Who has crazy tattoos, a wild way with words, and the most devastating left hand in combat sports? The answer, of course, is UFC superstar Conor McGregor. A two-time champ with nine UFC wins and only two losses (for a total record of 21-4-0), this Irish southpaw shakes up the world every time he steps into the cage, and in the last few years, he’s become one of the biggest stars in UFC history.
But what’s the story behind McGregor’s meteoric rise to success? And why exactly is he such a big deal in the world of MMA? Well, if you want to know more about the undisputed Octagon king, then grab your tricolor flag and cue up “Foggy Dew” as we explore the untold truth of Conor McGregor.
Conor McGregor made his UFC debut in 2013, knocking out a guy named Marcus Brimage. After his win, McGregor earned a $16,000 purse and picked up a $60,000 bonus for his performance. That must’ve been a big relief for the young fighter, as he’d been living off welfare checks before signing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Of course, McGregor was no stranger to hard work with little reward. Before going pro, he worked as an apprentice plumber, getting the gig at age 17 with the help of his mom. However, McGregor wasn’t happy with his lot in life. After waking up at five in the morning, he would spend up to 12 hours at a worksite that was “cold, dark, and wet.” As he put it, “It was a rough time. I did not like the life. Plumbing did not interest me.” On top of that, his job took time away from training, which was a big problem for a guy with athletic aspirations.
Dreaming of a career in the UFC, McGregor eventually quit his job, but this didn’t sit well with his parents. After all, no Irish athlete had ever found success in the UFC. Evidently, the conversation with his dad got kind of heated — and possibly physical, depending on who’s telling the story. But McGregor wouldn’t change his mind: he was giving up his pipe wrench for a pair of gloves.
Just a few years after singing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, McGregor would become one of the wealthiest men in the sport.
In fact, in 2016, McGregor became the first MMA fighter in history to appear on Forbes‘ list of the 100 highest-paid athletes, showing up at #85 with the tidy sum of $22 million. But hey, as McGregor himself put it, the man has “an unhealthy obsession with spending money” and “a healthy obsession with making it.” So it should come as no surprise that in 2017, he vaulted up to #24, raking in a hefty $34 million…and wasn’t even 30 yet.
It’s the ultimate Cinderella story, only instead of glass slippers and magic pumpkins, this one involves a lot more left straights and uppercuts.
McGregor vs. Mendes
So what makes this knockout artist from Ireland so special? Well, in just the first four years he fought in the UFC, he racked up a list of insanely impressive achievements. After winning five straight fights, McGregor got his first crack at UFC gold, fighting Chad Mendes for the interim featherweight belt. (He was originally supposed to face champion Jose Aldo, but the Brazilian pulled out after breaking his rib.) Many people wondered if McGregor could defeat such a skilled wrestler — questions surrounding Conor’s ground game have haunted his career for years — but “The Notorious” overcame “Money” Mendes in Round 2, defeating the grappler by TKO.
Beating Aldo and Alvarez
With the interim belt wrapped around his waist, McGregor then turned his attention to the real champ, Jose Aldo. This is where McGregor joined the pantheon of MMA gods. You see, Aldo hadn’t lost a match since 2005 and boasted an impressive 18-fight win streak. He was previously the champ of World Extreme Cagefighting (where he did nasty things to people’s legs) and was the only featherweight champ in UFC history (where he did nasty things to people’s heads). In short, Aldo was considered the greatest featherweight of all-time.
As the newly crowned king, McGregor immediately set his sights on a new goal. He wanted to become the first UFC fighter to hold two belts at once. Sure, the legendary B.J. Penn and Randy Couture had won titles in more than one weight class, but they didn’t wear both belts at one time. Hoping to gain MMA immortality, McGregor went up against lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in New York City. It was the first time the UFC had ever held an event in Madison Square Garden, and The Notorious didn’t disappoint. Even though Alvarez is one of the toughest in the sport (he was previously a two-time Bellator champ), McGregor cleaned his clock inside of two rounds, making history and apologizing to absolutely nobody.
What's his secret?
