The UFC’s return to Ireland has been promised for years, but not until the emergence of Dublin’s own Conor McGregor did the promotion finally pull the trigger on going back to the Emerald Isle.
McGregor burst onto the scene in 2013 following a much hyped debut where he snuffed former Ultimate Fighter competitor Marcus Brimage in just over a minute before dominating noted striker Max Holloway for three rounds in his second fight in the Octagon. During that fight, however, McGregor suffered a knee injury that forced him into surgery and out of the sport for the past year.
So while McGregor rehabbed and rebuilt his knee, Ireland waited for their native son to return home and the UFC to follow with him.
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Now just 48 hours away from the UFC officially kicking off their first event in Ireland in five years, McGregor stands on the precipice of becoming one of the sports biggest stars after only three fights with none of them happening against the best of the best in the featherweight division. Rarely is any fighter expected to make that many waves with only three bouts inside the Octagon, but McGregor defines unique in this new age of MMA superstars.
Outside of Ronda Rousey, there hasn’t been a fighter who has made a similar impact in such a short amount of time as McGregor has managed to do — not to mention he’s been out for a year and instead of forgetting about the brash Irishman, fans and media alike are frothing at the mouth, feverishly anticipating his return.
"The whole nation will shut down for this fight. This is like a World Cup final here. It’s phenomenal," McGregor told FOX Sports this week. "I’m grasping it with both hands. This is a historic event, I’m making history here one fight at a time. I’m grateful, I’m honored and I will prove my worth on Saturday night."
Underneath the slicked back hair, curled mustache and bowtie, McGregor is a finely tuned fighting machine built for one mission — winning a UFC title and being called the best in the world. While it’s tough sometimes for reporters to get fighters to even state the obvious like they will win their fight, McGregor suffers none of those issues when he’s predicting how his bout with Diego Brandao will end or any UFC featherweight for that matter.
The Germans cracked the Brazilian nest seven times. This Brazilian on Saturday night’s not going to be able to take seven cracks on the chin from me so it will be less shots, but more devastating of a win
— Conor McGregor
He’s supremely confident, on the verge of cocky, and McGregor wouldn’t have you think about him in any other way.
"I don’t understand how so many guys are signed to the roster and have no aspirations of the gold, no aspirations of reaching the top. That baffles me," McGregor said. "I’m a confident man — I believe in my work, I believe in my ability, I always have, I always will, I believe in my team, my coach, and ultimately that’s where the confidence comes from. It comes from your work ethic and your obsession for this game, it comes from the people around you.
"From the day I signed last year, my eyes are on the gold. Anyone that’s in my way is in the firing line. There’s so many of them in the UFC that have no aspiration to win the belt and they shouldn’t be there."
If McGregor is beloved by Irish fans and probably media alike because he is a sound bite machine, the peanut gallery consists of other UFC fighters who aren’t exactly lining up to get an autograph from the outspoken featherweight. McGregor wasted no time after just one fight in the UFC to start lining up every potential opponent at 145-pounds and treating them like hecklers in the crowd of a comedy show.
He called some of them old, others he said were just bloated bantamweights pretending to be 145-pound contenders, and the list went on and on. McGregor’s rhetoric certainly didn’t endear him to anyone on the UFC roster, but he’s not the main event for a show that sold out in about 30 minutes because he’s a nice guy.
Maybe it stems from a bit of envy that McGregor has gotten to this point without ever facing a top 10 opponent. Maybe it’s seeing McGregor’s face in commercials and promoted like he’s a reigning and defending champion despite his relative novice when it comes to his standing in the UFC.
McGregor isn’t concerned with what other fighters think about him or his success. To him, they are all just cannon fodder on his Hannibal like march to the featherweight throne.
"I’m sure they are a bit jealous. That’s they’re problem, that’s not my problem. I’m focused on the gold and becoming a better martial artist and climbing that ladder and removing heads along the way. I don’t worry about the way they feel, I just worry about the way I feel," McGregor said.
"One by one I’m going to take every single one of them out. Not just the champion, I want to take them all out. It makes no difference who’s next."
And as far as the one person who is standing in his way — well McGregor of course has a few words for him as well. Diego Brandao may be a former Ultimate Fighter winner and a knockout puncher in the division, but McGregor sees him as just another road bump and he’s driving an Irish tank right over him.
Just like Germany rolled over Brazil in the World Cup, McGregor believes it’s Ireland’s turn to do the same thing on Saturday night.
"The Germans cracked the Brazilian nest seven times," McGregor said. "This Brazilian on Saturday night’s not going to be able to take seven cracks on the chin from me so it will be less shots, but more devastating of a win."