Tony McGregor, father of the fighting pride of Dublin, Conor McGregor, spoke to PETER CARROLL ahead of his son’s toughest test to date as he faces off with Diego Brandao in The 02, Dublin on Saturday night.
Tony McGregor is one of the friendliest faces that you could meet around an event in which his son, Conor, is competing. Brimming with pride and general excitement, his witty and welcoming way make sure that he is usually surrounded by a bunch of cackling faces.
Just days before his son’s biggest test to date in front of thousands of his most loyal fans, the main man of the McGregor household shed some light on how his son’s success came to be in the fight game.
According to McGregor, his son stood out from the crowd from a very young age.
“When he was a little fella there was no real outstanding characteristics,” he said, “he was a quiet boy growing up but he always seemed to be the leader of the pack. If there was anything going on he was in the midst of it.”
Although the young “Notorious” originally saw his future in a pair of football boots, his father explained how he transitioned into boxing under the watchful eye of two time Olympian, Phil Sutcliffe.
“It was funny how Conor actually got into the boxing. We had got him into football and he followed Manchester United as a small kid. When he was around seven he used to be kitted out in all of their gear, but he doesn’t follow it at all now.
“He played for Lourdes Celtic and some of the other local clubs around us. It must’ve been his early teens when he started to go up to Crumlin Boxing Club and I remember him coming home one day and asking us why we hadn’t got him into it years before. He found his own niche in the end,” said McGregor of his son.
The SBG man’s Dad also highlighted how the family has a fighting lineage through his won father, who boxed competitively in his early years.
“My dad was actually a boxer when he was a small kid,” he said. “We never knew that really but we’ve seen photos of him in his younger years and he did win medals, cups and things like that but he never graduated to senior level.”
He also described how he was happy to see Conor get involved in boxing.
“I was happy enough with him boxing. I always wanted to try it as a kid myself, but I never got a chance to do it. I had no worries for him heading down there and training.
“He was born a fighter, though every one can see that now. Even his mother Margaret would tell you, he was born with his fists clenched. Actually the midwife was the one who pointed it out to us, she said ‘he’s going to be a fighter’, as soon as she saw him.
“I used to go down to Crumlin Boxing Club and watch him. I actually saw Phil Sutcliffe in an airport in Egypt this year and we were talking about the early days. Phil even said to me that back then he knew that Conor had something special.
“I saw him box loads of times, but I think it was a natural progression for him to move on to mixed martial arts in the end even though he had been an All Ireland boxing champion as a kid.
“I might not be a coach or know a lot about pugilistic skills, but he always seemed to have his own way of doing things in the ring and that made him stand out, for me anyway.
“Fighting is his talent, you can’t put a lid on talent. Even if you try to stop it, it will always bubble to the surface.”
Although his father supported him boxing as a young man, he wanted to be sure that Conor was guaranteed a good future and tried his best to keep him in a plumbing apprenticeship.
“Like any parent, I was concerned about his future and even when he got the plumbing job we had terrible trouble getting him to show up, it was a building site out in Kilternan.
“He didn’t have a car and I was taxiing so I’d work right the way through the night, even though I didn’t have to I was making good money at the time, just to make sure he got out there. He wasn’t in to it all, it was a real nightmare to try and get him to go.
“I remember the moment I knew he wasn’t going to be a plumber. It was a Monday morning, I went in to wake him up and I just remember him peering out from under his blanket and saying, ‘look, this isn’t for me’.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get him to go back to the building site then and I just figured there was no point in fighting it. I just closed the door behind me and left him to his own devices. Little did I know he was probably thinking about his career in the UFC.
“He didn’t tell us originally that he was training MMA, he kind of kept that away from us. I knew nothing about the UFC at the time, I knew nothing about the career that he could possibly get out of it.”
Eventually McGregor senior decided that if his son was going to pursue a career in mixed martial arts he would have to get behind him, and he outlined how he quickly fell in love with the sport once he saw Conor in action.
“I used to go and video them all, I had this little handheld camera at the time. He’d come home after and we’d hook it up to television and he would analyse them. He would look at every move frame by frame,” he said.
As far as a specific moment that McGregor can remember that cemented his hopes for Conor to make it to the biggest MMA stage, he highlighted his 2010 win over Mike Wood when they met in the National Basketball Arena.
He said: “There’s one night that sticks out, it was when he fought in the National Basketball Arena. Now that I think of it, that was the first night I saw Paddy Holohan fight and I was bowled over by him too.
“Conor’s opponent couldn’t show up for some reason and they had this other guy replace him. Conor was still a boy to me at this stage you know? Anyway, I hear that they have this last minute replacement and immediately in my head I’m thinking the guy is probably in the Special Forces or something.
“Then when I saw the guy come out I really got scared. He was built like a brick shit house. Then Conor came out and as he was on his way out, in that moment, he became a man in my eyes.
