Conor McGregor may only be one fight into his UFC career, but the promotion is clearly grooming the young fighter for much more than a supporting role. By all indications, McGregor is on board with that and more than willing to become a leading man.
McGregor joined the UFC in early 2013, after capturing titles with the Cage Warriors promotion in both the featherweight and lightweight divisions. The then 24-year-old Irish fighter made the most of his first opportunity with the promotion, earning a 67-second TKO victory over Marcus Brimage on the UFC on Fuel TV 9 fight card. The victory also put a nice $60,000 bonus in McGregor’s pocket for Knockout of the Night.
That win earned him a spot on the UFC Fight Night 26 card in Boston, because you know, of course the promotion will book an Irish born fighter to compete in Boston. Subtlety has never been in the UFC’s marketing wheelhouse.
McGregor clearly relishing the role of the being the UFC’s marketing focus to the Boston audience, knows why he’s fighting at TD Garden, and played it up to the hilt on a recent edition of The MMA Hour, “The Irishmen are coming home to their native land, Boston, United States. The opponent does not come into the equation. I am the main event. If you stick me in the main event, I’m going to steal the show every time.”
If you don’t think the UFC is marketing McGregor as a star, you obviously missed out on the fact that he had his own private open workout for fans and media on Tuesday in Boston. That workout was then followed by an event at a nearby bar where fans were given posters of McGregor.
So, yeah, the UFC is fully invested in this young man having success. Some of McGregor’s fellow fighters, well, they don’t seem nearly as thrilled as UFC president Dana White seems to be. White told the Boston Herald, “I like real fighters. I like guys that want to win it and guys that want to finish and guys that just love to fight. That’s what I love about Conor. He’s a great kid, has got an awesome personality and loves to fight. He’s my kind of guy.”
On the other side of the equation, you have No. 4 ranked featherweight fighter Cub Swanson. Swanson, speaking on the MMA Roasted podcast (transcribed by Fighters Only) offered the following on young Mr. McGregor, “For some reason he decided to take a shot at me. I’m a fan of many fighters but as soon as they start looking at me the fighter in me comes out and I’m like, ‘You better watch your damn mouth.’”
Another fighter that seems less than thrilled by the McGregor hype machine is his opponent on Saturday night, Max Holloway. Holloway saw his three-fight winning streak come to an end in his last bout when he dropped a split decision to Dennis Bermudez. Holloway will be looking to get back in the win column against McGregor, and bring an end to the hype. “I love to fight, and we’re going to see what this hype is about on Aug. 17 when those doors close on the cage,” Holloway told MMAJunkie.com. “I’m going to earn my respect. I’d rather earn my stripes. I’d rather put my time in, earn my stripes rather than have someone say, ‘Here, here’s your stripes going in.'”
McGregor clearly loves to have the spotlight on him, and that’s great. It helps him, it helps the UFC, and it sells tickets. It also puts a huge target on the middle of the chest of a fighter that is unproven in the UFC. No disrespect to the Cage Warriors organization, but that’s not the UFC.
If McGregor wins, I suspect he’ll do some calling out at the post-fight press conference. He’s already said that he wanted a fight with No. 2 ranked Ricardo Lamas, and that he was less than impressed with the performances lightweight champion Jose Aldo and Chan Sung Jung put on in their recent title fight.
It’s doubtful that he’ll get his wish at a top opponent in his next fight. While the UFC is more than happy to throw someone like Alistair Overeem right into the fire of a Brock Lesnar matchup in his first UFC fight, they’ve got a long range plan for McGregor, and they’re not going to let his hubris change that trajectory.
McGregor is being groomed as the UFC’s great Irish hope, and with the promotion planning a trip to Ireland in 2014, there’s no way they’re going to put McGregor in a high risk situation before that card comes to fruition.
That’s not to say that the MMA Gods will go along with that plan. If you recall, the Gods didn’t cooperate to well in that Overeem versus Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva fight.
McGregor is in a dangerous situation. He’s got the promotion fully behind him. He’s being groomed for stardom. He’s not afraid to tell everyone how much better he is than other fighters. In short, he’s going to have every fighter in the division looking to knock the crown of “next big thing” from his mohawked head.
Will he make it to the future Dublin card with his golden boy persona in tact? We’ll begin the journey to finding out the answer to that question on Saturday in Boston.