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Saturday 17 February 2018

'I could fill the Aviva or Croker for Paddy's Day'

Conor McGregor (left) in action against Diego Brandao during Saturday's UFC featherweight bout at the O2. Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Conor McGregor (left) in action against Diego Brandao during Saturday's UFC featherweight bout at the O2. Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Conor McGregor in action
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

A CONVINCING win in his first UFC bout on Irish soil is still no reason to celebrate, according to fight star Conor McGregor.

The 26-year-old Dubliner said he has had enough resting after almost a year out of competition due to a knee injury and is keen not to waste time - aiming to become the first Irish UFC world champion before Christmas.

"I have had a break from competition. What I want is a championship belt and I believe the belt will be mine by the end of the year," he said.

The O2 was packed to the rafters for last week's event and 600,000 people tuned in to watch it live on 3e.

"It was a phenomenal and the Irish fighters did themselves proud. The world of combat sport had their eyes firmly fixed on Ireland. I am so happy," he added.

During UFC's last visit here in 2009, there was sharp criticism of the no-holds-barred event. Even former boxing world champion Barry McGuigan slammed the sport.

"The mainstream barrier has been broken down and people now recognise the athleticism and the dedication it takes to get into this game and to make it," said McGregor.

"Now the Irish have some competitors to get behind, so it is a brilliant thing. If you look at the growth that took place in the five years after UFC 93, think of the growth that is going to take place now after this event.

"Kids will be looking at this event and their dreams have just begun now," he said.

Former Manchester City CEO and current executive vice president of the UFC Garry Cook said that the sport has had difficulty breaking some national markets, but he was surprised that there was a reluctance to initially accept the sport here.

"It is ironic because Dublin and Ireland are famed for their fighting qualities. If you look at the Olympics last year, one of the people who set the world on fire was an Irish female boxer," said Cook.

Now though, with McGregor on the books, and a potential champion of the sport hailing from this island, we are likely to see the sport return here more often.

"It won't be very long, I think, before we have a title fight here in Croke Park or the Aviva Stadium," said Cook. McGregor agrees. He thinks a September win for the Dubliner in Las Vegas against the No 6 ranked American Dustin Poirier will lead to a title fight before Christmas.

And that could set up a potential title defence here in Ireland next spring.

"I believe I will stop Dustin in the first," said McGregor. "Then I will get a world title fight before the end of year card and then I believe I will do a football stadium next year around Paddy's Day. That will be in Ireland. Last week's event has proven there is demand."

Sunday Independent

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