In addition to making champs look like amateurs, McGregor has found quite a bit of success outside the Octagon. He’s appeared on the cover of GQ, showed up in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, picked up sponsors like Beats Electronics and Budweiser, and he’s encouraged athletes to copy his “billionaire strut.”
Okay, the walk originated with Vince McMahon, but it’s safe to say McGregor has taken the move to the next level.
So what makes McGregor so successful both inside and outside the cage? Is it hard work and expert coaches? Social media savvy coupled with the gift of gab? A pinpoint accurate left hand? Well, McGregor would probably say “all of the above,” but he would also give credit to a certain self-help book. That’s right…
His secret is The Secret
When Conor was an up-and-comer, his sister Erin told him about The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. The book focuses on the “law of attraction,” essentially the power of positive thinking. If you visualize your desires, you can “attract” it to you, including wealth and power.
At first, McGregor didn’t buy it, but eventually, he watched the DVD version with his girlfriend, Dee Devlin. Inspired, the two began experimenting. “We would be driving to the shop and visualizing the exact car park space,” he explained to Bleacher Report. “And then we’d be able to get it every time.” McGregor then carried the secret over to MMA, and after defeating Jose Aldo, he confessed in his post-fight interview, “If you can see it here [your head], and have the courage to speak it, it will happen. If you put out what you truly believe in, it will create the law of attraction, and it becomes reality.”
Since then, McGregor has continued using his trick of visualization. For example, in preparing for his rematch with Nate Diaz, McGregor covered the walls of his gym with images from their first fight, depicting moments where he landed punches on his bigger opponent. And for his showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr, Conor’s coach ordered a mural for his gym showing the MMA star slugging the legendary boxer. Sure, it might sound like mumbo-jumbo to most of us, but McGregor is one of the biggest athletes on the planet. Maybe The Secret really is the Irishman’s key to success.
McGregor's many mentors
No man is an island. That’s true even for modern-day legends like Conor McGregor. After all, you don’t win 18 of 21 victories by knockout without a little help back at the gym. McGregor has worked with some of the best people in the business, such as Dillon Danis, a jiu-jitsu black belt who’s helped McGregor improve his ground game. And when it comes to growing as a fighter, McGregor isn’t afraid to think outside of the box, as he’s used movement coach Ido Portal to develop rather unusual, well, movements.
John Kavanagh: The man behind McGregor
John Kavanagh runs Straight Blast Gym Ireland, located in Dublin, and he’s been involved in the world of combat sports for quite some time. Even though he’s got a degree in Engineering (and once considered becoming a math teacher), Kavanagh has been teaching martial arts since he was 18. He had a brief MMA career that lasted a few years, and he’s also the first ever jiu-jitsu black belt in Irish history.
McGregor discovered Kavanagh’s gym early on, and right away, he knew it was special. Where other gyms had been too close-minded, demanding their pupils follow their exact way of doing martial arts, McGregor found that Kavanagh was different. As Conor explained, “He was more open to exploring, figuring out why to do it this way rather than that way and realizing that there’s a time and a place for every way.”
Under Kavanagh’s tutelage, McGregor started thinking about going pro, and at one point — before the young athlete had committed to fighting — Kavanagh visited McGregor at his home and told him that “he would change the game” if he started training more seriously. Multiple belts and millions of dollars later, Kavanagh and McGregor have one of the best coach-student relationships around, and they’ve become a duo you don’t want to mess with.
He's never defended any of his belts
Conor McGregor has achieved some great things throughout his career, but even legends deserve criticism now and then. And in McGregor’s case, many people are upset that the man has never defended any of his belts.
This trend started in June 2012, when McGregor fought Dave Hill for the featherweight title (145 pounds) in a European organization called Cage Warriors. After winning the belt via rear naked choke, a series of accidents eventually led to McGregor jumping weight classes and knocking out Ivan Buchinger for the lightweight title (155 pounds). However, The Notorious never defended either belt, because that’s when he signed with the UFC.
