10 Little Known Facts About the UFC’s Biggest Star Conor McGregor
Born July 14th 1988 in Crumlin, a large suburb in Ireland’s capital Dublin, Conor McGregor has undergone a meteoric rise to fame over the last few years through his participation in fights organized by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). From modest beginnings, he has come to be a household name: a fighting mascot, celebrity and exponent of the playboy lifestyle, who’s able to make waves beyond the confines of the UFC and its fan base.
A number of factors account for the success of the “Notorious”, as he calls himself, Conor McGregor. For a start, he’s an exceptionally talented sportsman, adept at the mixed martial arts and ruthless in their execution. At only 5’9, McGregor is admittedly more of a bulldog than a towering giant, but you know what they say in fighting: what you lack in stature you makes up for in being able to inflict considerable pain on your opponents. Yet McGregor’s success transcends his physical prowess in the octagon arena. It’s his carefully cultivated image – his sharp suits, flashy cars, colorful tattoos – combined with his personality (which he has in abundance) that make him so magnetic. Indeed, the Notorious Conor McGregor, as the name suggests, is no stranger to controversy. In fact he positively revels in it, seemingly going out of his way to insult and antagonize his opponents. But it is done in such a way that, like him or loathe him, you cannot help but be drawn into his electrifying showmanship. Here are 10 of the most interesting facts about him.
10 Before becoming a sporting icon, he was an apprentice plumber.
That’s right, it’s no longer just Mario and Luigi who can be credited with having made the unlikely career jump from unblocking pipes to blocking swipes (shells and fireballs feature comparatively little in the world of UFC). Prior to being an internationally renowned fighting legend, McGregor spent his later teenage years plying his father’s trade, earning money so that he could help keep his family financially afloat. He did, however, continue to dedicate himself to his fighting, regularly attending training and coaching.
McGregor’s epiphany, as the star revealed in a Conan O’Brien interview, came in 2008 while he was on his lunch break. Sitting onsite in his car and sheltering from the pouring rain, McGregor came to the realization that getting up at 5am every morning and walking to the motorway to get a lift, only to sit in traffic for two hours to get to a cold, dark and damp building site wasn’t for him, and that instead he was going to pursue his lifelong ambition of becoming the world champion of mixed martial arts. He walked home that evening and announced his resignation to his father.
The fight that ensued was not pretty; McGregor could hardly point to precedent when announcing his ambition to be a mega-successful Irish UFC champion. But in hindsight, we can probably agree that what may have been a great loss to the efficacy of Ireland’s drainage systems has been a considerable gain to the world of MMA.
9He’s confessed that his colorful chest tattoos carry no meaning.
Tattoos and beards are in, and McGregor proudly sports both. The two large tattoos on his chest (one on his upper torso, the other on his abdomen) are particularly provocative and conspicuous, and their manifestation on a man who can readily be described in the same words might lead you to think that they carry special meaning right? Think again.
On his upper torso, McGregor wears a tattoo of a gorilla wearing a crown and eating a heart – “low key” as McGregor ironically described it during a Conan O’Brien interview. McGregor followed this up by saying that, although he could explain the tattoo in the context that he views himself as the king gorilla (no points then for guessing the crown’s symbolism), and that the gorilla is the symbol of his home gym back in Dublin, Straight Blast Gym, at the end of the day he got it simply because he liked he way it looked. A recent addition – the tattoo reading ‘McGregor Notorious’ flanking either side of the tiger on his stomach – while paying fitting testament to the fighter’s self-belief, isn’t easily mined for meaning, although what can safely be said is that UFC president Dana White may not be a fan, and certainly won’t be placing an order for himself any time soon.
So, still think that the tiger is a veiled allusion to the Celtic Tiger, the name given to the Republic of Ireland’s economic boom between 1995 and 2001? We’ve just been through this…
8He’s claimed to be a reincarnation of Cú Chulainn.
