World Tour confirms Conor McGregor as global UFC star

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The whistle-stop world tour for the UFC featherweight title clash between Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo ended in Dublin this week. It set the stage for a blockbuster fight and confirmed ‘Notorious’ as the UFC’s greatest salesman, writes Ralph Welch.

The fight game. It’s a simple business. I don’t like you, you don’t like me. Let’s meet in the ring and find out who’s the better man. Better still, let’s sell a few tickets. Then, win or lose, we both come out of this with a few quid in our pockets.

It’s been the premise for almost every major contest in combat sports’ history. Whether it was Ali goading a befuddled Sonny Liston, Mike Tyson biting Lennox Lewis’s leg or Jon Jones scrambling around a hotel foyer with Daniel Cormier, pre-fight provocation has been the consistent ingredient in the recipe for the world’s most lucrative fights.

Dana White often likes to state that fighting is a universal language. If true, as the World Championship Tour for the UFC featherweight strap stopped at numerous global outposts in March, it’s hard to dispute that ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor is the master of this ancient dialect.

The enigmatic Irishman has been at his most outrageous throughout. Surrounded by cameras at every turn, he has relished every second in the limelight. These duties can be a grind for prizefighters, notorious creatures of habit. Hotels and photo calls in front of the world’s press sound glamorous. The reality is that most fighting men and women prefer the thudding of leather into a heavy bag than the click of a camera lense. Shut away from prying eyes, the gym is their natural habitat. This is where they do their work, making every drop of sweat count in months of unforgiving preparation for their personal day of judgement.

Of course, media commitments, particularly in the last few days of fight week are nothing new. Saddled with the additional complication of making weight, we’re used to the sight of starved, sullen fighters on parade in the build-up to the big show.

There have been times when Aldo, a hitherto quiet and unassuming character, has visibly wilted under the strain of his unfamiliar schedule. The man who was the picture of icy calm when Notorious straddled the cage in Boston, has let his composure slip on occasion.

Meanwhile, McGregor has continued to grow into his role as the UFC’s bona fide star attraction of 2015. As pro wrestling parlance increasingly enters our MMA vernacular, some have described the Irishman as a classic heel figure. Indeed, there were moments in Rio – where he walked onto the stage wearing top-of-the-range sunglasses, designer shoes and an exquisitely tailored suit – that he looked like the Emerald Isle’s version of legendary antagonist Ric Flair.

Like the “Nature Boy”, McGregor is an extraordinary showman. The most polarising figure on the UFC roster, he feeds off the attention. No matter whether it is love or hate, the energy of a crowd funnels directly into his own personal power supply, making him an indefatigable source of pre-fight hype. Little wonder he is a media darling.

Yet there is plenty of substance beneath the surface. McGregor’s words are etched in self-belief. And so they should be. When your fortune depends on the swing of a four ounce glove, there is no room for doubt in a fighter’s mind. McGregor believes he can beat Jose Aldo. He believes he is the best in the world.

The hype will end on another red hot fight night in Las Vegas. When Jose Aldo looks across the cage at McGregor in Sin City, he may well see a man who he has developed a deep personal dislike for. However, he’ll also see a man that will make him significantly richer. Every time the Dubliner opens his mouth you can hear the pay-per-view cash register ringing.

At its core this is still a sport reliant on TV, tickets and t-shirts. McGregor sells all three by the truckload. Salesmen like him come along once in a generation.

He is box office gold.

Ralph Welch is a MMA columnist who has featured on Severe MMA, The Mirror, BT Sport and The UG amongst others. Follow Ralph on Twitter @ralphwelchmma

Owner/Editor of SevereMMA.com. Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.