The Conor McGregor Factor

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Believe it or not, Conor McGregor isn’t the only one fighting at UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston on Saturday night, but you’d never know looking at the media maelstrom he has conjured over the past month. Ahead of his bout with Max Holloway, Tom Rooney looks at how a kid from Crumlin, who after only one fight in the UFC, managed to endear himself to the entire MMA world and beyond.

There are a myriad of lessons fledgling Mixed Martial Artists could learn from Conor McGregor; his rigorous preparation; the dedication to his craft; the respect he holds for his coaches, teammates and fans alike and, of course, his rapier mental focus. But, there’s something else- the manner in which he has built himself as a brand since his victory in Sweden last April.

It’s the nature of the beast that, early in their careers, a majority of young fighters struggle to cover the cost of their training or even feed themselves. Even if they quickly get to the UFC, unknowns and up-and-comers, as they climb the ranks, are getting paltry purses, at best. Their lack of profile means sponsors are not exactly knocking at doors with cheques in toe, so the battle to quite literally survive this period often breaks many.

From the moment he rendered Marcus Brimage unconscious, McGregor went about improving his stock, demanding the Knockout of the Night Bonus in his post-fight interview. Dana White obliged and then invited McGregor to the post-event presser; unheard of for a debutant on the preliminary card.

It was here a star was born. McGregor, rocking a dicky bow and eating blueberries, had the wide-eyed look of a kid at Christmas, and enthralled the hacks, by telling tales about being on social welfare up to a week before the fight.  The Americans went home with yarns about a fighting Irishman akin to McCullough and Collins et al.

When he got home, McGregor was embraced by the mainstream media immediately, and you almost forgave the fact that a month earlier they wouldn’t have given him a column inch. Since then, a day rarely goes by without that trademark blond beard popping up somewhere. And, to that end, the lucrative endorsements have rolled in, including Setanta Sports, bookmakers Paddy Powers and Dethrone. After an appearance on the Late Late Show with teammate Cathal Pendred, RTE, the national broadcaster, are even filming a documentary about him, who would have thought it?

This where fighters in the nascent stage of their careers should take note, to make hay while the sun is shining, because, theirs is an occupation both fleeting and fickle. Yes, McGregor has benefitted from being Ireland’s first bona fide MMA star; yes the Americans are more likely to embrace a Paddy than say, a Swede. But the Notorious has capitalised on this, by stepping out and announcing himself as though it’s his world and we’re just living in it.

The stories of being on the dole and the amusing rapport he has with Ariel Helwani, host of the MMA Hour, have only served to further humanise him in the eyes of his growing audience. Like him or love him, his gregarious and, at times, brash demeanour makes him compelling viewing and you can’t look away. There have been haters- lately Cub Swanson was less then complimentary- but McGregor knows he’s one fight away from being a has been and applies himself accordingly.

At the end of the day, all the bells and whistles that now surround McGregor are predicated on the fact that he is a truly exceptional fighter. It is here that the plot thickens somewhat, and he proves to be a curious dichotomy. He has been strident about wanting to make serious dollars and reap all the trappings that come with wealth, but you get the impression MMA is just a fortunate by-product of the Martial Arts lifestyle that he has adopted to escape the mundane aspects of day-to-day life.

In a different time or place he may have been a Samurai or a Shaolin Monk on a quest to achieve a fusion of physical and mental Nirvana. In the 21st century, as MMA continues to snowball into one of the world’s biggest sports, the UFC’s octagon is the ideal venue to do so, enhanced by the possibility of making a great living. In the featherweight division, which is arguably the sport’s most talent-rich, Jose Aldo sits on top of the mountain McGregor has begun to climb.

And climb it he will. McGregor has the rare ability to fight in both a kick-boxing and boxing range, and when considering his ability in the latter, it becomes very obvious that he is one of only a handful of genuinely capable pugilists in the top-flight of MMA. The diligence and diversity of his training in SBG under John Kavanagh, is as good as any in the sport, and there is no stone left unturned in pursuit of the belt he knew was his all along.

By Tom Rooney – @oldmanrooney

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.