On Saturday, August 20, UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor will headline what is set to be one of the biggest events in UFC history, as he meets Nate Diaz in a five-round welterweight rematch inside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Ahead of UFC 202, we look back at McGregor’s career so far and re-live some of the Irishman’s most memorable moments.
The early days
McGregor began boxing at the age of 12. Training at Crumlin Boxing Gym, he won a variety of amateur boxing titles. At the age of 18, McGregor’s long-time friend, Tom Egan – the first Irish athlete ever to sign with UFC – brought McGregor along to a mixed martial arts class at Straight Blast Gym (SBG) in Dublin. It didn’t take long for SBG owner and head coach, John Kavanagh, to recognise the stopping power that the young Dubliner boasted.
The amateur scene
February 2007 saw McGregor contest his first amateur MMA bout. Finishing his opponent Ciaran Campbell with a striking showcase in the first round, McGregor’s spirited celebration post-fight pointed to the showman he would later go on to become.
McGregor quickly earned a name for himself as a knockout artist on the professional scene. In March 2008 he made his professional MMA debut in the Cage of Truth organisation. He faced fellow Irishman Gary Morris, who succumbed to strikes from McGregor in the second round.
The Point Depot
McGregor’s second pro bout in May 2008 lasted just one round, as he defeated Mo Taylor via TKO at Cage Rage: Contenders – Ireland vs. Belgium. This would be McGregor’s first outing in The Point Depot (now the 3Arena) in Dublin, which would go on to host all three of UFC’s trips to the Irish capital.
A stumbling block
In June 2008, a loss to Lithuanian Artemj Sitenkov proved to be a serious stumbling block for McGregor. Although he later bounced back with a win over Stephen Bailey six months later, the young Dubliner drifted away from the sport. In response, McGregor’s mother, Mags, took it upon herself to call John Kavanagh to seek his help in encouraging her son to return to the gym. Kavanagh later visited McGregor in his Lucan home and encouraged him to commit to his fighting career.
A new found dedication
In November 2010, and with another win under his belt, McGregor moved up to lightweight to take on fellow surging Irish prospect Joe Duffy. When McGregor was submitted in little more than 30 seconds, many feared that the defeat would trigger another exodus from the sport. But, on the Monday after the loss, McGregor was back in the gym with a new found dedication to training.
A winning streak
The loss to Duffy would trigger a phenomenal 15-fight win streak for McGregor. After defeating Hugh Brady in one round in February 2011, McGregor’s outings against Mike Wood and Paddy Doherty lasted a combined 20 seconds, as he scored two devastatingly fast knockouts.
A warrior in the cage
In June 2011, a second round win over Artur Sowinski saw McGregor signed by the European promotion Cage Warriors, a key moment in the young fighter’s career. He quickly proved to be a stellar addition to the roster.
Falling to featherweight
After a lightweight bout with Aaron Jahnsen was stopped inside one round in September 2011, McGregor announced his intentions for the featherweight division. McGregor elbowed his way to another first-round victory over Steven O’Keefe, which positioned him perfectly for a title shot.
Tears and a title shot
Jiu-jitsu ace Dave Hill was McGregor’s opponent for the vacant Cage Warriors title bout in June 2012. The event took place in The Helix, a venue located inside Dublin City University Campus. The intensity that McGregor displayed at the event’s weigh-in had such an impact on his English opponent that fans claimed Hill began to cry after going nose to nose with ‘The Notorious’.
The lightweight title
McGregor’s popularity spread to new heights following his win over Hill. Cage Warriors wasted no time in booking a New Year’s Eve show, where ‘The Notorious’ was initially slated to defend his title against American Jim Alers. He instead went on to face Ivan Buchinger for the lightweight title on December 31st, 2012. A crisp left hook ended the show in the first round and sent McGregor’s star on the ascent.
The hype train
When UFC President Dana White visited Trinity College in Dublin to be presented with a gold medal for Honorary Patronage by the Philosophical Society in February 2013, he was inundated with requests from fans for him to sign a young fighter named Conor McGregor.
The world stage
It was revealed that McGregor would face The Ultimate Fighter alumnus Marcus Brimage in his UFC debut on April 6, 2013, in Stockholm, Sweden. A stunning left uppercut separated Brimage from his senses and, with that, a star was born. McGregor’s now infamous call for a bonus after the fight, “Hey Dana, 50 G’s baby!” – endeared him to the sport’s international fan base.
Sitting on the sidelines
In August 2013 McGregor suffered an injury to his knee midway through his bout with young featherweight Max Holloway. Holloway became the only man to last the distance with McGregor. Post-fight, a scan revealed that McGregor had suffered a torn ACL, which would mean eleven months before he could take to the Octagon once again.
A night to remember
UFC’s return to Dublin in July 2014 coincided with McGregor’s return to action, and his first main event slot. McGregor’s first-round KO of Brazil’s Diego Brandao finished a perfect 6-0 night for the Irish contingent, at an event which broke viewing records for UFC’s streaming platform, UFC FIGHT PASS.
The toughest of tests
Having been sidelined for almost a year, McGregor went on to face two of his toughest tests to date in Dustin Poirier and Dennis Siver. A first round TKO over Poirier in September 2014 was followed by a second round TKO win over Germany’s Siver in January 2015, as Boston turned green for McGregor’s second trip to the TD Garden. A sold-out crowd erupted with the win, and McGregor made a beeline for champion Jose Aldo, who sat Octagonside.
The World Tour
In March 2015, McGregor joined Aldo for UFC’s very first world press tour. The tour spanned eight cities in five countries, over the course of 12 days in order to promote UFC 189: Aldo vs. McGregor. But, just 12 days out from the event, Aldo was forced to withdraw from the fight citing a rib injury, and McGregor instead went on to defeat late replacement Chad Mendes to secure the interim UFC featherweight title.
On December 12th, 2015, McGregor ended the 10-year undefeated reign of champion Jose Aldo within just 13 seconds.UFC 194: Aldo vs. McGregor broke UFC gate and attendance records at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. McGregor, meanwhile, underlined his status as one of the biggest draws in the history of UFC.
McGregor immediately announced his intention to move up to lightweight. But when an injury ruled out a scheduled bout with lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos in February 2016, a polarizing opponent stepped up to the mark.
A whole different ball game
In the absence of his usual relentless weight cut, McGregor was jovial and energized throughout the week leading up to UFC 196, as he prepared to meet Nate Diaz at welterweight. On March 5th, 2016, the pair faced off in one of the most highly anticipated match-ups in UFC history. Caught on the end of a jab-cross combination by Diaz, McGregor looked for the takedown and was pounced on by the jiu-jitsu black belt. A rear-naked choke from Diaz followed to bring McGregor’s 15-fight win streak to an end.
Losing the battle, winning the war?
On August 20, 2016, Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz will meet once again, as McGregor vows to return to greatness and prove to the world that he is, indeed, the greatest of all time.