Thursday 18 January 2018

Move over Garth Brooks - I'm the biggest show in town now

UFC star Conor McGregor tells Wayne O'Connor he's ready to shine in Dublin ahead of the fight of his life

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor

Country singer Garth Brooks may or may not be coming to perform in Croke Park this summer, but a ready-made replacement is lying in wait to take Ireland by storm in the form of Conor McGregor.

The featherweight UFC fighter is training ahead of his homecoming bout against Diego Brandao in the O2, Dublin, next week and his mood is typical of the 25-year-old since he exploded on the scene last year.

He is brash, confident, cocky and full of energy.

"It's a crazy thing," he says of the Garth Brooks shambles. "What the f*** is up with that? I'll take it. If they want me to fill Croke Park for five nights, then let's do it."

McGregor shot to prominence in the UFC in Stockholm last year while still living on social welfare. He won his first professional bout in convincing style, picking up a cheque for over €40,000 for the best knockout of the night.

Competing in an often-brutal combat sport that allows competitors to fight using various types of mixed martial arts, McGregor is no shrinking violet and it is his personality that has captured the affection of fans worldwide.

After picking up his cheque for best knockout in Stockholm, he famously said he was going to have to come home and tell the social welfare to "f*** off". He is infectious and walks around with the charisma of someone who is living in a dream.

"I am winning every day my friend," he says while training at his base in Dublin. "I am showing up here everyday training at the gym and learning mixed martial arts with not a worry in the world. I don't have to go anywhere, I don't have to do anything.

"I wake up in the morning, I flex in the mirror and I say: 'Yes. I'm an animal.'"

His confidence is not misplaced. Despite having only had two fights, he has been assured by UFC President Dana White that a win in Dublin next weekend will leave him with a shot at the UFC featherweight world title later this year.

Already he is the star in a sport that is constantly growing in global popularity, being broadcast in over 150 countries.

"Two fights in and I am the main event in my home town. No one is doing what I am doing in the UFC after only two fights and still on a preliminary contract - I will be word champion by the end of the year," he says.

The Dubliner (25) should really have a few more fights under his belt but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during his last fight in Boston. He still went on to win that bout before an enforced 11-month absence to let the injury heal and get himself back in shape in order to once again set the sport alight.

Now Conor is fit and well again and looking forward to Saturday night in the O2. He says the fact the UFC is in Dublin for the first time since 2009 is not something he dwells on too much but that any extra pressure on his shoulders should be a good thing.

"Pressure creates diamonds my friend and I need that," McGregor tells the Sunday Independent. "I need to give the illusion that there is pressure but, to me, it is just another day. Pressure is what creates the drama and that is what people want to see," he adds.

The sport has grown exponentially here since the last time it visited Irish shores. Then, McGregor recalled, Joe Duffy had a Liveline discussion where Barry McGuigan labelled the sport as barbaric. But RTE has since changed its tune.

A crew of cameramen have been following Conor around for the last six months as they go about making a second documentary about him for the national broadcaster and he has loftier ambitions than that.

"I want The Late Late Show job," he says jokingly. "I am coming for Tubridy's gig."

Sunday Independent

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