Unlike Cú Chulainn, now known more commonly in English as Cuhullin, Culann’s Hound or the Hound of Ulster, when he goes to battle McGregor doesn’t have the added comfort of being able to smite his enemies from the safe enclosure of a chariot. Apart from that, it’s hard to disagree with McGregor’s boastful comparison between himself and the blood-crazed battle-frenzied Irish mythical hero, made behind the scenes of an interview for RTÉ’s The Late Late Show.
In wider Celtic folklore (both Irish and Scottish), Cú Chulainn is most famously known for his killing of Cullan’s guard-dog (from whence his name is derived) at the court of King Conchobar and for his defense of Ulster in the war between Connaught and Ulster. There are numerous variations to Cú Chulainn’s myth as it has been passed down to us today, but his modern cultural currency is as a military figure. He has been adopted both by Ulster Loyalists as a symbol of self-sacrifice, killed defending Ulster (who were heavily outnumbered by Connaught, or ‘southern’, forces in the heat of battle, and by Irish Republicans alike.
The character of Cú Chulainn strikes many parallels with Homer’s more famous contribution to the canon of western literature, Achilles. Both, by virtue of their divine parents, were demigods, and both were promised eternal fame for their deeds in exchange for a short life. Let’s just hope that McGregor, who has recently backtracked on the shock announcement of his retirement, doesn’t cultivate his affiliation quite that far.
7 He’s really, REALLY good at fighting.
The foundations of McGregor’s style lie in a sport that is no stranger to his native country of Ireland, boxing. Indeed most of his victories have come from knockouts resulting from punches, a skill that he began learning at Dublin’s Crumlin Boxing Club, aged 12, and has continued to refine over the course of his career. And there are few who can throw a punch quite like Conor McGregor. “Nobody can take that long hand shot”, he crowed gleefully in the aftermath of a blitzkrieg victory against Jose Aldo, “he’s powerful and he’s fast but precision beats power and timing beats speed.”
It’s difficult to imagine that, had things worked out differently, McGregor wouldn’t be an exceptional boxer, joining others who make up the wide pool of contemporary Irish talent. Like the late great Muhammad Ali, a personal hero of McGregor’s, he’s lightning fast and places importance on being particularly aggressive and seeking to striking first.
McGregor’s insatiable desire to innovate, however, meant that his transfer to the mixed martial arts was always something of an inevitability. Already within four years of starting training at the Crumlin Boxing Club the hardworking McGregor, a successful exponent of the southpaw stance, was beginning to make the transition towards wrestling, much to the displeasure of his then trainer, Phil Sutcliffe. Today McGregor incorporates a mixture of styles: karate, taekwondo, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, capoeira and, of course, boxing, and combines them to maximal effect, as backed up by his 21-3 win-loss record for the UFC.
6 He earns a lot of money.
Conor McGregor’s decision to abandon plumbing and concentrate his efforts on a career in the UFC has made more than a slight difference to his pay check. Being the most popular fighter in the UFC, as he has recently and conclusively been deemed by Forbes, pays extremely well: he’s ranked #85 in the 2016 list of the world’s highest paid athletes, earning around $18 million through winnings, $4 million through endorsements and a further $8 million through sponsorship by and endorsement of such products as Reebok, Monster Energy, Rolls Royce and Electronic Arts (all of which make regular appearances across his numerous and wide-reaching social media profiles). This is a far cry from the young Dubliner who had to cash in meager benefit check just to enter into his first UFC fight back in 2013, and marks the midway point in a remarkable rags-to-riches story that looks set to continue.
There is no denying that he is to the UFC what Ronaldo is to soccer, what Federer is to tennis and what Usain Bolt is to running, and this is to say nothing of his cult following from fans from his native Ireland. The UFC 202 rematch between McGregor and Nate Diaz that took place in August 2016 was the third-best-selling pay per view for the MMA’s promotion, with anywhere in the region of 1.2 to over 1.6 million purchases. McGregor can boast having headlined two of the three best-ever-selling fights on pay per view. The figures don’t lie: when McGregor’s the headline act, people watch.
