Conor McGregor is a star in the world of mixed martial arts. Whether mainstream or hardcore fans want to admit it, the Irish star has grabbed this sport by the throat. With only two wins against competitors who are well outside the featherweight top 15, McGregor has used his eloquent speech skills to become one of the most captivating characters in the sport today. To his luck, the UFC has thrown their weight behind them and this Saturday's UFC Fight Night is now a proving grown for not only McGregor, but the Ultimate Fighting Championship as well.
When's the last time the UFC has paid so much attention to a competitor that is 2-0 within the Octagon? If that athlete's name isn't Brock Lesnar or Ronda Rousey, then the answer was never. Until McGregor came along. He's never appeared on a Pay-Per-View event but the Irish native is set to headline the UFC's return to his home country. The entire card is built around his name and everyone knows it. UFC Fight Night: Dublin, as it has been tagged, sold out in mere hours. With all of this promotion swirling, the pressure is on for McGregor to produce. Luckily for the organization, he seems to be ready for the moment.
“Pressure is an illusion, but I want that illusion of pressure,” McGregor said as he addressed the media on Wednesday as reported by Sherdog. “Heap more on me. Give me more pressure so that when I put this guy away and make it look easy – which I will do – people will say, 'How did he do that?' Let's jump this guy straight ahead of the queue and put him straight in for a title shot.”
Quite the diatribe from McGregor, whose two wins have come against opponents with a combined 8-5 while fighting under the Zuffa banner. Experts are overlooking the challenge that Diego Brandao brings to this contest, but odder things have happened in mixed martial arts. Just as Rick Story knows what it felt like when his hype was destroyed by Charlie Brenneman years ago. What's different between these two situations is that the UFC needs McGregor to succeed and they need him to do so in dramatic fashion.
Many are comparing Conor to the famed Chael Sonnen for his ability to perform when the microphones are hot and cameras are rolling. Except there are two major differences: McGregor is much younger than Sonnen was when he pushed his way into the limelight and Conor has shown that he has the ability to perform in the Octagon as well. With 12 knockout victories, mainstream fans are hoping that he continues his path of violence. Realistically speaking, McGregor should be very far from any mention of a featherweight title shot—but star power talks in the UFC and it's screaming for Conor.
UFC President Dana White has even joined in the commotion. Back in 2013, White was asked if McGregor had a lot of hype surrounding him and Dana responded “You've got that right, other than Brock Lesnar.” As mentioned in that MMA Mania report by Jesse Holland, there was a lot of anticipation surrounding Conor even before he entered the Octagon and he's performed up to par to this point.
An upset win for Diego will not boost his career as much as it would diminish that of McGregor's and the perception of who the UFC decides to promote. Mixed martial arts is still teetering between being described as a form of sport or entertainment. McGregor is an athlete but his star power has been developing purely by the entertainment side of the industry. A failure at Saturday's event would be akin to an actor flopping in a bad movie and a highly touted prospect blowing a big game all at the same time.
The UFC is struggling to build personalities that fans care about. Conor has done most of the work for them and now has an entire country in his back pocket. His main event spot at UFC Fight Night: Dublin is a testament to the current state of mixed martial arts. The UFC will never admit it, but they have a rooting interest in this fight. As they should because Conor McGregor has the potential to blow the doors off of this sport.