Soon after, McGregor destroyed featherweight champ Jose Aldo, but instead of facing the next rightful contender (Frankie Edgar), McGregor challenged lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Unfortunately, dos Anjos broke his foot, and Nate Diaz jumped in as a last minute replacement, defeating Conor via rear naked choke. Hoping to avenge his loss, McGregor put featherweight on hold for a rematch against the lightweight, and after going five rounds, Conor walked away with the decision.
But instead of returning to 145, he decided to fight the new lightweight champ, Eddie Alvarez. After making the Philadelphia native look like a rookie, McGregor announced he would take an extended break from fighting. Then, over half a year later, the Irishman shocked the world by announcing he would compete in a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr…leaving the lightweight division a real mess.
As a result, McGregor’s refusal to defend his titles has caused many to question his legacy…
The story behind his (first) short-lived retirement
On April 19, 2016, after his loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196, Conor McGregor turned the sports world upside down with a mysterious tweet: “I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese. Catch ya’s later.” In just a few hours, Conor’s farewell had been re-tweeted more times than Kobe Bryant’s retirement tweet. Outlets ranging from ESPN to NPR covered the news, and the sports world was totally baffled by McGregor’s sudden decision.
So what prompted the tweet? Well, after Diaz choked out McGregor at UFC 196, the Irishman demanded an immediate rematch at UFC 200. And this time, he wanted to train harder than he ever had before. That meant spending more time in the gym and less time chatting with reporters. But the UFC threw a wrench into his plans, demanding he show up for a press conference to promote the upcoming bout. However, McGregor was training in Iceland and didn’t want to interrupt his schedule by flying all the way to Las Vegas.
The UFC wasn’t happy, and made it clear that Conor was contractually obligated to show up. And that’s when McGregor fired back with his infamous tweet, hoping to use his celebrity as leverage against the UFC brass. In retaliation, UFC president Dana White pulled McGregor from UFC 200 (a move that was just the first of several disasters to befall the highly anticipated card). Then, just days after thanking everyone for the cheese, McGregor posted a lengthy note on Facebook, defending his actions before declaring, “I AM NOT RETIRED.” Soon enough, McGregor and the UFC were back in business together, and The Notorious finally got his Diaz rematch at UFC 202.
Why he was stripped of the featherweight belt
Conor McGregor made history after defeating Eddie Alvarez, becoming the first person in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously. And he held this distinction for a whopping two weeks. Just fourteen days after his victory at Madison Square Garden, the UFC stripped McGregor of his featherweight title, leaving him with just his lightweight belt. So what happened?
It partly has to do with the fact that McGregor hadn’t defended the featherweight belt in almost a year, and it wasn’t because he was sick or injured. He was simply more concerned with challenging fighters outside his weight class.
However, there was another element at play when it came to stealing McGregor’s featherweight crown. Near the end of 2016, the UFC was preparing to hold one of their final cards of the year, UFC 206. The plan was for light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier to face knockout artist Anthony Johnson, but unfortunately, Cormier injured his knee before the fight could go down.
Thinking they needed a title fight to sell pay-per-views, the UFC made a series of questionable decisions. They bumped the co-main event — a featherweight fight between Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis (pictured above) — to main event status. And for some reason, they decided to have these guys fight for an “interim title”…which the UFC made up on the spot. As a result, they automatically promoted Jose Aldo to real champion and stripped McGregor of his belt, making him the 11th champ in the sport’s history to ever have his title taken away.
The Monster can incident
Conor McGregor’s press conferences are always interesting. At one, he delivered the sickest burn in MMA history. At another, he threatened a dude with a chair while wearing a Gucci mink coat. But every McGregor press conference pales in comparison to the shenanigans at UFC 202.
It was the Diaz-McGregor rematch, and in the days leading up to the fight, the two were supposed to field questions and talk trash at the David Copperfield Theater at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In true McGregor fashion, the Irishman was 30 minutes late. Responding in kind, Diaz walked off the stage pretty much as soon as McGregor showed up.