5 He’s flashy.
“There’s two things I really like to do and that’s whoop ass and look good. I’m doing one of them right now, and on Saturday I’m doing the other.” Although his ass-whooping skills are arguably less up for debate than his fashion sense, there isn’t a better quote out there than this, straight from the lion’s mouth, that sums up the character of Conor McGregor quite so well.
For a start it’s true, and we should perhaps take a moment to appreciate the fact that McGregor is able to look so consistently dapper despite having a day job that requires him getting punched repeatedly in the face. But it’s not just through his fine tailored suits (notable enough to merit their own article) and snakeskin shoes that he cultivates his distinct image. McGregor owns a veritable fleet of cars ranging from not one but two Rolls Royces (you know, in case one breaks down) to a BMW, a Mercedes and a Cadillac.
Like a modern-day mercenary, McGregor acknowledges that in order to put food on the table (and then some) he needs to keep fighting: “These custom-made suits aren’t cheap. This solid gold pocket watch, three people died making this watch. I need to put people away. I need those big fights. I’m going to end up in debt pretty fast.” Skirting around the ambiguity surrounding the watch-deaths, with no fights in the pipeline McGregor might want to consider holding off on those yachts and private islands. Just for the moment.
4 He talks the talk…
Like him or loathe him, you have to admit that the Notorious Conor McGregor delivers on his promises. When, after quitting his plumbing apprenticeship to become a professional fighter, he told his parents that he’d be a millionaire by 25, he went out and did just that (okay, it took him until 27, but we can cut him some slack on that). When, in March 2015 during a UFC press conference he stole reigning champion Jose Aldo’s featherweight belt, not yet earned in the octagon – a shocking move even by his standards – he followed it up in December with a victory in record time to claim the title. Another title for which McGregor would be a contender, if it existed, would surely be sport’s most quotable competitor. Countless lists have been compiled online, most of which feature the classic: “We’re not just here to take part. We’re here to take over.”
Despite not being a master in linguistics, McGregor has even proved himself when venturing beyond his native language. He conducted an impromptu interview in Irish (Gaelic) – a language in which he admits to being somewhat rusty – and seemingly took on board the late Nelson Mandela’s mantra (“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart”) when he threatened Jose Aldo in his native Portuguese – “Look into my eyes. Little Brazilian. Você vai morrer” (I’m going to kill you).
3 … And walks the walk.
Like other sportsmen at the top of their game (Novak Djokovic, I’m looking at you), Conor McGregor has no reserves when it comes to pulling off the odd impersonation, especially of WWE wrestlers between McGregor and whom there’s little love lost. There has, however, been one impression in particular that has caught the attention of the online community and become immortalized in memes – an occasional but by no means ordinary gait adopted by McGregor, which goes by such names as the ‘Billionaire Strut’ or the ‘Power Walk’.
The walk is instantly recognizable, resembling something like an aggressive octopus inconspicuously escaping from the sea. Standing tall with his back slightly arched, McGregor swings his arms dramatically but loosely in a pendulum-like motion, making sure that his groin is slightly sticking out and that intense eye contact is maintained with whoever may be standing in front of him. The most recent version in which he circled the octagon at the beginning of the UFC 202 (a match in which he beat Nate Diaz) displays just this. Yet it was one of McGregor’s earlier versions, captured on video from outside the octagon, which confirms the walk’s origins.
Walking down what appears to be a hotel corridor, McGregor adopts the gait while singing an excerpt of the WWE theme ‘No Chance in Hell’, a song to which WWE’s chairman Vince McMahon used to strut out in much the same way. McGregor has always maintained respect for McMahon if not for the wrestlers under his direction, so it’s safe to say this is all in good jest. Either that, or it’s just a natural physical condition resulting from professional fighters earning a lot of money.
