Conor McGregor punches Marcus Brimage in their featherweight fight. (Getty)
Last week, Conor McGregor picked up a welfare check for €180 (roughly $235). The featherweight from Dublin, Ireland, needed some money to get by before he took his flight to Sweden for his UFC debut.
By the time he returned home, McGregor was $60,000 richer.
McGregor won't want for cash again anytime soon after putting on an impressive performance at UFC on Fuel 9 at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. By earning a $60,000 knockout of the night bonus for his swift finish of Marcus Brimage, the charismatic McGregor showed there is steak to his sizzle and marked himself as the potential Irish star the UFC has long sought.
"Just last week I was collecting the social welfare," McGregor said at Saturday's post-fight news conference. "I was in there saying to them, 'I don't know what's going to happen. I'm signed to the UFC. I don't know. Blah, blah, blah.' Now I suppose I'm just going to have to tell them [expletive] off."
McGregor, who turns 25 in July, has fought on the Irish MMA scene since 2008 and brought a well-earned reputation for an exciting fighting style into his UFC debut. He's collected 12 knockouts in his 13 pro wins, has never gone beyond the second round, win or lose, in his 15 fights, and has held both the featherweight and lightweight championships in the Cage Warriors promotion.
He demonstrated why in Saturday's fight against Brimage, another featherweight who likes to bring the leather. Brimage came out swinging and tagged McGregor early. But McGregor showed poise under pressure, cleared the cobwebs, and took control of the fight. He expertly worked his angles and turned the tide, raining a beating down on Brimage before the fight was called off at just 1:07 of the first round.
UFC president Dana White was among those most impressed by McGregor's performance. Not only was McGregor awarded the $60,000 knockout bonus, but he immediately booked the fighter for the UFC event on Aug. 17 in the Irish-heavy city of Boston.
"Let me put it this away: I'm blown away," White enthused. "First of all, it's his first fight ever in the UFC. He walked out tonight and got into the Octagon like it was his 100th fight in the UFC. … From the minute it all started, he was nice and relaxed. He moved around. Even after he gets the knockout, it's like he's been here before and done it 100 times. Kid is totally relaxed. He's a beast. I'm impressed."
McGregor, however, would like a shot at fighting in his home country.
The fastest track to headline status for a foreign fighter is the ability to draw a crowd in their homeland. The careers of Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy have benefitted as much from their ability to fill arenas in the United Kingdom than for their skills inside the cage. For that matter, the company has gone to Montreal's Bell Centre more often in recent years than any venue outside of Las Vegas or Southern California because of welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre's ability to bring fans out to the cavernous 22,000-seat venue.
And the arena in which McGregor competed Saturday, the Ericsson Globe, has sold out for events in consecutive Aprils due to hometown star Alexander Gustafsson's popularity (though Gustafsson had to pull out of his planned Saturday main event with Gegard Mousasi due to a cut suffered in training).
The UFC has held one event in the Republic of Ireland, UFC 93 at the O2 Arena in Dublin. The event, headlined by Dan Henderson's split-decision victory over Rich Franklin, drew a crowd of 9,369 and a gate of $1.3 million.
"[The Irish] love this sport," McGregor said. "It was great to see all the Irish lads out there. It was unbelievable. Hopefully that persuades Dana to come back to Dublin. There's some great fighters over in our area. Hopefully we get a show out of this."
Can McGregor become Ireland's headliner? Or will he simply become the next George Sotiropoulos, a fighter who expected to become the breakout star in his homeland of Australia, but faltered under the pressure?
"I've just got to keep busy," McGregor said. "Competition keeps me focused. Anytime I don't have competition ahead of me, I just seem to drift. So I want to be kept busy, and that's it. Whatever, wherever and whenever.
"I'll go either 145 [pounds] or 155 – whatever's available. I stay ready so I don't have to get ready, you know? So whatever's there, I'll take. I need a couple more weeks for featherweight, of course, but I'll take lightweight, as well, no problem."
It's hard to fault McGregor for such an attitude after going from broke to a bonus check for $60K.
"To be honest, I don't know what's going on here," McGregor. "I'm just up here hearing $60,000. I'm just thinking of what I'm going to spend it on. Maybe a nice car and some suits or something, some custom-made suits. I don't know. ... I'm making money here, I didn't have money before this, you know. Like I said, I was collecting 180 Euros a week off the social welfare and here I am and I've got 60 G's bonus and my own pay."
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