How UFC Bad Boy Conor McGregor Became One of the World's Most Popular Athletes
Boxers no longer dominate combat sports, and Conor McGregor is a big reason why.
How did Conor Anthony McGregor become "The Notorious"? He remained true to his roots on the road to superstardom.
It Wasn’t Always This Way
McGregor exploded into the public consciousness with a style all his own, and the 30-year-old Irishman has worked hard to help make mixed martial arts one of the fastest-growing sports worldwide. With a combination of unlimited swagger and masterful fighting skills, this two-division UFC champion now is among sports’ biggest celebrities.
McGregor came from humble beginnings in Dublin to become the face of his sport. Every journey to fame is different, but McGregor’s path is full of low points and self-doubt that make his story all the more interesting.
'I Am the Greatest'
Wondering where McGregor got his trash-talking skills? It wasn’t from a local Irish fighter. Instead, his mastery of verbal warfare came from someone across the pond who retired seven years before McGregor was born in 1988.
The "Louisville Lip," aka Muhammad Ali, inspired a young McGregor both as a fighter and by using fighting words. McGregor grew up watching old Ali fights and documentaries. You can see the influence of Ali on McGregor every time there’s a microphone in front of him. And he’s cut some classic insult promos over the years.
From a martial arts perspective, McGregor also idolized Bruce Lee.
An Analytical Mind
McGregor has been a professional mixed martial artist since he was 19, but he was a fighter much earlier than that.
As a kid in Dublin, McGregor often got into fights with the neighborhood boys. That isn’t much different than what other boys experience, but McGregor turned into an analyst once the fights were over. He would analyze every move he made during the scuffle and think of moves and countermoves he could employ in the next fight to help him win.
Some 20 years later, he likely did the same thing after his first UFC loss, a submission to Nate Diaz. The two fought again five months later, and McGregor avenged his loss at UFC 202.
A Different Career Path
After graduating high school in 2006, McGregor had no plans for college, and a career in MMA wasn’t even on the radar. Thus, he took up a plumbing apprenticeship to help pay the bills. The 12-hour days of unclogging sewage soon wore on him, and he decided to give up plumbing and follow his passion of MMA.
The rest is history, but McGregor does keep one reminder of his plumbing days. Just before his fight with Floyd Mayweather in 2017, a Dublin craftsman created a custom chess set for McGregor that is made only from plumber’s materials. The chess board, traditionally a square, is octagonal shaped as a reference to McGregor fighting in an octagon.
He Almost Walked Away From the Sport
After winning his first two pro MMA fights by TKO, McGregor lost his third via submission. Still just 19 years old, McGregor contemplated his future in MMA and started skipping training and hanging out with the wrong crowd.
His mother noticed a change in McGregor’s personality and realized that he was happiest when he was in the gym. She got into contact with his coach, John Kavanagh, who reinstalled the fire within McGregor to continue his MMA career.
After winning two of his next three fights, McGregor then won eight straight fights. This success caught the attention of UFC, which signed him in 2013.
From Welfare To Wealthy
It took five years from when McGregor turned pro until he received his first UFC fight. The minor MMA leagues are a stepping-stone to the UFC, but they don’t pay nearly as well.
Before McGregor had his first UFC fight in April 2013, he still needed money to get by, and that money came via welfare checks. He was receiving roughly $235 a week but won a $60,000 bonus for getting the "Knockout of the Night" in his first UFC fight.
"Just last week, I was collecting the social welfare," said McGregor after his win. "I was in there saying to them, 'I don't know what's going to happen. I'm signed to the UFC. I don't know. Blah, blah, blah.' Now I suppose I'm just going to have to tell them f--- off."
No ACL, No Problem
McGregor’s first fight in the United States came in August 2013 against Max Holloway. The bout, just McGregor’s second since joining the UFC, was a memorable one.
In the second round, during a scramble to the ground between the fighters, McGregor heard, and felt, a pop in his knee. He screamed in pain but continued the fight, which went the distance.
