independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Off The Ball: McGregor's suited up for UFC superstardom

Dublin's caged gentleman ready to rake in the millions after taking Boston by storm

Conor McGregor is an impressive figure - both inside and outside the cage

Conor McGregor, like the prophet in his own land, may be more famous outside of Ireland than inside. The fastest rising star of the UFC is already huge Stateside, though his name is increasingly on Irish sports fans' lips as well.

The first time you meet him is an experience you don't forget. McGregor's nothing like the dervish he becomes in combat. Instead he's interested and engaged, listening and watching, enjoying life. He's got something of the ringmaster in his ability to take over a room whenever he starts to talk. In the office, people were drawn to him.

He's much smaller than you'd expect. Your mind tricks you into thinking that fighters are big guys because they're always in the ring or the cage against similar-sized humans. But McGregor's a featherweight. He's lean. His chiselled cheeks signifying the sculpted body where the fat is planed away by hours and hours of repetition in the gym.

Invariably he's incredibly well turned-out, in a fitted shirt and dicky bow. His watch is huge, it takes up half his wrist. It's expensive. So are the suit and shoes. He's a whirlwind of progress and gleaming achievement. And he's got the attitude to match.

"F**k fame. I'm motivated by money," the Crumlin native told us ahead of his victorious UFC debut in Boston over Max Holloway on Sunday morning. His motivation is obviously relentless, because he dominated Holloway and lived up to the hype, which was all the Fox commentators could talk about pre-fight.

They'd never seen a non-American debutant get so much "buzz" or a stadium blackout for a ring-walk. Afterwards, Bob Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, and Oscar De La Hoya popped into his dressing-room for a chat.

McGregor started 2013 on the dole and now stands on the verge of seven-figure purses. For the already converted, McGregor is a superstar in waiting, his style is perfect for the purists of mixed martial artists. For the rest of us waking up to his ability, dedication and pure presence, it's a voyage of discovery.

In YouTube and the blog interviews, he seems to be spreading the gospel of his sport, but in truth he's actually spreading the gospel of McGregor. It's like he's a fully formed business enterprise, born whole into the UFC world and born ready for the superstardom being thrust on him.

He electrified the 'Off the Ball' studio the night he was on and he turned a lot of people round to the sport itself. He's world class and he's ours.

The one caveat was the horrible knee injury he suffered in the fight which we'll learn a bit more about during the week. He popped his knee and "it wobbled when I stood up" yet he managed to camouflage the injury from Holloway from the middle of the second round (there are three five-minute rounds).

"I wanna bring a bit of positivity back to the country," he told us the night before the fight.

He's getting there.

'Off The Ball' team's debut brings eclectic mix of sport and humour

THE award-winning 'Off The Ball' team make their debuts in the Irish Independent today with the type of eclectic mixture that listeners on the popular nightly 'Newstalk' show have become accustomed to.

Ger Gilroy, Joe Molloy, Colm Parkinson, Michael McCarthy, Diarmuid Lyng and Donny Mahoney cover all bases from meeting one of Ireland's most recognisable fighters, to being bored in Barcelona and on to wearing a full Clare kit in the office.

That's as well as analysis of the Laois managerial situation and background on what makes Tyrone footballers tick.

Today, and every Wednesday, in the Irish Independent.

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