Earlier this year he was queueing for the dole, but on Saturday night Conor McGregor was in Boston's TD Garden, wearing little more than briefs and holding court with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and superstar boxer Oscar De La Hoya.
“I was telling them Guinness is full of iron,” said McGregor of the conversation with his new friends who were congratulating him in his dressingroom minutes after his latest victory in mixed martial arts’ Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Before a 12,500 crowd McGregor won his second appearance in the UFC by defeating Hawaii's Max Holloway on a points decision. The UFC event was significant as it highlighted the launch day for new US channel Fox Sports 1. UFC and the sport of MMA may only have a niche audience in Ireland but it is a lucrative industry.
Cageside tickets sell for several hundred dollars and the UFC’s deal with Fox aims to give the sport mainstream television exposure by making it available to 93 million US homes. With annual revenue of $600 million (€450 million), the UFC organisation is reportedly valued at more than $2 billion. Its biggest stars earn up to $5 million per fight and if McGregor continues to win he could soon be in line for such lucrative paydays.
Despite spending 15 minutes battling in an octagon-shaped cage on Saturday, the 25-year-old McGregor left without a scratch.
With fair hair and a bushy beard, the Dubliner resembles a modern-day Viking and he fights with the ferocity of one. His opponent Holloway is known as an adept striker, but McGregor was fearless, wasting little time in dictating the featherweight (10 st 5 lbs) contest. Throwing punches and kicks McGregor seemed at ease in the cage.
His movements were relaxed and every strike came with conviction. His coach, John Kavanagh, likens fighting to art and his pupil painted a bloody picture, leaving Holloway with a broken nose and swollen eye after just one round.
Holloway was very much on the defensive in the second round, seemingly bemused by McGregor’s varying strikes. Whenever Holloway attempted an attack, McGregor deftly avoided the strike and shrugged his shoulders. Later in the round McGregor caught one of Holloway’s kicks and dragged him to the ground. But then McGregor’s plans changed. As both men grappled for position, McGregor felt pain in his knee.
“I heard it click. I let a scream, but I don’t think [Holloway] sussed it,” said McGregor who won by scores of 30-27 (twice) and 30-26 from the three judges. “This is combat, anything can happen.”
Unable to strike effectively, McGregor changed tact and kept the bout on the ground in the third and final round, using his grappling skills to keep Holloway under control.
Boston's Irish-Americans turned out in force, with green shirts and Tricolours. McGregor's style and ability to resonate with a crowd make him a marketable commodity for the UFC. And he has a plan for dealing with fame.
“No new friends,” he said with a grin. “I keep my circle. After my last fight [when he won a $60,000 bonus] I handed out envelopes with wads of cash to people who’ve been there for me.”
There’ll be potential for the McGregor bandwagon to grow as the UFC is planning an event in Ireland next year.