This is where things get a bit crazy. As Diaz and his entourage were leaving, they began hurling insults at McGregor. The champ fired back, and that’s when Diaz and his crew began chunking water bottles. Never one to back down, Conor launched a few of his own…before scooping up a couple of Monster Energy drinks and tossing them across the theater. Fortunately for everyone in the room, McGregor is a great fighter but a lousy pitcher.
McGregor was fined $150,000 and ordered to serve 50 hours of community service by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. But instead of complying, McGregor threatened to never fight in Nevada again and took the case to court. Of course, the commission decided to drastically reduce the sentence in 2017. Why the change in heart? Well, that depends who you ask. Some wonder if maybe the commission reduced the fine to encourage McGregor to pay it off. Once that was taken care of, he could then apply for a Nevada boxing license, thus opening the door for a Las Vegas fight with Floyd Mayweather. Of course, the Nevada State Athletic Commission denies this.
The Conor controversies
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to agree that Conor McGregor is a brash, in-your-face kind of guy who’s stirred up quite a bit of controversy over the years. In fact, he was making waves just two fights into his UFC contract. In 2013, a fan asked McGregor via Twitter if he sexually preferred women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey or her rival Miesha Tate. McGregor responded with a less-than-appropriate lyric from Dr. Dre’s “Let’s Get High.” Soon after, McGregor deleted the tweet and issued an apology, but he still received a scolding from UFC president Dana White.
McGregor took his scandalous comments up a notch in preparation for his fight with Jose Aldo. In a press conference with the Brazilian champ, the Irishman said, “If this was a different time, I would invade [Aldo’s] favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work.” Similarly, when squaring off in public with Nate Diaz, McGregor dropped a few slurs that didn’t win him any fans in the Latino community. As a result of these insults, political writer Shaun King attacked McGregor online, labeling McGregor a racist.
In August 2016, McGregor stirred up a new hornet’s nest by posting a selfie to Instagram, one that showed him proudly wearing a Pablo Escobar T-shirt. Many Colombians criticized the move, pointing out that Escobar isn’t a guy who deserves admiration.
McGregor vs. the WWE
When McGregor isn’t angering entire countries, he’s taking aim at professional wrestling. That same August, Conor shared some opinions about the WWE, calling the athletes involved a bunch of…well, read it for yourself. He also said he could “slap the head off your entire roster. And twice on Sunday’s [sic].”
Naturally, WWE fans were furious, but McGregor’s comments also angered quite a few WWE superstars. Wrestlers like Kurt Angle, Sasha Banks, Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, and Roman Reigns all took shots at McGregor on Twitter, but as Conor is basically the UFC champion of trolling, he was probably loving every minute of it.
The Money Fight – Mayweather vs. McGregor
After winning two UFC belts, McGregor decided to conquer an entirely different sport: boxing. And if he was going to leave the Octagon for the squared circle, then he was going to throw down with the best ever, the man known as Floyd “Money” Mayweather.
The greatest of his generation, Mayweather had a professional boxing record of 49-0, as opposed to Connor’s 0-0. Still, after Conan O’Brien suggested the superfight, buzz for the match grew louder and louder until the fight was officially announced in June 2017. While many analysts and athletes in both boxing and MMA thought the fight was a sham, McGregor and Mayweather began hyping the fight on a world tour that generated a lot of publicity, both good and bad.
The story took another twist when the Nevada State Athletic Commission allowed McGregor and Mayweather to use 8-ounce gloves, breaking a rule that boxers fighting at 154 pounds should use 10-ounce gloves. Things got stranger still when two-time boxing champ Paulie Malignaggi offered to spar with McGregor. Afterward, McGregor’s people leaked clips of the bout online. Not only did the (incredibly short) footage show Conor holding his own against a pro fighter, it also showed McGregor apparently knocking Malignaggi to the canvas.
This started a bitter feud between Conor and Paulie, which “ended” when Mayweather claimed Malignaggi had actually been his spy. Despite the drama, the real “Money Fight” went down on August 26, 2017, and when McGregor stepped into the ring, he shocked his critics by performing incredibly well in the first several rounds, scoring points against an unusually aggressive Mayweather. However, by the later rounds, Conor had grown fatigued and Floyd had taken control.
