Conor McGregor was in the middle of a training camp for a UFC match in Las Vegas when he decided to visit the MGM Grand Garden Arena and watch the rematch between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana. The date was Sept. 13, 2014.
McGregor, a rising contender in the UFC’s featherweight division, was scheduled to face Dustin Poirier two weeks later, on Sept. 27, in the same arena. But on the night of Mayweather-Maidana II, he was more interested in the hype surrounding Mayweather, the pound-for-pound boxing king who is in the midst of a six-fight $250 million deal with Showtime.
Mayweather earned a unanimous decision to improve to 47-0. McGregor came away with a plan.
“Someday, I’m going to fight that guy,” he said.
McGregor’s declaration comes true on Saturday, when the Irishman will face Mayweather in what’s tracking to be the richest fight in boxing history.
If you know anything about the 29-year-old McGregor, it’s that his life has been all about turning the seemingly impossible into reality. Drawing the unbeaten 40-year-old Mayweather out of a two-year retirement to risk his boxing legacy isn’t the first time McGregor has gambled on his confidence, smarts and talent to fulfill a dream.
“At the end of the day, he is a special kid,” said Dana White, president of the UFC. “I call him the Unicorn. He is different than anybody I have ever dealt with. I like how he is willing to put everything on the line. I have never seen anybody who believes in himself more than this guy does. When he makes up his mind about what he is going to do, he absolutely, 100 percent believes it and lives it. It’s fascinating.”
Mayweather-McGregor is expected to earn more than $600 million, with Mayweather’s cut being around $200 million and McGregor’s as much as $100 million. The fight, scheduled for 12 rounds, will be broadcast in 150 countries on pay-per-view.
It’s a rags-to-riches story for McGregor, no matter how the fight comes out.
The journey began in Crumlin, Ireland, outside Dublin, where McGregor grew up in tough neighborhoods and needed to learn how to defend himself. He began training at the Crumlin Boxing Club at age 12, and later an MMA fighter named Tom Egan introduced him to John Kavanagh, who ran the Straight Blast Gym in Dublin.
McGregor didn’t just enjoy fighting. He liked the science of fighting, and his quest for knowledge took him from kickboxing to boxing to jiujitsu and eventually to mixed martial arts.
McGregor’s father, Tony, wanted his son to have a more traditional profession, so Conor served as an apprentice plumber. It wasn’t long before he told his father, “This isn’t for me,” and decided to devote himself full-time to fighting.
McGregor was 11-2 and the Cage Warriors featherweight champion when the UFC’s White was in Dublin on business. Everywhere White went, he heard about the cocky Irish kid with a big mouth and a big punch that screamed for attention. White flew back to the United States and invited McGregor to Las Vegas.
McGregor was blunt. “If you sign me into the UFC, I will be your biggest star,” he said. White signed him to a contract without ever watching him fight in person.
“If he can fight as good as he talks, we could have something,” White told his UFC partners.
Only a week before his first UFC match, on April 6, 2013, a broke McGregor went to a Dublin post office to collect a welfare check for approximately $235.
Then he knocked out Marcus Brimage in 67 seconds in his UFC debut, in Stockholm, and earned an additional $60,000 check for the Performance of the Night. He became a star on December 2015 when he captured the UFC featherweight title with a stunning 13-second knockout over the seemingly invincible José Aldo.
McGregor would go on to become the only UFC fighter to simultaneously hold world titles in two divisions. He consistently generates about 1 million pay-per-view buys when he fights.
“I’ve come from shows where I was fighting in front of 100 people and 75 were for the other guy,” McGregor said. “That was 4½ years ago. I’ve come a long way and it’s been one hell of a journey.”
It is impossible to keep your eyes off McGregor. He imitates fighters like Muhammad Ali and even Mayweather by trash-talking his opponents and delivering outlandish predictions that most often come true. During the promotion for the Mayweather bout, McGregor has chastised Mayweather for not being able to read, and taunted his opponent’s tax problems.
McGregor dresses in style, drives luxury cars — he once arrived for a Las Vegas workout in a green Lamborghini, and, according to the duPont Registry, as of last year, he owned a Cadillac Escalade, two Rolls-Royces, two BMWs, a Corvette Stingray and a Mercedes — and connects with a fan base that appreciates his thick, Irish accent and fearlessness in and out of the ring.
When McGregor made his grand arrival on Tuesday outside the site of the fight, Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, he wore a three-piece purple suit in 100-degree heat and headed straight for a group of fans waving an Irish flag.
“I always gravitate to the Irish fans,” McGregor said. “I always take in the support and want to prove my supporters correct.”
Almost tattoo-free when he made his UFC debut in 2013, McGregor now sports ink on his forearm, abdomen, back and neck, not to mention the name “McGREGOR” decorating his torso and what the The UK Sun describes as a “silverback gorilla wearing a crown and holding a heart in its mouth” on his chest.
McGregor is a lot like Mayweather when it comes to marketing. He wears mink coats and brags about his wealth.
According to SI.com, McGregor made $27 million from MMA in 2016-17, plus $7 million in endorsements.
But McGregor still connects with the common man and isn’t going to forget his roots.
“I haven’t changed since Day 1,” he once said. “I’m the same person. What I arrive to the gym in, what I wear to the gym, my home that I go home to, those are things that have changed. They have become nicer. But the fundamentals are still there. I show up and I work hard.”
Becoming a father has added more motivation. McGregor, who’s the youngest of three and has two older sisters, and his girlfriend of nine years, Dee Devlin, welcomed their first child, Conor Jr., in May.
“It’s made me more focused and more disciplined,” McGregor said. “I can’t slack off. I must train and recover and go home and look after my boy. It keeps life more structured.”
McGregor has made his followers believe he can defeat the unbeaten Mayweather Saturday night despite being a huge underdog. He is one of the best MMA fighters in the world, but this will be his first professional boxing match against a fighter who has dominated the sport for 20 years. Mayweather has used his fast hands, fast feet, impeccable defensive skills and boxing knowledge to win world championships in five weight divisions. McGregor can use kicks, elbows and submission holds in his MMA battles, but his only weapons Saturday night will be 8-ounce gloves.
“I’m going to knock him out,” McGregor said. “Mark my words.”
Will he fight as good as he talks?
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