT Sport subscriber? Find out how we can get you live in just 15 minutes.

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