After a valiant performance, McGregor was finished by a tenth-round TKO, but still, the guy managed to go ten rounds in his first pro boxing match with the greatest boxer alive. Conor even landed more punches (111) than Manny Pacquiao did in 2015 (81). At the end of the day, McGregor walked out of the ring with a moral victory, even more fame, and a disclosed purse of $30 million … though it’s more likely he earned around $100 million, far more than he’s ever made in the UFC.
Losing the lightweight belt and the battle with Khabib
After winning the UFC lightweight belt in November 2016, Conor McGregor went AWOL from MMA for nearly two years. Sure, he traded blows with Floyd Mayweather, but that was a boxing match. And without a champion, the lightweight division was kind of stuck. So in April 2018, the UFC stripped McGregor of his belt, leaving the two-time champion with zero titles.
While McGregor was gone, the lightweight division found a new king to take his place: Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov. A Russian grappler with an undefeated record, Nurmagomedov bested Al Iaquinta to claim the vacant strap, and soon, the Irishman arrived to get his belt back. After a lot of highly contentious trash talk and some shockingly violent events, the two squared off in October 2018. And while McGregor managed to win one round — something no one had ever done against Nurmagomedov before — he was eventually submitted by rear naked choke, leaving Khabib the undisputed lightweight king. Of course, McGregor wasn’t a complete loser, as his match against the Eagle became the highest-selling UFC pay-per-view of all time.
Getting into trouble again and again
After the Floyd Mayweather boxing match, Conor McGregor’s fame skyrocketed … and so did his long series of legal woes and PR disasters. For example, he was recorded using a gay slur in October 2017 and forced to apologize. In November 2017, he allegedly got into a fist fight with an Irish gangster. Then things got incredibly tense when McGregor attended a Bellator MMA event and illegally entered the cage. When referee Marc Goddard intervened, McGregor attacked the ref before allegedly slapping a Bellator staff member.
Perhaps McGregor’s most insane moment came in the lead-up to UFC 223, a card he wasn’t even fighting on. After learning that UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov had cornered and bullied one of his teammates, McGregor flew to New York to confront his Russian rival. Unfortunately, that led to McGregor and his posse attacking a bus full of UFC fighters and officials. McGregor went so far as to throw a hand truck through the bus window, injuring several people inside.
Needless to say, McGregor was arrested, but his feud with Nurmagomedov wasn’t over yet. After losing to Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, McGregor got involved in a massive brawl that involved multiple fighters and teammates, leading the Nevada State Athletic Commission to suspend McGregor from fighting for six months. Then McGregor was arrested yet again in March 2019 after allegedly destroying and stealing a fan’s cell phone. Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse, that same month the New York Times reported that McGregor was being investigated for sexual assault in Ireland. In other words, McGregor is a guy who can’t stay out of trouble.
McGregor retires … again
Conor McGregor is incredibly successful. He’s made millions from the fight game. He has his own whiskey label and fashion line. He’s appeared in Burger King commercials, Budweiser commercials, and Game of War commercials. He’s without a doubt the UFC’s biggest star. The dude is swimming in cash and doesn’t need to fight for money anymore.
So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that on March 26, 2019, McGregor tweeted he was retiring from MMA. After all, why get punched in the face when there’s money to be made in the whiskey business? However, many people in the MMA-sphere are skeptical of his sudden decision. After all, McGregor has “retired” before as a negotiation tactic. Plus, about a week before the tweet, McGregor told fans he was eyeing a return to the Octagon in July. Then on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon that aired shortly before the tweet, McGregor said the same exact thing. Many suspect this “retirement” announcement is a ploy by McGregor — who wants ownership stakes in the UFC — to get what he wants from the company. Others have theorized the announcement was possibly a distraction from the New York Times story detailing sexual assault allegations against the star, which broke just hours after his tweet.
But if it’s a real retirement, McGregor has certainly had quite the notorious career, and chances are good he won’t disappear from the spotlight anytime soon.
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