2 He took the UFC featherweight title in just 13 seconds.
Yup. 13 seconds. For a UFC title fight. On the one hand you might have been annoyed if you’d got a ticket only for the main event to be over in such a short space of time (or if you were late coming back from the bathroom). On the other hand, the brutal efficiency with which McGregor got the job done truly was a spectacle to behold.
The build-up to the UFC 194 bout, drawn out over a year, had been immense. Riding on an 18-bout streak, the reigning champion, Brazil’s Jose Aldo, hadn’t been defeated for a decade. McGregor showed due respect for this remarkable sporting accomplishment. In March 2015, during a press conference on his home turf in Dublin, he walked over to Aldo and snatched his featherweight belt from the table in front of him, almost starting a riot. During another conference in Aldo’s home city of Rio de Janeiro, McGregor gave another lesson in diplomacy, stating: “I own this town, I own Rio De Janeiro… if this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback, and would kill anyone who wasn’t fit to work, but we’re in a new time, so I’ll whoop his ass instead.” It was clear by this stage that the fight would be not only professional, but also personal.
And personal it was. The contempt between the two competitors was palpable when, in Las Vegas on December 12th 2015, the moment finally arrived. Both combatants refused to touch gloves, instead launching themselves into straight the fight, and in the post-match interview Aldo immediately called for a rematch, offering the tantalizing prospect of a sequel.
1 The man has no fear.
This one almost goes without saying, but the absolute irreverence with which the Notorious issues challenges, trash-talks opponents, and endures brutal physical punishment in the octagon is simply astounding. Even after his surprise defeat to Nate Diaz in March 2016 – a defeat for which McGregor got revenge on August 20 by beating his opponent to a bloody pulp over five punishing rounds – the Notorious appears to believe himself invincible, even suggesting that he should create his own belt, (being, in himself, his own belt).
Proof of this lies in the fact that he’s recently thrown down the gauntlet to arguably on of boxing’s all time greatest stars, Floyd Mayweather. And do you think McGregor showed any reserves about the idea of taking on a man with the almost superhuman strength, defense and technique of Mayweather? “If I fought Floyd, I would kill him in less than thirty seconds. It would take me less than thirty seconds to wrap around him like a boa constrictor and strangle him”).
Indeed, for the Notorious, the fight begins not in the octagon or after the starting bell but in the press conferences, over social media, from whatever platform he can use to disseminate his message. His heckling of opponents is nothing if not impressive for its audacity and has led to comparisons being drawn between him and another household name, Muhammad Ali. Once he’s in battle, however, he almost always backs up his claims much to the annoyance of his critics, with displays of skill, tenacity and brutality. Need proof? Just look at what he did to Aldo.
Whatever your views on the Notorious Conor McGregor, you cannot deny his versatility. For the UFC he’s a goldmine; for the fans he’s a fighter; for the media he’s a celebrity; for his followers he’s a personality (bordering on a comedian); for his adversaries he’s the bane of their existence. When he’s not fighting he’s making news, whether through his outrageous actions, his inflammatory comments or, indeed, his flamboyant dress. But it’s in the heat of the fight that Conor McGregor’s really in his element.
Ambition and competition are fused into his DNA, as is his refusal to settle for anything less than the best. He may not be chivalric – he’s more akin to the rough and ready medieval Irish mercenary than the fabled knight in shining armor – but he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get the outcome he wants. This, combined with his unquestionable talent, dedication and clear enjoyment of the sport, make his fights electric – a joy to watch, presumably a nightmare to experience. Whether he’s confident or arrogant will be for history to decide. What’s certain is that his quotes will make the writing of it a pleasure: “I’m a martial artist, and I’m open to all styles of combat. If someone wants to wrestle, then let’s wrestle. Wherever the contest takes place, the contest takes place. I’m prepared for it all. I fear no man. If you breathe oxygen, I do not fear you.”