Few debuts in the entire history of the UFC have been as prolific as that of Ireland’s Conor McGregor – and, the best thing is, he’s just getting started
ALIAS: THE NOTORIOUS
PRO DEBUT: 2008
PRO RECORD: 13-2
TEAM: SBG IRELAND
Even as he stood in the seemingly never-ending line for social welfare in his hometown of Dublin in Ireland, ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor was never going to join the rat race.
“No f**kin’ way,” laughs the UFC’s latest character and star, flashing his infectious signature grin to Fighters Only. “Back when I was an apprentice plumber I was working from seven in the morning until six in the evening; it was even worse than a nine-to-five.
“I’d rather be flat broke than go back to that. All I’ve ever wanted to do was dedicate my life to combat, so whether I’m getting paid or not doesn’t even come into it.”
The Irishman first honed his pugilistic skills as an eight-year-old in Crumlin Boxing Club and, despite early aspirations to be a Premier League soccer player, moving to three different areas for school pulled the teenager back in the direction of the sweet science.
“I never really settled when I moved from Crumlin to Lucan when I was 16,” McGregor recalls. “I only ever slept there. I didn’t know anyone and nobody really knew me. My friends were always in Crumlin and I’d go straight from boxing to meet them and we’d be out ‘til the early hours nearly every night.
“There was always someone trying to put it up to me when I was hanging around. I was never bullied, but I was always alert because fights were quite common. That’s just the way it is growing up.
“Those kinds of thoughts were probably what made me choose boxing in the end. It just made me feel like no one could touch me,” he nods, while adjusting his posture in his chair – something he does constantly.
Although he wasn’t a popular kid in Lucan, McGregor did stumble across one valuable friendship that would light a fire under his quest for martial arts knowledge. He met Tom Egan, who would go on to become the first Irishman to fight in the Octagon, at UFC 93 in 2009 in Dublin. But they met from opposing ends of the martial arts spectrum, at John Kavanagh’s Straight Blast Gym.
“Tom was a self-trained grappler before we went down to John, and I had been doing well on the national amateur boxing scene,” McGregor recalls. “So when we showed up I was giving lads a hard time in the stand-up straight away and Tom was giving the seasoned jiu-jitsu guys a run for their money on the ground.”
Soon enough, the discipline of martial arts stopped McGregor – who had been up in court for various juvenile misdemeanors – from becoming another teenage statistic. And training with the plethora of national champions at SBG gave him a new focus.
He says: “The obsession just grew and I really needed that. People need something that takes up all their time and their thoughts and that’s what combat did for me.”
Since progressing to an educated 4-2 pro record by the end of 2010, McGregor has commanded the majority of the hype on the Irish MMA scene. Seemingly reborn three years ago, he has glided across the canvas and picked his opponents off, one by one, from unique angles, rapidly gaining a reputation for quick, spectacular knockouts.
By the time the Cage Warriors featherweight championship came around last June – McGregor seeing off Dave Hill via rear naked choke for the sole submission win on his record – he then dismantled Ivan Buchinger on New Year’s Eve to add the lightweight strap; on both occasions in front of packed houses in his Dublin hometown.
Not surprisingly, the UFC contract arrived soon after and, draped in the tricolor, McGregor strutted into the Octagon for the first time in Stockholm on April 6th. Opponent, Marcus Brimage – hypnotized by the Irishman’s outrageous pre-fight confidence, cool exterior and low-hanging fists – advanced, only to be met by the crack of a whip-like uppercut, that would secure McGregor the $60,000 ‘Knockout of the Night’ bonus.
“I haven’t even cashed them checks,” he laughs. “I don’t know anything about bank accounts; I don’t know anything about taxes, so I’ll get someone in to help me out before I do anything mad. To be honest, I’d really like some free s**t!”
Social media websites were filled with comments on the Irishman after his debut, and his pre- and post-fight interviews were winning over a whole new audience long before he appeared on Ireland’s premier chat show, The Late Late Show, sporting a slick Louis Copeland tailor-made suit. Mainstream acceptance indeed.
“I know about style and about breaking down the human frame,” declares the 24-year-old. “I’ve been offered to wear some T-shirts on my way out to my next fight, but I just want to be bare chested, like Tyson, with my flag over my shoulders. Most of the MMA clothes are garbage anyway… although, I might change my tune if they double or triple their offers. But I’ll be wearing some sharp suits when I need to do anything now for the UFC, that’s how I like to present myself.”
UFC president Dana White announced McGregor for the UFC’s Boston card in August, also to be the first UFC event to feature on the new Fox Sports 1 channel, and having experienced the big show first hand, McGregor insists he’s more than ready for any opponent he’s matched with.
“They have you all in the one workout room before you go out to fight. I was looking around at all the guys wrestling and striking and, to be honest, they looked like novices to me,” he adds.
“I try not to put the UFC on such a big platform because I think a lot of people get overwhelmed when they do that. Every fight just feels the same after a while. In light of what’s happened in Boston recently (the Boston marathon bombing), I want to give the Irish community over there something to shout about. It was horrific and I’m already picking out some new shots to help me put on a show for them.”