If you had told me in February 2013 that I would be describing a man who had fought just twice in the UFC as 'the king' I would have laughed in your face. Fast forward a year and four months, enter the Notorious Conor McGregor and now I'm a believer. Joining the UFC on an 8 fight winning streak, and boasting Multiple Cage Warriors world titles, it’s fair to say Conor was considered one of the hottest prospects in the MMA scene. However I think very few, bar the man himself and those closest to him, truly expected such an impact at the highest level.
UFC on Fuel TV 9 was a card absolutely stacked with the best fighters Europe had to offer; and nestled in amongst the undercard was Conor McGregor versus Marcus Brimage. This was by no means a tune up fight for the Irishman, Brimage had already made quite a name for himself, appearing in TUF and boasting a 3-0 record in the UFC. At the pre-fight stare downs, a fight which could have been overlooked by the casual fan was soon thrust to the forefront as McGregor bore down on his opponent, fists raised, snarling, spitting insults until 'The Bama Beast' lost his cool; calling for UFC officials to separate the pair. It took Conor a little over a minute to dispatch his foe, leaving him a crumpled, sprawling mess on the canvas as a result of superior footwork and smooth combination punching. If anything, what happened next possibly even overshadowed the dominant performance we had all witnessed in the octagon. McGregor took to the MIC and delivered, in what has now become synonymous with his character, an intriguing, articulate perspective on fighting, all delivered with style and humor.
What happened over the ensuing months is pretty much unheard of. A man who, by his own admission, was collecting the social welfare only weeks prior to his UFC debut was now being taken out to lunch by Dana White, guest starring on the biggest TV shows in Ireland and had penned a deal with MMA apparel giant Dethrone Royalty. This young man from the small Irish village of Crumlin, was on the verge of MMA super-stardom. Fans were clamoring to see his next bout, and the UFC quickly obliged.
It was to be a spiritual homecoming, Conor McGregor fighting in Boston; an American city with deep underlying Irish roots. This time he would be facing young Hawaiian prospect Max Holloway and it was time to prove the Brimage KO was no beginners luck. 3 dominating rounds later, and he had sealed his second victory in the promotion, looking as impressive as ever. Post fight however Conor complained of a knee injury, and cited that as a reason for his inability to finish the fight. This ailment was later diagnosed as being so serious, it would necessitate reconstructive ACL surgery - an operation which usually sidelines athletes for a long period of time and can even be career threatening. The hype train appeared to be de-railed just as it was gaining momentum... Or was it?
In situations such as this, even the most popular fighters usually have to take a backwards step. Extended periods on the sidelines mean you become somewhat inconsequential to the fickle media and fans. This however was not the case for 'The Notorious' one, as he managed to hold our attention long enough to release a whole clothing range, star in a big budget advert and release a documentary detailing his training camp for the Holloway fight. So how does he do it? Fight sports have long since featured characters who 'trash talk' their way into the limelight, but there's something about McGregor that seems to separates him from the crowd.
Speaking with John Kavangh, Conor's long-time coach, he offered this insight:
Conor is this era's Ali. Not only can he talk the talk, he can walk the walk. Whether you buy the ticket in the hope of seeing him win or lose spectacularly it doesn't matter, you bought the ticket. Making money is the only goal of professional fighting and few do it better than him. A lot of people could learn from it.
There genuinely does seem to be something special about this character, almost to the point where I do not think it matters so much whether he wins or loses; Conor speaks and people listen. His brand is not simply based around one aspect of his personality, he instead blends a combination of philosophical thinking, a unique fighting style and a hell of a lot of smack talk thrown in for good measure - a sort of hybrid between Bruce Lee, Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen if you like. In creating this intriguing brand for himself, he has also succeeded where many of the lighter weight classes have failed, whereby come fight time he demands the limelight.
The Paradigm SM athlete currently holds one of the longest winning streaks in all the UFC, and has been very vocal in his intentions of clearing out his division. Should he pick up another win at UFC Fight Night Dublin on July 19th, a top 5 opponent, and then a title shot is not far out of the equation. Conor believes he has what it takes to dethrone featherweight king Jose Aldo, and I for one cannot wait to see him try.
Author: Rob Graham