McGregor won a unanimous decision that pundits applauded. After the fight, his legend grew when it was revealed he tore his ACL mid-fight. The subsequent ACL reconstructive surgery kept him out for eight months, but it did not keep his mouth shut.
Could Have Been A Bond Villain
With his popularity soaring and a proven ability to play "the bad guy," McGregor was offered an audition for the 2015 James Bond film "Spectre." They wanted him to be one of the villains, a seemingly perfect role for him.
But McGregor declined because he was in the midst of training and didn't want to take on a "serious" movie role.
"I’m not that person," McGregor said. "Ya know what I mean? I’m just doing it having a laugh. Don’t start putting in those serious things."
He Called His Shot
Like his idol Muhammad Ali, McGregor liked predicting when he would finish off an opponent. But unlike Ali, McGregor was willing to go all in on his claims and put some money on the line.
Well, actually, it wasn’t just some money. McGregor reportedly bet UFC President Dana White $3 million that he would knock out Chad Mendes in the second round at UFC 189.
"You want to know how confident this kid is? I can't even believe I'm going to say this, but he told Lorenzo [Fertitta, UFC co-owner] and I the other day, 'I'll bet you $3 million I knock him out in the second round.' "
McGregor wrote a check with his mouth, and then cashed it in with his hands. Indeed, he knocked out Mendes in the second round, although there’s no confirmation that White accepted the bet.
Rollin' in the Dough
Even though McGregor is a mixed martial artist, his most famous fight came in a boxing ring.
"The Money Fight" against Floyd Mayweather Jr. was the peak of McGregor’s career, even though he was defeated. While Mayweather walked away with the victory and about $300 million, McGregor didn’t do too bad himself as he pocketed $100 million.
To prevent an MMA fight breaking out in a boxing ring, a clause was inserted in McGregor’s contract that would have fined him $10 million if he was disqualified. There was no DQ, and that nine-figure paycheck alone makes McGregor one of the 10 richest boxers of all time despite him competing just once.
No wonder he showed interest in stepping into the ring again, putting out feelers for a boxing match with Manny Pacquaio.
Not Stepping in That Kind of Ring
Many predict that McGregor will one day follow in the footsteps of Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar by transitioning from UFC to WWE. Even McGregor’s money pal, Floyd Mayweather, wrestled a WWE match for a $20 million payday.
But while McGregor has a WWE-styled nickname in "The Notorious," he denies that he’ll ever wrestle in the promotion.
In December 2017, TMZ asked him if he would ever go to WWE, and McGregor quickly responded, "F--- WWE!"
Still, in the crazy world of pro wrestling, that could all be a storyline, so don’t bet your life savings on McGregor never lacing up wrestling boots.
Still a Bachelor
Someday, McGregor may settle down, but someday is not today.
Though McGregor never has married, he has been with his girlfriend, Dee Devlin, for over 10 years. The two met when McGregor was under his plumbing apprenticeship, and he approached her at a nightclub. They had seen each other before, yet their relationship didn’t start until McGregor spoke to her properly instead of using the litany of pickup lines you would imagine he had.
Devlin gave birth to the couple’s first child, Conor Jack McGregor Jr., in May 2017, and she is pregnant with baby No. 2.
Winning Fights, But Losing Belts
A two-division UFC champion, McGregor has won titles at both featherweight and lightweight. He won the featherweight title in 2015 and then moved up in weight class and won the lightweight championship in 2016.
However, due to his boxing escapade with Floyd Mayweather, McGregor was stripped of the featherweight belt in November 2016 and then was stripped of his lightweight title in 2018.
A two-time champion became title-less without ever losing a fight (or stepping into the octagon). Nonetheless, he’ll always have the honor of being the first UFC competitor to hold two championships at the same time.
Conor and the Squad
With many of his UFC fights taking place in Las Vegas, McGregor decided to lease a home just off the Strip. He resided in a 12,000-square-foot mansion that has an Olympic-sized pool, a gym and seven bedrooms.
Why seven bedrooms? Because the residence wasn’t just for McGregor. He had his entire entourage join him in Las Vegas. His coach and his entire team relocated from Ireland to help McGregor train for his fights, while also reminding him of back home.
