Conor McGregor: A Notorious Career
Conor McGregor single-handedly changed the face of the sport.
How worried should we be about Conor McGregor?
The Irishman single handedly changed the face of MMA, and then something happened. Something drastic.
McGregor was so successful that he became the face of a sport. So charismatic that he became a national hero. And so driven that he laid out the blueprint for financial success in MMA. But to see the full extent of his downward spiral, we have to go back to the beginning.
It was clear from the very first time McGregor entered a ring that he was something more than the average fighter. He was aggressive, he was strong, and he hit like a truck.
He was special, and he knew it:
“I’m the f*kin’ future”
His fanatical self-belief and desire to work hard caught the eye of the UFC, and the apprentice plumber from Dublin parlayed 15 fights in five years, and dual-division Cage Warriors titles, into a contract with the biggest game in town.
Joining the world’s premier MMA promotion turbo-charged McGregor’s profile, as he had finally found a platform big enough to match his extraordinary personality.
In a sport where fighters carefully cherry pick their opponents, McGregor was so driven to compete that even his own coach John Kavanagh couldn’t keep up with his ultra-competitive student.
He's not driven by money or fame, he's driven by contest and competition. You sit down and try and eat a sandwich with him then he'll want to finish it first to win that competition. So it's part of who he is. The fact is there are times where I'm finding out on Twitter that he's challenged a welterweight just to fill in and he's constantly messaging me saying; 'John, this guy's constantly pulling out, put me in for that contest.' He does his own campaigns at this stage. He would fight every weekend if he's able to.
His high output paid dividends, and he was headlining his first UFC card in only his third fight with the promotion. It was after this win, a first round demolition of Diego Brandao in front of a typically boisterous home crowd, that he uttered his now iconic phrase:
. “We’re not here to take part. We’re here to take over.”*
At this stage, we might have expected to see the beginnings of trouble for the future champ, but his gym fought to keep McGregor grounded and focused:
. “Yeah there’s no egos in this gym, everyone’s here to better themselves, we all train side by side. And that’s it. We’re all here looking to better ourselves and enjoy training and studying martial arts.”*
But coach Kavanagh probably saw the warning signs:
Outside of the gym a lot of his life is a bit crazy I guess. We try to make sure that inside the gym things haven’t changed, he’s just one of the guys in the gym.
By the end of 2015 McGregor was the UFC’s unstoppable force. He debuted with a first round straight blasting of Marcus Brimage, decisioned future champ Max Holloway on one leg, blitzed Diego Brandao in his first main event, sent future interim champ Dustin Poirier packing in under 2 minutes, out kicked kickboxer Dennis Siver in 2 rounds, and proved his wrestling bonafides stopping Chad Mendes.
2 years, 6 fights, 5 performance bonuses, 5 stoppages, one interim title, and it still wasn’t enough for the Irish phenom.
There was only one man left for Conor- the most dominant champion the featherweight division had ever seen - the 25 and 1 Brazilian icon José Aldo.
The man known as Scarface was on an 18-fight win streak, and was the only featherweight champion the UFC had ever known. But McGregor could not care less about Aldo’s reputation. In fact, he was already planning his post-Aldo future:
I feel if he shows up then the division will be done. I'll carry on to the lightweight division and take that division over and then, maybe if a featherweight can climb up and entice me back down then I'll take him out again. Who knows where I'm going? I'll just continue to fight. I like to stay busy and stay active. I do not like to be inactive.
Proving once more that he wasn’t just talk, McGregor knocked the most intimidating fighter of his division out cold in just 14 seconds - the fastest finish in UFC title fight history. And the talking continued.
He did exactly as he’d promised and moved up a division to challenge the lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos. But less than two weeks before the mega bout, RDA broke his foot. Rather than scupper the fight, McGregor offered the UFC 169 headline bout to anyone game enough to face him.
Only one person had the guts to accept the offer at such short notice - Nate Diaz.
The fight took place at the welterweight limit of 170 pounds, a full two divisions above his title, but once again McGregor was unconcerned at facing by far the biggest opponent of his career:
It's another day for me. One pulls out and another one steps in, so I am used to it. I was just giggling at his little soft body. How can a fat guy be so skinny at the same time I've never seen it. It amuses me. I am looking forward to going there and put the martial arts back into the game. Weight should never be an issue, champions should be able to go up and down and fight any challenge that comes before them so I'm looking forward to going tomorrow night, fresh and put on a show for the lads because I always step up for the fans.
While it was definitely a show for the fans, the weight was indeed an issue. McGregor’s usually savage left hand didn’t have the power to stop Diaz and the extra weight tired McGregor out. In the second round Diaz rocked the Irish champ, and finished him off on the ground with a rear naked choke.
It was McGregor’s first loss in the UFC, but despite the disappointment, he was still able to focus on how much fun he was having doing what he loved:
I enjoyed the whole experience. When Dos Anjos pulled and I got Nate I was actually relishing the opportunity to step in there against Nate. I have always enjoyed Nate and Nick and their fighting approach. And even the buildup. I was having a lot of fun listening to some of the things he was saying. I had fun in there. And the fight was a fun fight as well. He stayed in there, we talked we were verbal. It was an enjoyable fight.
And thanks to the attention the fight received, Conor wasn’t the only one having a good time, as UFC President Dana White explained:
This thing right now is breaking every record we’ve ever had. Pretty much the biggest fight ever.
McGregor vs. Diaz was the biggest Pay Per View event in UFC history but as big as the fight was for the Irishman, things were only getting bigger, and then they were going to get badder.