Erin Go Bragh: Conor McGregor Carries an Entire Nation with Him to the UFC

Damon MartinContributor IAugust 14, 2013

photo courtesy of Getty Images
photo courtesy of Getty Images

Six months ago, Conor McGregor was just another prospect working his way toward being noticed enough by UFC matchmakers to get a shot inside the Octagon.

Certainly, he made some waves during his time with the Cage Warriors promotion in his native Irelandwinning two titles in different weight classes in consecutive fightsbut no one could have predicted the kind of impact he would make in his first UFC bout.

It wasn't even so much the 67-second knockout that McGregor pulled off when he debuted in April, or that he beat a top-10 featherweight to make his debut, because he didn't.

It was McGregor's charisma, personality and candidness that immediately landed him on the radar of every major MMA website and reporter who covered the sport.

Beaming from ear to ear after his victory over Marcus Brimage, McGregor explained just how much his Knockout of the Night bonus meant to him. Just weeks prior to making his UFC debut, McGregor was living on welfare unable to afford much of anything outside of the bare essentials to survive.

It might be hard for the average person to comprehend what McGregor was going through prior to his UFC debut, but to put it in context, the 25-year old fighter didn't even know what it was to have a bank account before that day when Dana White handed him a post-fight bonus check for $60,000.

"To have some money or to have an account. I never had a f—king bank account in my life," McGregor told MMA's Great Debate Radio prior to his fight this weekend in Boston. "My money just came in a little docket, you cue up in the post office and collect my money and you'd have it in your pocket and it'd be gone in two days.

"Now I have an account, I have two bank accounts, one at home and one I can use abroad. It's definitely good. This is what I do this for. I’m motivated to have a better life. Not for a better life because I felt like I already had the best life, but to just keep this life. I like eating out. I like eating at nice places. I like wearing nice clothes and driving nice cars. I want my family to have this. I don't have any kids, but when I have kids I want them to be secure for the rest of my life. This is what drives me."

Since that night in Sweden when he debuted, McGregor's public life has changed dramatically. He spent a weekend with White in Las Vegas to celebrate his birthday, where he video blogged the entire experience, including his ride around town in his boss's Ferrari.

McGregor has become an overnight sensation in his home country of Ireland where it seems the entire population is getting behind him in support.

For a fighter with only one fight in the UFC, whose second fight still isn't on the main card, McGregor even had his own public workout in Boston this week for the media and fans that drew a huge crowd.

It certainly doesn't hurt that Boston's population is 20.4 percent Irish, according to a census study released by Sarah Kliff of The Washington Post earlier this year.

All of this sounds like the kind of distraction that would make most fighters buy into their own hype and maybe miss a step in training or lose focus on the actual task at hand, which is winning a fight on Saturday night.

In this case, however, McGregor isn't just any fighter.

"I wake up, I go to the gym, I go get some food, I go back to the gym, I go get some food and I go back to the gym, and then I come home. It makes no difference whether I have a few quid (nickname for Irish money) in my pocket, or people stopping me a little bit more, but I’m still in the gym," McGregor said. "I don't go nowhere, I don't do nothing else. I go to the gym, I put in my work, and I stay focused. I stay on the grind. So nothing has changed, I'm still the same guy.

"Honestly, I feel no different. It hasn't changed all that much. Not in my head it's not. It was already like this in my head, so now it's really like this, it hasn't changed. I'm not the kind of guy to get comfortable with this. I don't get comfortable ever. Sometimes I'd like to be able to get comfortable more for just like 10 minutes and just chill out, but I don't get comfortable. I'm always looking for the uncomfortable. That's the way that we are in my gym. That's the approach that we look for to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. I'm always looking to test myself, and keep ahead of the game and keep focused and keep outworking everyone."

McGregor is a different breed than the average competitor who is 1-0 in the UFC. He came in on the first day saying he wanted to fight for the belt, and if the featherweight strap wasn't available he'd take the lightweight gold instead.

Following his win over Brimage in April, McGregor twice tried to jump in and land fights on short notice when different UFC cards suffered injuries.

McGregor is looking at this as his time to shine, and there's no reason to waste any opportunity that comes across his plate. Whether it's Jose Aldo, Benson Henderson or any other fighter standing in his way, McGregor plans on taking every piece of gold he can get his hands on whether it's title belts or bonus checks handed out after an event.

"I'm in here for it all. I'm not here to take part—I want to dominate. I want all the belts, all the money, all the sponsorships, everything," McGregor stated. "I want the big shows. I stay in shape, I'm always in shape, and you'll never catch me out of shape. Come over any day of the week and try to surprise me and catch me out of shape—it's not going to happen. I stay ready so why not compete? I don't see it as a risk. I see it as a win. I see it as a chance to learn and grow and compete and make more money and climb that ladder."

Growing up in Ireland, a country literally born in blood and bullets, McGregor has only known how to fight and claw for everything he's ever had or will ever get. The island of just under five million residents has gone through famine, war, uprisings and literally seeing the country be torn in two.

Through it all, the Irish people have survived, and McGregor carries that same kind of fighting spirit with him every single time he steps into the cage for a fight.

"The sky's the limit for our little nation of Ireland. We can do it all, we can compete, we are warriors over this neck of the woods. We are born fighters," McGregor said. "I'm trying to instill that confidence because we need that. We haven't been that confident as a nation. There's a lot of problems going on, but I’m home to lift the spirits of my countrymen. To show them that we can compete with anyone, anywhere and any time."

When McGregor competes on Saturday night against Max Holloway at UFC Fight Night 26, he will be in there one-on-one with another fighter, but in his heart and soul, he will be carrying the entire nation of Ireland with him.

"I carry a nation with me in there. I carry a nation of my people into that Octagon with me every time," McGregor said. "Being the face of Irish MMA is what I always envisioned. It's why I knew I was here. I knew I could be that guy and to see it all coming true—to see your visions, to see your dreams coming true, it really is hard to put a single word on it say what I'm feeling.

"I'm proud, but that doesn't cover it. It's pride times a million—that's what I'm feeling."

There's a popular phrase about the Irish that says "Erin go bragh" which translated means "Ireland forever." McGregor is even a bit more permanent with his favorite Gaelic saying about his home country—Eirinn go dti an deireadh—which translated means "Ireland until the end."

When Saturday night is over, McGregor will wrap an Irish flag around his shoulders and once again display the love for his home countryand with the kind of ardor he's exhibiting thus far, Ireland will have a home in the UFC for many years to come.

Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.