Conor McGregor’s meteoric rise in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is down to his ability to talk his way into big fights fast. Oh, and he is a pretty good fighter, too. DECLAN O’KELLY talk to the Irish rising star.
“We are not here to take part; we are here to take over.” That was the rallying cry of Conor McGregor (15-2 Mixed Martial Arts, 3-0 UFC) after his first-round win over Diego Brandao at UFC Fight Night 46 in Dublin at a sold out O2 Arena on July 19.
McGregor has been at the front and center of the Irish revolution sweeping the UFC, and it has been the sheer force of his personality and his Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) skills that have allowed him, so far, to back up the smack talk with impressive performances.
That marketable combination has bagged him a marquee fight at UFC 178 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on September 27 against Dustin Poirier.
MMA is defined in the Oxford dictionary “as an extreme combat sport in which contestants are permitted to use the fighting techniques of wrestling and boxing but also those of martial arts such as kickboxing, judo, and karate,” and the UFC is the champions league of the sport.
McGregor jacked in a potential career as a plumber to chase his dream of becoming an MMA star, and “The Notorious,” as he’s known, who has had longtime trainer John Kavanagh guiding him on every step on his journey, is now reaping the fruits of his labor.
McGregor made his MMA pro debut in 2008 and went 4-2 in his first six fights before rattling off eight straight wins that saw him capture world titles at lightweight and featherweight in the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship. This caught the eyes of the folks at the UFC and they signed McGregor, who then went on to become the first Irishman to record a win with the organization when he stopped Marcus Brimage in 67 seconds on his debut in April 2013.
McGregor’s second fight in Boston last August was where American fans saw him in the flesh for the first time. He dominated his opponent Max Holloway en route to a unanimous decision but tore his ACL in the fight. After he rehabbed his knee, McGregor helped sell 9,000 tickets in record time for Dublin’s UFC Fight Night 46, which he headlined. The event was a huge success, capped by McGregor and three of his stablemate fighters from the Straight Blast Gym in Dublin all recording stoppage wins.
The Irish Voice caught up with McGregor while he was in Las Vegas last week to promote his next fight at UFC 178, where he will fight on the card before light heavyweight champion Jon Jones takes on Daniel Cormier in the main event. McGregor and his opponent, American Dustin Poirier, had their first faceoff before a huge brawl ensued between Jones and Cormier during their own stare down.
“It got real, you know. These things happen in the fight business. [There were] two emotional men with a lot on the line. I love it. It is real and it is raw,” McGregor said.
“No matter what goes on outside, regardless of what goes down, regardless of what is said, they get in there and when the fight goes down, differences get settled.”
McGregor, 26, is rarely short for words. The Dubliner’s detractors have labeled him all hype and little substance, while fans and followers love him for his brash talking, no prisoner-taking style. It is that bravado and character that have catapulted him to within a few fights of the UFC featherweight title.
“You know, I am just being myself. I am who I am. I knew when the opportunity came I was going to take it with both hands. All I did was make it be known that I was coming for the belt and everybody in my way does not stand a chance,” he says.
McGregor is hugely popular in Ireland. A "Late Late Show" regular, he has fronted potato chip adverts and been the subject of an RTE documentary. He has also just signed a book deal with Gill and MacMillan.
“I am really looking forward to getting started on that. We are going to look for a ghostwriter and I am going to tell my story. I am going to speak about my mind frame and sports psychology and I want to speak about the mindset that got me to this level.” At the recent Las Vegas fighter faceoffs, McGregor was decked out in his customary Louis Copeland suit. (He is a good friend of Irish designer Copeland, and the two are talking about creating a line of custom clothing and suit accessories for the fighter. McGregor also has a custom line with California-based MMA and Sports Lifestyle clothing company Dethrone, which he says is now the company’s most successful).
He takes his fashion seriously, and it has not gone unnoticed, as he was voted most stylish man at the recent Peter Mark VIP Style Awards 2014 in Ireland.
“I like to look good, my friend. I am representing Ireland on the world stage over here in America. I’m stealing the show, and I am looking to put my country in a good light. We dress well; we speak well, and we fight well.”
And his popularity is not confined to the Emerald Isle. McGregor is a firmly established mover in the UFC and is close to organization president Dana White and co-founder Lorenzo Fertitta.
After his win in Dublin a few weeks ago, he received a congratulatory tweet from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who dubbed him the “McGregor-nator.” McGregor was also the subject of a recent short film, Vice.com, which was shot at Venice Beach in California. In other words, his stock is soaring right now.
While MMA in Ireland is growing in stature, there are some who balk at the thought of two men in a cage trying to knock each other out. Today FM radio host Ray D’Arcy had McGregor’s Straight Blast Gym Ireland stablemate Cathal Pendred on his radio show after the UFC Fight Night 46 in Dublin, and during the interview the host called the sport violent and disturbing.
“I heard about the Ray D’Arcy slot, and I listened to it, and it wasn’t that bad,” says McGregor. “At the end of the day some people like it and some people don’t. This is a billion dollar business we are talking about here, so as far as a radio presenter not liking the sport, it doesn’t bother me.
“The majority knows that this is the most highly athletic sport there is. It takes a lot of skill and you must be supremely fit to enter that octagon.”
In a recent interview with the Irish Times’ Second Captains podcast, McGregor’s coach Kavanagh said that instead of all the outside demands on McGregor distracting him from his training, they motivate him to work even harder. Kavanagh also said that he wants his fighters to get to the top as quickly as possible and then get out, as hanging on too long in a sport where one guy wants to knock your block off does not a healthy golden years make.
“I do have that thought that John has: 'get in, get the belt, get all the money and get out' and branch out in different ventures as they come. And that is what is happening, but right now I am concentrating on the fight game and getting that gold. Ultimately it is all about the gold now for me,” McGregor says.
McGregor, ranked number nine in the featherweight division, has a somewhat unpredictable style. He is a southpaw with a strong boxing background but makes unusual moves in fights.
Kavanagh told Fightland.com before McGregor’s UFC debut that sometimes even McGregor does not know what he will do next. McGregor feels he will be far too much for the 25-year-old Poirier next month.
“I believe his chin is deteriorating, and I believe his skills are stagnating. They haven’t progressed these past few fights,” says McGregor.
“His skill level has stagnated if not dropped and he gets wobbled with jabs. I see it being an easy fight for me. I see it being another first round (stoppage).”
Las Vegas is the headquarters and home of the UFC, and McGregor will likely head there for his training camp ahead of the fight. He is relishing the chance to showcase his skills.
“It will be a joyous occasion. This is the fighting capital of the world, and the fighting capital of the world is finally going to lay eyes on a true fighting Irishman,” he says.