03 Dec Conor McGregor, Ireland’s ‘Barbaric Gentleman’
Conor McGregor might be the most charming fella who’ll gladly make it his mission to punch your head clean off, as long as the price is right.
In the UFC octagon, the brash 26-year-old from Dublin is as vicious as they come, but over a light breakfast in the Men’s Health New York office, he’s making friends left and right, gladly posing for pictures, cracking jokes, and showing off his giant gold watch. The featherweight’s easygoing Irish charisma is disarming enough to make you forget, at least momentarily, that he could pummel everyone in the room just as easily as he can finish the tiny prosciutto sandwiches he’s munching on.
And just like he doesn’t hold back in a fight, “The Notorious” McGregor never shies away from proclaiming his greatness and belittling his opponents in interviews, press conferences, and on Twitter. Some people love it, especially the fans in the Old Country, but seemingly just as many can’t stand it.
“We come bulletproof in Ireland,” says the 5’9″ fighter. “We’re reared tough and we fight. We’ve been fighting all our lives, and we are not shy about speaking our minds, so it couldn’t be more perfect.
“I’m just being myself,” he adds. “When you’re faced with an opponent, the media asks the questions and I answer truthfully. I don’t hold back. The thing about the truth is, not a lot of people can handle it. I think it’s an Irish thing. We don’t really care. We say it as we mean it and you have to deal with it. The truth is the truth.”
The truth, so far, is that McGregor is 4-0 in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, with three of those wins coming via first-round knockout. In the one match that went the distance, he won a unanimous decision over Max Holloway despite the fact that McGregor tore his ACL during the bout. For his career, he’s 16-2 and hasn’t lost in 12 fights, dating back to November 2010. His next fight is against 35-year-old Dennis Siver, set for Boston’s TD Garden on January 18, and McGregor is already ruffling feathers with his smack talk.
Though Siver was born and raised in Russia, he comes from a German family and is now based in Mannheim. With that in mind, McGregor tweeted a photo of their pre-fight staredown with this caption:
Believe it or not, that one didn’t go over too well with fans, critics, and the UFC brass, so he took down the offending message and replaced it with this apology:
“It was inappropriate. I don’t want to offend people that aren’t involved in the contest, so I respect that and I took it down. But Siver, he’s a convicted cheat,” McGregor says, referring to Siver’s failed drug test from last March. “Not only was he caught on steroids but the [masking agent], so that’s a deeper level of cheating. I apologize to those outside of it, but as far as he goes, he is a cheat and I cannot respect that. I will kill him for it, I will retire him for it.”
And McGregor already has an idea of how Siver will go down: “Judging by his reactions to certain movements, I believe he’ll walk into a heavy, heavy kick and I will put him away.”
It’s hard not to believe him. Growing up in Dublin, McGregor says he was always a daydreamer, and swears that every goal he’s imagined, from winning fights to owning one of his many custom three-piece suits, came to fruition. “Everything I’ve been thinking, every vision, even down to every shot I throw, it just ends up here in reality,” he swears. “Whether it was in a fight and how to react or whether it was in a stadium with screaming fans or whether I was in a fancy car or the best clothes ever, I always put myself somewhere.”
Even when he knew he didn’t have the best fighting skills or didn’t have the finest possessions, he willed himself to believe that he did. “Even the car I was in,” he says. “A little thing that’s shaking and there’s smoke coming out, I’m driving along thinking it’s a Ferrari soft top.”
That will also helped McGregor go from a victim of bullying to where he is now. He started with boxing and moved into various martial arts, honing his craft in gyms and on the streets, and he credits his success on dwelling on his younger defeats and focusing on “balance, speed, flexibility, and movement,” as opposed to bulk and heavy sparring.
Eventually, his obsession with fighting led him to quit his job as a plumber, a decision that didn’t go over well with his father. Conor claims he was on the receiving end of his father’s “daily ass-whoopings,” an unsuccessful effort to get the younger McGregor back to his steady, blue-collar profession.
“I learned some defense from my old man,” he says, laughing. “But it was more worry—nobody in Ireland had ever done it before. I couldn’t say to my father, ‘Look at this Irish man. Look at the living he’s making for himself.’ So, it was just worry and it caused conflict between us, but through time, through hard work, through dedication, he was on board with it. And now I have retired him. Now he doesn’t have to work, so it’s a beautiful thing to give back to my family. That’s all I really want. That’s what I do this for, to secure my family’s future. I don’t care about anything else. I’m able to spoil people and that’s the best thing.”
As for his old Dublin tormentors, McGregor, for once, is content to let his fame and fortune do the talking rather than get any physical revenge. “I never would. I’m still around the same people. It’s funny, looking back at some of the tough guys from when we were kids, looking at where they are now and where I am now. I don’t feel bitterness, I don’t feel anger towards anybody. Fighting is never emotional to me. When it’s done, it’s done. I don’t feel that emotion is a good thing to have in combat. You must be cold.”
When asked if he ever feels bad for his opponents, McGregor gives an answer that perfectly sums up his wry, blunt personality: “I may feel a little bit sorry sometimes for them. But then I go shopping.”
For now, though, McGregor is back in Dublin, spending almost all of his time at his gym, Straight Blast. He’s so loyal to the place that he got a version of their logo, a mean-mugging gorilla, tattooed on his chest, creeping up to his throat. McGregor’s variation has the ape wearing a crown, and his other ink includes the saying, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast,” a custom logo of a fighting Irishman, and a well-dressed man with a black eye that McGregor calls “the barbaric gentleman.”
Outside of the tats, McGregor says his favorite colors are green, for money, and gold, for title belts. He’s already won two of those in the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship league, Europe’s premier MMA organization. Convinced that the Siver fight will be an easy victory, McGregor’s already got his sights set on the big UFC prize—a title match against Brazil’s Jose Aldo, the reigning featherweight champ. Though that’s not yet a lock, McGregor knows where and how he wants it to happen.
“It’s Jose Aldo in a football stadium in Ireland, a 90,000-seater football stadium. Croke Park is a football field where we have fought for our independence. The English on Bloody Sunday raided the pitch in a tank and opened fire on the players and fans. It’s a place that has seen battle before, so it will see one more battle and I will raise the belt in front of my home country. 90,000. Record-breaking. Game-changing.”
Like all McGregor’s dreams, it’s nowhere close to modest, and we wouldn’t bet a single cent against it coming true.