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Interview: Meet Ireland's newest UFC fighter Conor McGregor

We visited one of the sport’s brightest prospects at his Dublin gym to discuss his upcoming debut in The Octagon.

McGregor with his two Cage Warrior belts.
McGregor with his two Cage Warrior belts.
Image: Dolly Clew/Cage Warriors

ONE SUSPECTS CONOR McGregor isn’t an easy man to pin down at the best of times, but finding a spare moment with him is a particularly difficult task right now.

A little over two weeks ago, the highly-rated Dubliner, nicknamed ‘The Notorious’, signed his very first UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) deal having made a name for himself as one of the most exciting prospects in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) by securing both the featherweight and lightweight titles during his stint in Cage Warriors.

It’s huge news for the 24-year-old and for the sport in Ireland, so, unsurprisingly, the media want a piece of him. Having recently finished an MTV documentary which will be aired next month, Conor has been the subject of much attention and when I meet him he is just out of an interview with tv3.

Run by Conor’s coach John Kavanagh, Straight Blast Gym Ireland is the country’s top MMA gym with two UFC fighters currently on the books – McGregor and Icelandic-born Gunnar Nelsen.

It’s certainly a far cry from the “ten guys in a one-car garage” that Kavanagh talks about during the early days when he wanted to provide somewhere for aspiring athletes to train despite the fact that there was very little appetite for it here.

For McGregor, being able to defend himself growing up was the reason behind his initial steps into combat sports. First it was boxing, then at 16 he met Tom Egan, at the time a Jiu-Jitsu fighter who would go on to feature at UFC 93 in 2009.

The pair would spend weekends training and learning from each other at Egan’s house in Kildare until they heard about SBG and joined the set-up.

“We didn’t realise that your could actually get legitimate fights inside the cage at the time in this country,” says McGregor. “He (John) introduced us to a new way of training and a new way of thinking and I haven’t looked back since.”

While McGregor explains that everything he does in life is geared towards improving himself as a fighter, he reveals that his first passion was a slightly less physical sport – football.

The Crumlin native played for local clubs Lourdes Celtic and Crumlin United as a schoolboy and came into contact with future professional players such as Joey O’Brien (West Ham), Alan Power (Lincoln City) and Stephen Gleeson (MK Dons).

I was always a dreamer and my first ambition was to be a footballer. I’d be out in the field doing drills after it got dark at night. So I had that passion to get somewhere and a drive to do something. I did love football and was always more into playing it than watching it. When I found combat sport, however, it just took over. It’s non-stop now.”

McGregor emphasises the importance of continuous self-improvement and constantly learning from your experiences, and his record suggests he is practicing what he preaches.

After suffering two defeats during his first six official bouts, he has won his last eight fights in some style. All but one were stoppages through knockouts or technical knockouts including his latest match in The Helix on New Year’s Eve when he took Ivan Buchinger out with a devastating blow to the head.

He may be on the cusp of great things but, as he explains, getting to this point has not been easy. After finishing school, he took an apprenticeship as a plumber under pressure from his father but hated every minute of it. He lasted 18 months in the job before deciding he wanted to concentrate solely on training.

Uncertain about how their son would earn a living from a sport which they, and many others, knew very little about, his parents questioned the decision.

“The Irish mentality is that when you finish school you’ve to get a job.  It was a horrible time (when I quit) as there was nothing but trouble from my ma and da.

“They didn’t know anything about the sport and they’d be telling me on the morning of fights that I’d have to go back to plumbing if I lost. I know he was just worried about me and it did make me stronger.

“They’re on board now and when I won the world title at The Helix they came along, saw people wanting pictures of me and since then have warmed to it.

“I used to tell him I was going to be a millionaire by the time I’m 25 and he’d laugh at me. Now here I am. I’ll show him yet!”


YouTube credit: PrideStays

A highly intense individual, McGregor comes across as likable and charismatic during the interview but you can tell that he’d much rather be gloved up and in a cage than speaking into a dictaphone. The level of commitment he has put into succeeding has, in his own words, reached the point where it has become an obsession.

“It took over my life. It’s all I think about, it’s 24/7. I’ve had times in the past when I didn’t want to do it but it takes over your mind. I don’t even sleep that much it’s got that bad.

I train all day here or travel around to different gyms and when I get home late at night my adrenaline is still racing so I often shadow box in my room.

“I think you have to have that obsession to get to a high level. That separates those who stay at the middle level and those who go right to the top.

“I don’t have a life outside this anymore and wouldn’t know what to talk about if someone was to ask me something other than fighting, I wouldn’t really have a clue.

“But if you were to ask me, for instance, how to scramble back your feet from bottom, I’d talk to you for days. That’s just the way it is.”

A keen believer in visualisation, McGregor goes through every little detail of a fight beforehand – from his hands being wrapped and the announcer calling out his name to the punches he will throw.

On April 6, he embarks on the first in a five-fight contract against America’s Marcus Brimage in Stockholm .  Speaking with genuine confidence, McGregor says he’s not nervous about making the step up or the prospect of walking out in front of 16,000 screaming spectators.

“I remember being 16 and sticking up a video of UFC knockouts on Bebo with the comment: ‘Check this out, my future job… please God.’ They all doubted me but here I am about to step out in front of 16,000 people. People always try and knock you down but fuck them.

“I’m not in here to shake people’s hands. There’s hype behind me but I’m going to go in and prove that hype by stopping Marcus and stopping him early. I can see myself walking out of here with some bonus money after making a name for myself.

“I don’t fear any of these guys. You could put me in for the title tomorrow and I’d fight my heart out.

I couldn’t be in a better place at the moment and this couldn’t come at a better time. Now I’m employed with the biggest organisation there is, I’ve a chance to make some money and secure my future.

“There’s no doubt in mind that I’m going to shine in Stockholm. It’s my time.”

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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