“He was built equal to his opponent and then as soon as the bell rang, Conor completely devastated him. I knew this would be his career from that moment on.”
McGregor also highlighted how he felt as Conor progressed through the Irish and European scenes.
“He just wouldn’t let anyone stand in his way. There was no one in Ireland that could touch him, there was no one in the UK that could touch him. They sent everyone they had from Europe, and he sent every one of them packing. What more could he do.”
When his son got the call up to fight for the UFC, McGregor had already been following the sport quite closely and he fondly remembers the excitement that he felt on hearing the news:
“I had been following the sport for a while then, and when he said it to us we immediately knew what a big thing that was him. I had admired the professionalism of their brand of fighting, I was a major fan and I still love everything about it to this day.
“I love the lights, I love the music, I love the show – it’s just such an electric occasion every time you go to one, how could you not love it for God’s sake?”
Conor McGregor’s path completely changed course after he captured the attention of the international MMA media with his 67 second knockout of Marcus Brimage in Stockholm Sweden in April of last year.
His now infamous, ‘60 G’s baby’ roar in his post fight interview acted as a teaser to the event’s press conference where he his sense of humour and style sent his celebrity status into orbit.
Surprisingly, the McGregor family didn’t realise what Conor had done in the press conference and it wasn’t until some fans told them while they were celebrating the big win in a Swedish hotel that they saw it.
“After that fight in Sweden we got back to the hotel and we were having a little celebration with some of the fans,” his father said. “Some people came up to us and they told us that Conor had been very funny in the post fight press conference.
“None of us could get wifi or anything like, but there was this big, old, free standing computer in the bar. We had to start feeding it krona to get it going and we downloaded the full thing.
“When I saw what he had done in that press conference, I knew that a media star had been born. It was all from that press conference in Sweden. It’s been everyday since then that we’ve seen him in the paper or on the internet.
“I feel a bit of a fool sometimes because I was dissing it from the start, and as I said in the documentary, I’ve learned to eat humble pie. I can’t beat myself up over it, I’m on board the UFC ship like the rest of Conor’s family and we want to invite everyone else on too.
“It’s been meteoric, no one in the family can believe it. I have a lot of family in the UK too and they’re following every step he takes. We’re all following him around like lapdogs, it’s great,” he laughed.
“He has a certain charisma, he has charmed the media and every body wants a piece of him. I have to say that he’s very humble, he’s not one to be too boastful or brash away from the cameras.
“A lot of people say he’s arrogant and stuff like that, but they don’t understand that it’s all part of the fight game, and he’s a future champion.”
Not a lot of fathers get to see their children shine as bright as McGregor’s, his father tried to describe his emotions while he watches “The Notorious”, in action.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I can understand the phrase ‘bursting with pride’, because that’s exactly how I feel, it’s like emotions are running so high that I could explode.
“When I’m in the stadium, on the night, it completely overtakes me. It’s hard to describe how I feel because I always know that he’s going to be victorious. It’s euphoric in a way, but that still doesn’t really describe how special it is,” he said.
A cultural phenomenon on top of his fighting ability, the McGregor style has become an Irish mainstay and his father gave his reaction to seeing so many ‘Conors’ around Dublin city:
“It’s kind of weird all right, there’s just so many Conors walking around town these days. He’s definitely set a trend, that’s another string to his bow I suppose. The beards, the shirts and the waist coasts – there’s Conors everywhere.”
Tony, a taxi man, commands a bit of celebrity status himself after appearing in this year’s “Notorious” RTE documentary. Nearly stealing the limelight from his son because of his banter and general good nature, he explained how he has been stopped on a few occasions by Conor’s fans.
“I was stopped at Pearse Street station on my night off only a couple of days ago, ‘hey, you’re Conor McGregor’s Da aren’t you’, they said to me. Then the other night I was in Eastwall and there were two kids telling me they had seen me in the documentary.
“I was walking down Baggott Street another day and a car pulled up beside me asking me was I Conor’s dad. I don’t mind it at all, it’s a bit of fun.
Tony has described the UFC Dublin card as “the stuff of dreams” given the amount of Irish talent on the card.
“I’m well aware of the enormity of this occasion,” he said. “Conor has said this from the start – he said he was going to bring the UFC back, he said was going to get his team mates on the card, he said he would help them make more money.
“Look at what’s happened, we have four SBG boys on the card and Neil from Team Ryano too, it’s the stuff of dreams.”
As for Brandao, Conor has given his Dad his word that the fight won’t leave the first round. On hearing that Brandao has once threatened to stab someone at a weigh-in, the Lucan resident was unwavering in his support for his son:
“He could get into that ring with whatever he wants, Conor’s still going to send him packing. Conor’s not afraid of him and I’m not afraid of him.
“I asked Conor and he said that he’s going to do him in the first round. Whatever he’s said so far has come through, so I believe him.”