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Cagewriter

Conor McGregor backs up his words, takes big step toward UFC stardom

Kevin Iole
Cagewriter
Conor McGregor
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Conor McGregor, top, during a 2013 bout in Boston with Max Holloway, backed up his bold talk Saturday and stopped Diego Brandao. (Getty Images)

The one commodity a fight promotion can never have enough of is stars.

After a devastating performance in stopping Diego Brandao at The O2 arena in Dublin on Saturday, it appears Conor McGregor could become the UFC's next big star.

The audacious featherweight sold out The O2 in just three minutes, and the fans who filled the building cheered from start to finish like giddy school kids. The atmosphere was one of the greatest ever at a UFC fight.

There should be little doubt now that McGregor is a star of the highest order in his native Ireland, the United Kingdom and throughout Western Europe.

He's already one of the best promoters in the UFC and should get better at that with more experience. There remains a question of whether he's as good of a fighter as he says he is – before the fight, he repeatedly said he'd win the featherweight title before the end of 2014, a feat that seems impossible at this stage – but he took a big step toward answering that by bludgeoning Brandao.

McGregor took his share of shots from Brandao in the opening moments of the bout, but he simply walked through them and they had no discernible impact.

Such was not the case when McGregor connected with Brandao. As soon as McGregor started to connect, Brandao shoved it into reverse and seemed to be looking for a safe place to hide. McGregor cracked him with a left near the cage and Brandao backed away, and McGregor was ready for the finish.

And as any good finisher would do, McGregor put Brandao away with ground-and-pound strikes at 4:05 of the first.

Immediately, he spoke of fighting next in a soccer stadium, where he could draw as many as 80,000. UFC president Dana White put a damper on that just about every time he heard it, because of the unpredictability of the weather. But McGregor, never one to be denied, wouldn't give up and said he'd take his case to UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta.

"Look, what's next for me is that I'm going to go backstage, sit down with Mr. Lorenzo Fertitta, drink some fine-ass whiskey and talk about football stadiums," McGregor said in the middle of the cage with cheers raining down upon him.

McGregor is now 3-0 in the UFC and while he's defeated three solid fighters – Marcus Brimage, Max Holloway and now Brandao – none of the three has ever been, or probably ever will be, in the title picture. If that's where McGregor is going to be, and be 100 percent certain that's what he is planning, he needs to step up the competition level significantly.

McGregor also must prove that his appeal extends beyond Western Europe. There's little doubt he'd be a massive hit in Boston, and he'd be a popular draw in metropolitan New York (or in New York proper if the politicians there weren't brain dead) and perhaps even Chicago.

He must show that he can take his act on the road and fill up arenas and sell pay-per-views in order to get true star status.

He's on his way, and he's doing all the right things.

He's not ready to be the champion at this point, and perhaps he's not even ready for the likes of top contenders like Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson.

But he shows all the signs of going down that path. Now, it's a matter of challenging him against a tried-and-true top-10 featherweight.

Give him plenty of credit, because he talked unbelievvably heavy trash and set himself up for plenty of scorn and ridicule had he lost or been knocked out. But he put the burden on his back, said, "I'm the man," and then went out there and fought exactly like he was.

There is still much for him to prove, but he aced this test easily.

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