Thursday 23 November 2017

McGregor only has eyes for MMA crown

Conor McGregor revels in pressure of becoming the first Irish superstar of mixed martial arts

BRIGHT FUTURE: Conor McGregor talks to the press before last night’s fight with Diego Brandao. Photo: John Dardis
BRIGHT FUTURE: Conor McGregor talks to the press before last night’s fight with Diego Brandao. Photo: John Dardis
Ian Morris

Ian Morris

When Conor McGregor expertly dispatched Marcus Brimage in April 2013 in just 67 seconds, the world took notice. McGregor was catapulted into the limelight. His second bout in the UFC, against America's Max Holloway, saw an injured McGregor refuse to be denied as he continued to punish his opponent over the three rounds despite having torn an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

Since then the world of mixed martial arts, or MMA, has waited with bated breath for the return of the top Irish featherweight who has been just as entertaining outside the ring as within, with a larger than life personality and unpredictable humour.

With the announcement of last night's UFC Fight Night 46 Dublin, which would see McGregor take on the dangerous Brazilian Diego Brandao in the headlining bout, the wait was over. This would be McGregor's third fight for the UFC and his first time as the main attraction.

Speaking with Conor earlier this week, he seemed focused, but excited, to be part of such a big fight in front of his home crowd.

"It's a dream come true for me, this is what I set out to do, this is the culmination of years of hard work, years of dedication, years of a vision that could not be cracked, could not be broken by anybody and now here we are, it's phenomenal for me," he said.

McGregor was originally set to fight American Cole Miller, who pulled out due to injury allowing Brandao to step in, but before the fight Conor seemed totally unfazed by the change."Everyone poses different challenges . . . but it is what it is. I'll whip both of them, at the same time if they want."

With no shortage of confidence, McGregor believes completely in his own abilities. "I believe, I'll be world champion by the end of the year. I've a clear, clear vision of that belt wrapped around my waist by the end of the year and then return here to my home town and sell out a football stadium."

When Conor won his UFC debut, with undeniably exciting style, he became a household name in Ireland and a face recognised the world over, even releasing a line of Conor McGregor inspired clothing with the company Dethrone Royalty. "It's selling out and we're looking to open a store on a major retail street in Ireland, so things are going good with that brand," he revealed.

But the talented fighter is quick to play down his growing media presence. "I don't care about celebrity, that means jack shit to me. I'm just focusing on my craft, focusing on chasing that goal. This is years and years and years of hard work and dedication, like I said - belief in my ability and belief in a vision that was never there before. No one had done this before, I couldn't look at anybody and say that's the path I want to follow, ya know?"

But surely being the first, and thus far only, Irish MMA fighter to grab the world's attention puts a lot of pressure on Conor to succeed.

"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."

Prior to last night's UFC fight, which was broadcast on 3e, it had been almost a year since Conor entered the ring due to the painful ACL injury.

"It's good to be back, it's been a long road of recovery, but I'm better than I was before, I'm a more refined athlete, better prepared. I feel different than I've ever felt."

In preparation for last night's fight, McGregor travelled to Iceland to train at Mjolnir gym, named after the hammer of Thor.

"Iceland, it's just is a great place to go and study martial arts, it's a great place for isolation, it's a great place to go prepare for war," he said.

Part of the reason that Conor has captured the public's interest is the enthusiasm with which he approaches his sport. He is fast, aggressive and extremely exciting to watch. You can see it in his eyes - that desire to win.

"I'm addicted. I wouldn't say it's a hunger, it's an addiction. I need to move. Movement for me is meditation, it's like medication even. I need to train, I need to learn. It's just something that I need to do all the time and that's it."

Sunday Independent

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