“I’m a professional MMA fighter with a record of 4-1… and without a doubt, you will see me in the UFC in the near future”, Conor McGregor, 2008.
Nearly ten years later and the 29-year-old hasn’t just appeared in the UFC, he’s conquered it – and is also about to conquer the boxing world, too. His rise to stardom is scarcely believable.
Looking from the outside in, one would assume this ascent has been rapid. In some ways it has, but in reality, this story has journeyed over a decade. Few things have come easy. It wasn’t always Rolls Royces and Rolex watches..
For a number of years, McGregor and his trainer, John Kavanagh, struggled to get off the ground. In Kavanagh’s recent book, ‘Win or Learn: MMA, Conor McGregor and Me: A Trainer’s Journey’, there is a sense that the two protagonists were swimming against the tide.
The MMA community in Ireland was small and they found it difficul to get recognised as a sport amongst the masses. Kavanagh persisted, though, and that persistance would pay off in ways even he might not have imagined.
It began when a skinny young 17-year-old from Crumlin walked into his Straight Blast Gym in 2007. Kavanagh immediately identified McGregor as a one to watch. His brash nature lent a charisma that was hard to ignore, but it was his fists that really did the talking.
In one of his first sparring sessions, McGregor floored Owen Roddy, one of the trainer’s brightest prospects and now his boxing coach, and then beat up on Aisling Daly, another of his close proteges.
Kavanagh jumped in the ring and proceeded to put his own beating on McGregor to teach him a lesson – following on from that, the two would go on to form one of the most devastating fighter-trainer relationships in the history of martial arts.
The Dubliner’s UFC debut came in April 2013 with a fight against Marcus Brimmage. The ‘Notorious’ put on a clinic, brutally dispatching the American in a first round knockout. His famous “Dana, 60gs babaaay” line in the post-fight interview with Kenny Florian made a star out of him.
As a sidenote, this writer met McGregor shortly after that fight in Zara spending a considerable chunk of the $60k on new clothes – he couldn’t have looked happier.
From that point on, he would cut a swathe through the UFC’s featherweight division with decisive victories over current champion Max Holloway, Diego Brandao, Dustin Poirier and Denis Siver.
It was his victory against Chad Mendes, though, that would seal McGregor’s faith as a UFC superstar. His second round KO of the American made a global icon of the Irishman. A follow-up win over the pound-for-pound king Jose Aldo made him the unified, undisputed featherweight champion.
Two further titanic bouts with Nate Diaz and a devastating knockout of ‘Underground King’ Eddie Alvarez in the Lightweight divison would see McGregor become the first UFC fighter to hold belts in two different weight classes.
The Dubliner would want more, though. Always looking for the next big move, a much called-for fight with boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. came to fruition in June.
The two fighters have just finished up a controversial four-stop world tour with their fight scheduled for the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on August 26.
A win in his first professional boxing bout against one of the all-time greats seems close to delusional.
But then just four years ago, McGregor was collecting social welfare in Dublin and being driven to training sessions in his girlfriend’s little Nissan Micra. Today, he is driven to training in a Rolls Royce Ghost and is reportedly worth around $35m – with that likely to rise exponentially over the next few years.
“If you can see it clearly in your mind, and have the courage enough to speak it, it will happen.”
Wise words from a man who’s followed that mantra all the way to the top.
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