FIGHT No.13 might not seem the best occasion to be praying for good luck, but boy does Lee McGregor need it. It has been 13 months – that number again – since the former British, Commonwealth and European bantamweight champion last stepped into the ring, the Edinburgh boxer cursing his repeated misfortune for a period of inactivity that will finally come to an end this evening. Fingers crossed.

McGregor suffered two serious jolts to the system as the calendar turned from 2021 into 2022. The first was the enforced retirement of former foe Kash Farooq, wiping out the heavily anticipated and lucrative rematch between the pair. The other was the life-threatening injuries sustained by his dad after he was hit by a lorry.

With both events still playing on his mind, the now 26 year-old got into the ring last February with Diego Alberto Ruiz and didn’t win for the first time in his professional career.

In the subsequent months, McGregor (11-0-1) saw numerous fights scheduled then cancelled and gave up

all three of his titles after accepting that he was too big to keep boiling down to 118lbs.

There were undoubtedly other factors at play that he is reluctant to delve into this close to his return, but he is quick to rule out a school of thought that his extended absence from the ring was down to a lack of discipline or focus.

“The past year has been frustrating as it’s not like I’ve been away gallivanting and out with my mates,” he makes clear. “I’ve not been living like a waster, not training and not being dedicated to my boxing. It’s not been like that at all. I’ve made so many sacrifices in the past year with

nothing at the end of it.

“Mentally and physically, it really took its toll on me. Just before Christmas, I was feeling really burned out and drained.

I was up and down with my weight all year, depleting my body for three or four fights that never happened. Normally after a fight, you have a mental switch-off and you feel that you’ve earned a break. But I hadn’t earned it so I didn’t feel like I could ease off in case a fight was then arranged at short notice. Mentally I was not in a good place.

“I tried to enjoy Christmas with my family, but with no fights and nothing to celebrate I just couldn’t.

I had a switched-off mindset from boxing but still wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be. I knew I had to just get 2022 out of the way and push on after that.

“I’ve had folk asking me what was going on, sponsors too. It was so hard to try to explain.

I didn’t really know myself. It was fights falling through and a few other things that never materialised. My luck over the last few years has been so bad but I’ve pulled through each time.

It is with a heightened sense of anticipation, then, that McGregor will step into the ring at the Utilita Arena in Newcastle this evening.

In many ways, this is a fresh start for him after so long out but he is hopeful that the journey to title fights at super-bantamweight level won’t be a

long one.

“I feel like I need to rebuild,” he adds. “Not completely rebuild as I’m still getting talked about in a good way and I want to push on and get big fights after this. There was no point in me holding on to my titles any more. I held out trying for a world title

fight last year but unfortunately that never happened.

“But the goals remain the same.

It might just take a little bit longer at a new weight. The plan is to be very busy with three fights ideally in the next eight months. I’m hoping to have my own show back in Scotland in May or June after this one.”

Many of McGregor’s career moves have been taken in tandem with Josh Taylor, the world champion who has been like a big brother to him in many ways. McGregor, though, demonstrated that he can be his own man too when he chose to stay with trainer Ben Davison after Taylor had moved on to work with Joe McNally.

“I know people think I’ve always been by Josh’s side throughout my career but it’s a selfish sport boxing and you need to do what’s right for you,” he explains. “Josh felt that he needed a change, I wanted to stay here. I know my last performance wasn’t the best and I hold my hands up to that. But there were a lot of things going on around at that time.”

McGregor could have picked an easier return fight than Alexis Kabore. The vastly experienced boxer from Burkina Faso hasn’t been stopped since his debut in 2004 and the Scot will use all eight rounds tonight if he has to.

“In the past I’ve got into the ring trying to impress too much or too focused on what people are going to think,” he adds. “People want to see big shots and knock-outs but I need to do what’s right for me to get back on track. I need to show I’m a mature fighter. I want to show composure and not be reckless.”