Picture the setting: it is February 17, 2007, and at a humble venue in Dublin, two local warriors prepare to do battle in front of a baying crowd. While their fighting technique is far from UFC quality, their passion for combat is no less obvious. In the red corner stands Ciaran Campbell, who cannot (yet) realize the significance of the skirmish in which he is about to participate. Across from Campbell, about to charge like a man possessed from the blue corner, is an 18-year old apprentice plumber called Conor McGregor. He stands a slight, redheaded figure with wiry strength and an energetic demeanor. The bout begins, and McGregor moves around with a degree of athleticism that defies his amateur status.
Before long, Campbell makes his first visit to the unforgiving canvas, after a clumsy attempt to strike McGregor. Like the most ruthless and cultured fighters on the other side of the Atlantic, McGregor aims two kicks at his opponent’s kidneys. McGregor knows that this move will drain his opponent of vital energy as he attempts to recover from his recessive position. Campbell just about survives the first round, but McGregor’s growing dominance continues into the second. Before long, McGregor – again with the air of a professional fighter many years his senior – sees a gap in Campbell’s faltering guard. Three textbook punches later, Campbell’s legs begin to give way and the referee steps in, before McGregor can do any further damage. Despite knowing that he is already victorious, McGregor continues to strike through the referee’s outstretched arms – quite simply, this man wants to hurt anyone foolish enough to step into the arena with him.
There were distinct shades of a young Mike Tyson in that display of ruthlessness, and his high-energy celebration also came as a surprise to the crowd – the entirety of which must have known that something magical had just unfolded. Today, a mere ten years on from that debut bout, immediately after which he did indeed become a professional MMA fighter, he now stands to take on the incomparable Floyd Mayweather Jr. Reactions from fans and athletes alike have been mixed, but it is guaranteed to entertain and enthrall.
A baptism of fire forges a warrior of steel
The trash talk is seemingly without end, but for all of his self-evident charisma, McGregor’s chances of repeating the same devastating combos that won him his early fights, on Mayweather, appear remote. This is reflected by odds from Betway Sports, which (as of 12 July 2017) price McGregor as a rank 9/2 outsider to beat the 1/6 priced Mayweather. Representing Dublin’s Straight Blast Gym, McGregor’s early professional career began decently enough. A stoppage of Gary Morris just eight seconds into the second round, coming (naturally) by way of punches, showcased his striking abilities in no uncertain terms. In a development that foreshadowed his looming stardom, McGregor was an influential figure in his second fight, which was the penultimate bout of a Cage Rage event in which Ireland’s next generation of talents took on Belgium’s finest warriors. After six fights, Ireland led the series 4-2 with two fights remaining. McGregor took on Mo Taylor, knowing that victory would seal the night for Ireland. He proved more than equal to the task, and left his opponent seeing shamrocks after another devastating combination of punches, just over a minute into the first round.
But then, unbelievably, he lost. Riding high on his 2-0 record, and the consummate nature of his wins, McGregor made what would turn out to be a premature step up to featherweight class. As recalled by Bloody Elbow, Lithuanian fighter Artemij Sitenkov forced McGregor into a first-round submission defeat – and later, by that account, tears. However, as the old adage goes, it is not how hard a fighter can hit, but how hard they can get hit and keep moving. After losing again in November 2010, to Joseph Duffy by submission, Conor’s record stood at a precarious 4-2.
From that time onwards, however, McGregor has never looked back. Outside the Octagon (or ring), McGregor is now, arguably, as good a marketing tool as anyone. In time, he may even equal luminaries such as Michael Jordan and David Beckham in that regard. Regardless of whether he wins or loses against Mayweather, McGregor most certainly boasts the type of charisma that will likely make him one of the most prominent figures in sports entertainment lore for generations to come. In any case, it looks as though the saga between the two will continue, with an Octagon replacing a ring in the second encounter.