McGregor said that he’s happy to look after the people who have looked after him since day one.
Abstinence? Nah, I’m Good
Like many boxers and other combat sport athletes, MMA fighters often abstain from sex before a fight. It’s a theory that sex will make them tired or weak, and those are the last things one wants to be when stepping into an octagon.
But McGregor doesn’t abide by that rule, as he told Conan O’Brien. "That is most certainly a superstition that I do not abide by. I definitely have as much sex as possible."
Fortunately for McGregor, he’s only had to go the distance twice in his pro career, but maybe this explains why he seemed to fade down the stretch during his boxing loss to Floyd Mayweather.
Remember the Name—McGregor
Despite not fighting one time in UFC during 2017, McGregor did more to promote his name than any other athlete in any other sport.
According to a Google metrics study by Dana Rebecca, McGregor was the most-searched athlete in 2017. He can attribute much of that ranking to his fight with Floyd Mayweather, as many casual sports fans or non-MMA fans may have been unaware of him beforehand.
Others in the top 10 of the list include those at the top of their sports (LeBron James, Tom Brady, Floyd Mayweather) or those who encountered some sort of scandal or controversy during the year (Tiger Woods, O.J. Simpson).
Were You Expecting Lucky Charms?
With McGregor being Irish, it’s no surprise that he carried around a good luck charm. However, it wasn’t a shamrock or four-leaf clover, but rather his late grandfather’s hat, which reminds him of his upbringing.
He always carried the hat in his gym bag since the time he started fighting, until it was stolen from his car.
However, an apparel company replaced the hat, and even though his new hat doesn’t carry the same sentimental value of the one that was taken, it still provides the same message: Never forget where you come from.
In April 2018, McGregor and his crew crashed a UFC Media Day to confront fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov. But Nurmagomedov already was on a bus with other fighters and exiting Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Seemingly having missed his chance to settle a past beef, McGregor picked up a metal dolly and threw it through the window of the bus, which caused injuries to many onboard.
McGregor was charged with felony mischief, and with that, he was facing permanent deportation from the United States. However, his legal team was able to negotiate a plea deal that reduced the felony to a misdemeanor.
In the end, McGregor wasn’t deported and was only ordered to perform five days of community service and attend anger management classes.
Conor McGregor’s 'Punch-Out!!'
Among the many disciplines in MMA, McGregor’s style is that of a striker. He prefers to stand and throw punches rather than taking things to the mat, and this is evident in his MMA record.
Only one of his 21 victories in his career has come via submission, with 18 of the wins coming via knockout (he also won two by decision). All three of his losses have come via submission, so getting McGregor on the ground is taking him out of his comfort zone on both offense and defense.
Thirteen of McGregor’s 18 victories have been over quickly and finished in the first round.
His quickest knockout ever came in his ninth career fight when all he needed was two punches and four seconds to defeat Paddy Doherty in Ireland.
No Diddy Bop for Me
Since his fame exploded over the last few years, McGregor has had the chance to rub elbows with many other celebrities. While he doesn’t embrace the celebrity culture for his son ("I don’t want any celebrity type s---"), he still has enjoyed meeting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Rihanna, Arnold Schwarzenegger and even attended Jennifer Lopez’s birthday party.
But one person he didn’t enjoy meeting was one of J-Lo’s exes, Sean Diddy Combs. On the Irish version of "The Late Late Show," McGregor described Diddy as being "a little up his own arse," and considered giving him "a left to the chin," when he barely shook his hand.
Walk It Like I Talk It
We’ve already heard about McGregor making his prediction of knocking out Chad Mendes in the second round come true, but he had an even bolder claim that has been proven true. When McGregor was 20 years old, he did an interview where he was asked what his dream was.
His response: "My dream is to be world lightweight champion of the UFC, have more money than I know what to do with and have a great life for my kids, my grandkids and everyone in my family."
Besides not yet having grandkids, McGregor has achieved everything else he wished for over 10 years ago. Love him or hate him, McGregor has proved true the old adage of "where there’s a will, there’s a way."
Stay tuned for his next chapter.