Conor McGregor, from the first moment he stepped into an arena of combat, has shown that he is ruthless enough to compete with the very best.
His debut MMA bout, which was a February 2007 stoppage of Ciaran Campbell in the second round, also left nobody under any illusions as to his skills in showmanship. Ruthless and theatrical is, without doubt, the best way to describe how an 18-year old McGregor destroyed his debut opponent with a flurry of punches.
Not only did McGregor continue to rain punishment upon Campbell through the referee’s outstretched arms, but he also celebrated in a manner more befitting of an athletic professional who had just won a UFC title.
At that time, McGregor was an apprentice plumber, and any audience in triple figures would have been considered significant. To illustrate just how far the Dubliner has come since those humble days of amateur action, Floyd Mayweather Jr – the opponent that awaits him on 26 August – was at that time gearing up to face Oscar De La Hoya.
Mayweather’s record also stood at 37-0, and after beating De La Hoya via split decision and proving his worth in a new weight class, he successfully defended his WBC light middleweight title against Ricky Hatton.
With that December 2007 event taglined Undefeated, the two men fought tooth and nail in front of a worldwide audience that included a staggering 920,000 pay-per-view buys.
Four years, zero difference
By the end of 2010, McGregor’s professional MMA record stood at 4 wins and 2 losses. The second loss of his career came at the hands of Joseph Duffy, a fellow Irishman and future UFC athlete, via first-round chokehold.
The event in question was Cage Warriors 39: The Uprising, and although it was broadcast on Irish television channel Setanta 1, the viewing figures (though not precisely known) could not have been anywhere near 100,000. The maximum capacity of the event’s venue, the Neptune Arena, was 2,500...
A lesser mortal would, without doubt, have seen a second defeat in four outings as a potential death knell to any further progression in the ruthless spectacle that is MMA. Since the beginning of time, countless martial artists have begun their professional careers well, only for them to be terminally derailed by a string of losses.
In stark contrast to McGregor, Mayweather was as much of a juggernaut as ever. By now, his record had reached 41-0, and there was no sign that the Atlanta ’96 Olympian was about to give away his mound of belts, which by now included lineal light-middleweight titles.
His 41st career victory had come via unanimous decision over Shane Mosley, at a packed MGM Grand Garden Arena with a crowd of just over 15,000. Broadcast in 29 different countries, the May 2010 event entitled ‘Who R U Picking?’ drew in a staggering 1.4m PPV buys and $78.33m USD in revenue.
The very idea of McGregor facing anyone like Floyd Mayweather in his lifetime was as laughable as ever. However, the start of 2011 would signal a genuine, and lasting, change in form and fortune for McGregor. Three straight first-round victories would follow the turn of the year, and after beating Artur Sowinski in June 2011, he was back in the Cage Warriors roster.
By now the franchise had grown, enabling McGregor to fight in a foreign country for the first time. At Cage Warriors: Fight Night 2, he was not deterred by the unfamiliar surroundings of Amman, Jordan, and scored yet another first-round win by punches, against Aaron Jahnsen.
His rediscovered ability to win by punches in quick, brutal and efficient fashion enabled him to become increasingly brash in his pre-fight discourse, and exuberant in his post-fight celebrations.
A first title win became increasingly inevitable for McGregor, and it duly came in June 2012, in the form of the Cage Warriors featherweight title. Ironically, the win that brought the Dubliner his first belt came via submission – his first ever win in such a manner.
Six months later, McGregor won the Cage Warriors lightweight title. On that occasion, it was via his familiar brute strength that McGregor won, incapacitating Ivan Buchinger with a single first-round punch. Finally, in 2013, his showmanship paid dividends, and he made his UFC debut (at UFC on Fuel TV 9) on 6 April that year.
The cusp of stardom
The $76,000 purse earned by a victorious McGregor that night was by far his greatest to date, but he had still yet to draw a single PPV dollar. That particular ‘duck’ would be broken 18 months later, on 27 September 2014, at UFC 178. As an undercard fixture, he won his 12th straight fight, via TKO (punches) against Dustin Poirier, with the event gaining $307,500 in revenue.
The stoppage came barely a quarter of the way through the first round, further illustrating his propensity to explode upon an opponent in a way that never failed to enthral a bloodthirsty audience. Though he was by now earning six figure sums per fight, and on the cusp of headlining for the first time, McGregor still had a veritable galaxy between himself and Mayweather:
July 2015 would bring McGregor his first seven-figure PPV draw – and his first paid endorsement. Along with Chad Mendes, he headlined UFC 189 to a victorious end, and created a true spectacle of pugilistic endeavour. After four years of consistent knockouts and stoppages via his fists, McGregor had finally brought striking back into fashion.
Gone were the endless, arid displays of floor work and grappling, with the UFC finally having a true agent of spontaneous, crowd-pleasing destruction. Some may even venture to assert that he is the UFC’s answer to Mike Tyson, and anyone believing that has now been fully vindicated in light of his bout against Mayweather being commissioned.
Inevitably, McGregor’s PPV takings have soared in the three years since his life-affirming Mendes bout:
Mayweather past, McGregor future?
Regardless of the result, which will most likely be a dramatic (but closely fought) Mayweather victory, the fact remains that McGregor is seen as the future of combat sport by a relatively large congregation of MMA fans.
With Mayweather having been out of action for two years, and the UFC still gaining on boxing where the potential for PPV draws is concerned, any present comparisons between the two in terms of overall ‘popularity’ would be unfair. Yet, crucially, in the promos that have thus far preceded the bout, McGregor has given his opponent as good as he has taken.
In an ego-driven sport where charisma is king, that is a vital element of a fighter’s marketability, and thus his potential to be a top PPV draw. With youth on McGregor’s side, he will be one of the most popular sportsmen on social media over the next ten years, with a majority of the peak ‘social media user’ demographic concerning themselves only with the here and now.
Additionally, due to being 11 years Mayweather’s junior, a McGregor victory is not an astronomic impossibility. Although McGregor will not be defecting from MMA to full-time boxing anytime soon, some of the elements required for a successful transition are already within McGregor.
The Irishman’s reach has proven, on multiple occasions, to have the potential for utter devastation. Certainly, it is by no means a coincidence that his streak of wins, which spanned nearly half a decade, came as a result of McGregor consistently maximising on his own strengths in speed and striking.
Under the right coach, McGregor has every opportunity to become a fully-fledged boxer. In doing so, McGregor will be able to increase his PPV takings to drastic highs – although only a man in a million can ever hope to exceed the total acquired by (the very aptly named) Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather.