Thursday 27 October 2016

All eyes cast towards McGregor's unstoppable rise

After just three UFC bouts, the ­charismatic Irish MMA star has ­become a household name, writes Ian Morris

Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30

Conor McGregor in action
Conor McGregor in action

The earth shook with the thunderous applause of a capacity crowd as Conor McGregor made his way to the ring to face Brazilian opponent Diego Brandao at the O2 arena in last Saturday's UFC Fight Night Dublin, which was broadcast on 3e and became the channel's most viewed sporting event ever.

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In the biggest fight of his career, McGregor had the home crowd at his back as the first and only round began. He had promised the fans a first round knockout and that's exactly what he delivered as he quickly laid waste to the man who was unfortunate enough to be in the ring with him.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), which pits fighters of all persuasions - be it boxing, wrestling, ju-jitsu - against one another, has become one of the most popular sports on the planet.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the largest MMA promotion company in the world, staging events all over the globe. When Dublin fighter Conor McGregor entered the ring for his UFC debut in Stockholm last April he was a relative unknown, but in just 67 seconds that all changed.

He dismantled his American opponent, Marcus Brimage, with supreme style, winning the fight by technical knockout and instantly gaining himself a legion of fans.

By the end of the evening, his victory had been declared the 'Knockout of the Night'. Things only got more entertaining as Conor displayed his larger-than-life personality in his post-fight interview with a constant stream of confident statements. "I feel like I'm stealing the show," he said. "I'm going to steal all the money from the UFC and hightail it back to Ireland."

Since then, fans can't get enough of McGregor. The simple fact is that he is just as exciting to watch outside the ring as he is when he's in it.

In his second fight, which took place last August, Conor injured himself early on, tearing an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his left knee.

Despite this, Conor kept fighting and punished his opponent, Max Holloway, over three five-minute rounds, winning the fight on a unanimous judges' decision.

It was clear at this stage that McGregor was no one-hit wonder. He had already shown that he had the skills and the style of a champion, but the manner in which he won that fight showed he had the heart as well.

McGregor's popularity began to soar, not just in Ireland but around the world. He has even had his own line of Conor McGregor inspired clothing released with the Dethrone Royalty brand.

Conor, however, seems unconcerned by the ever brightening spotlight he is under. "I don't care about celebrity, that means jack shit to me. I'm just focusing on my craft, focusing on chasing that goal," he said.

McGregor's left knee required surgery and forced him to cool his heels for the best part of a year as he waited for the injury to recover, but when it was announced that the UFC would be returning to Ireland for the first time in five years, McGregor was quick to confirm that he would be ready. "July 19 gives me plenty of time, that's nearly too much time… fighting on a UFC card in Dublin is a dream come true," he said.

When the line-up for UFC Fight Night Dublin was announced it was no surprise to see that McGregor's fight would be the main event. Just three minutes after tickets went on sale, they were sold out, leading to a frenzy of price gouging from online touts who knew that fans would pay through the nose to see Conor fight in person.

Conor has had to deal with the pressure of being the only stand-out name in Irish MMA, but he greets that pressure with open arms.

"I want it all on my shoulders, put more pressure on my shoulders, so when I go out there and perform and make it look as easy as I'm gonna make it look, people are gonna be like, 'how'd that guy do that?' That's what I want," he said.

And that's just what he got. From the moment he entered the ring last Saturday, he looked unstoppable; quickly dispatching Diego Brandao to the delight of an arena filled with screaming fans.

McGregor's phenomenal rise to the top continues with confirmation that Conor's next fight, against top 10 featherweight Dustin Poirier, will be taking place in Las Vegas this September.

Though Conor may be the biggest name in Irish MMA right now, a whole host of other names look to be just on the horizon with victories for Patrick Holohan, Neil Seery, Norman Parke and Cathal Pendred, who also fought in the July 19 event at the O2.

Pendred survived a particularly violent onslaught from then undefeated opponent Mike King in the first round before turning the tables in his UFC debut.

When asked about the other bouts on the night, McGregor smiled and said: "A clean sweep for the Irish. I said it before, we're not here to take part, we're here to take over."

Sunday Independent

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