Conor McGregor knows how to make a statement. Just two years and five fights into his UFC career, the Irish featherweight has gone from relative unknown to the most electrifying character in the sport. Yes, the 26-year-old is a brutal, efficient fighter with an eclectic array of techniques and a knack for knockouts (15 of his 17 wins come from TKOs, including four of his five UFC wins). But his meteoric rise owes as much to his mouth as to his fists, knees, and feet: McGregor is a sneering, trash-spewing, over-the-top showman more akin to a top-card professional wrestler than a cage fighter. Often outfitted in three-piece suits, he riles up fans with crazed monologues, taunts fighters mid-match with a wagged finger, and boldly predicts how long it’ll take him to incapacitate opponents (usually two minutes, but even if foes don’t tap, that’s about the time McGregor “sees their eyes dim,” as he puts it).
“What can I say? I’m a talker,” he says.
His unique brand of bombast has earned him the title of the Emerald Isle’s most googled athlete, not to mention a freshly inked Reebok contract, a worldwide legion of crazed, flag-waving supporters, and, in July, a title shot against featherweight champion José Aldo at UFC 189.
“My success isn’t a result of arrogance—it’s a result of belief,” says the 145-pounder, whose lean frame and wild-eyed stare make him look like some long-ago warrior who drinks ale from the skulls of conquered kings. “My belief is what brought me here; it’s my most powerful ally. I knew I’d be in the UFC since I started my career.”
Born in Crumlin, a scrappy suburb of Dublin, McGregor, who, despite his antics, is stoic and poised away from the cage, says he’s always had an “insatiable curiosity for combat.” As a boy, he bounced from gym to gym, learning everything from capoeira to muay Thai. After a stint as a plumber, McGregor pursued MMA full-time and eventually made his way to the European circuit, where he earned the nickname “Notorious” as well as the lightweight and featherweight belts. He joined UFC in 2013 and was quickly recognized for his skills in both combat and scene-stealing.
“I have the greatest job in the world,” McGregor says. “I get paid loads of cash for beating the crap out of people. And I’m very good at it.”
He’ll need that mind-set when he fights José Aldo. The Brazilian has defended the belt seven times and hasn’t lost a match since 2005.
“He has nothing that worries me,” says McGregor, adding, with a smirk, “He’ll be done two minutes into the second round."
Photos by Photographed by Robert Wyatt