Fans who casually tune in to the occasional Ultimate Fighting Championship show may not have been all that familiar with 27-year-old featherweight mixed martial artist Conor McGregor heading into the night of July 11, 2015 and UFC 189. Anybody who watched the main event of that card now knows McGregor and knows him well. In what fans and journalists have referred to as one of the most-memorable nights in the history of the organization, McGregor capped off a scintillating show by scoring a second round TKO over Chad Mendes to win the Interim UFC Featherweight Championship and take a massive step toward stardom in the process.
Known to diehard fight fans and also perceived to be sports royalty among his fellow Irishmen, McGregor could be on the verge of becoming the male star that the UFC has been searching for to rival Ronda Rousey when it comes to popularity and the buzz that Rousey generates each time that she fights or appears on sports programs such as SportsCenter. McGregor, rarely shy about speaking his mind whenever a microphone is placed in front of his mouth, has the tools to get over with international audiences. He is now but one victory away from becoming the hottest draw in the industry.
10. McGregor Could Have Been a Plumber
Tony McGregor, Conor’s father, wanted to make sure that his son would have a career as an adult as would any good dad. Conor was thus urged by his father to retain a plumbing apprenticeship for as long as possible. Tony, according to Pete Carroll of SevereMMA.com, knew that his son was destined for others things: “I remember the moment I knew he wasn’t going to be a plumber. It was a Monday morning, I went in to wake him up and I just remember him peering out from under his blanket and saying, ‘look, this isn’t for me.’”
9. McGregor Was Enamored With Football As a Youth
Like many young boys who grew up in Ireland and in other parts of Europe, McGregor was enamored with the sport of football. McGregor was a Manchester United supporter during his early days, but that habit was eventually replaced with a love of combat sports. Instead of imagining what could have been had McGregor pursued a life in the beautiful game, think of what may be in his near future: McGregor taking the long stroll toward the cage for a title fight held in a football stadium located in Ireland, and that arena being filled with thousands upon thousands of fans singing McGregor’s praises. Chills.
8. UFC 93 Changed His Life…Sort Of
The story often told about the journey to fame made by McGregor is that he instantly knew that he wanted to be a MMA star after attending the UFC 93 show. McGregor, while speaking with Brett Okamoto of ESPN.com back in July 2014, told the tale a bit differently. “Of course, UFC 93 spurred me on, but even then, I didn’t know,” McGregor explained in that interview. “I was a young kid. No Irish man had ever done anything like this before. The dream wasn’t really attainable at that point because it wasn’t really there.” McGregor went on to say that fighting eventually became “an obsession” for him after UFC 93.
7. Fighting is In McGregor’s Blood
There is a cliché in the combat sports world that some of the athletes in the game have a supposed “fight gene” that is in them because a parent was into one of the arts decades earlier. McGregor spoke with the previously mentioned Carroll about that very thing. “My dad was actually a boxer when he was a small kid,” the UFC Champion explained during that interview. “We never knew that really but we’ve seen photos of him in his younger years and he did win medals, cups and things like that but he never graduated to senior level.”
6. McGregor Has a Famous Trainer
The name of John Kavanagh may not mean much to those who are not active UFC followers and who do not watch every MMA show. Included in Kavanagh’s storied history in the sport is that he has served as an instructor for McGregor. Kavanagh, as he explained in an interview posted on BJJEE.com back in 2014, “fell in love” with Jiu-Jitsu after watching UFC 1, and he went on to become the first ever Irish person to be awarded a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Kavanagh is now a head coach at the Straight Blast Gym located in Ireland.
5. McGregor Was Broke Before UFC
It is a common tale in the sports world. A young athlete pulls himself up, finds fortune and also fame while competing professional and evolves into a “rags to riches” story in the process. That was the case for McGregor when he made his UFC debut back in 2013. “Just last week I was collecting the social welfare,” McGregor explained to Dave Doyle of Yahoo Sports after he won his initial UFC contest. That welfare check, according to the Yahoo story, was worth around $235 at the time. McGregor will not be needing that kind of money anytime soon the way that his career has blossomed.
4. McGregor is Crazy Tough
One obviously has to be a special kind of tough to even pursue a career in MMA, and nobody should be doubting that McGregor possesses that toughness and then some. He suffered a torn ACL during his UFC Fight Night 26 battle versus Max Holloway. What is especially impressive about that factoid is that McGregor not only won the fight, but didn’t just survive until the matter was taken to the judges. McGregor scored a unanimous decision that was so impressive that one judge even awarded a 30-26 victory to the man who now holds UFC gold.
3. McGregor Is Already a Record Draw
The consensus opinion held by those who cover the fight world is that McGregor has not yet hit the ceiling of what could be his potential drawing power moving forward. With that said, the UFC 189 show headlined by McGregor versus Mendes drew a live gate of $7.2 million. That, according to UFC President Dana White, represented a new record for MMA shows in the United States (MMAJunkie). Remember that, as of July 2015, McGregor did not possess the so-called “star power” held by a big name such as Brock Lesnar or Ronda Rousey. That could, however, soon change.
2. McGregor Was Not “Supposed” to Beat Mendes
Mendes entered the cage at UFC 189 as a clear underdog according to odds posted on numerous websites at the time. Not everybody saw things that way heading into the fight. UFC commentator Joe Rogan was one of those doubters, saying the following on his podcast in the days leading up to the fight (MMAFighting.com): “I think Chad Mendes should be the favorite. Chad Mendes knocked Ricardo Lamas, dead. Dead. With one punch. He smashes dudes. He goes after guys. He’s a destroyer.” Rogan was not alone, as there were other experts who believed that Mendes was a more well-rounded fighter than McGregor. Whoops.
1. McGregor Will (Likely) Be An Underdog Versus Jose Aldo
Nobody can say at this point how bettors will react whenever McGregor versus Jose Aldo meet up for a championship unification bout that could take place as early as January 2016 (no official date has been announced as of the posting of this piece), but it is a safe assumption that McGregor will again be an underdog in the eyes of many. Aldo is, as of July 13 of this year, the No. 1 Pound-for-Pound fighter in the world according to UFC rankings. Aldo would have been the favorite to defeat McGregor had the champ not been injured in training. You can be sure of one thing: McGregor will not consider himself to be anything other than the favorite, and he will let the world know about it time and time again before he faces Aldo.
That should be a fun fight.