LAS VEGAS – Conor McGregor will leave the ring a winner on Saturday following his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the T-Mobile Arena, regardless of whether he scores an early one-punch knockout or whether he is drubbed by the vastly more experienced Mayweather.
Any time an athlete makes $100 million – or more – in a single night, it’s an epic victory, the result of a sporting event notwithstanding.
McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion who less than five years ago was collecting welfare checks in Ireland, made himself an iconic figure in his sport with his quick wit, thunderous fists and brash manner.
Here is one man’s selection of McGregor’s top 10 career moments, which include both in- and out-of-the-cage selections:
10. McGregor attends UFC 93 – McGregor was 20 on Jan. 17, 2009, when he went to UFC 93 at The O2 Arena in Dublin, Ireland. Though a famous photo of McGregor beaming after landing an autograph from UFC legend Chuck Liddell at UFC 85 six months earlier has made the rounds on the Internet, it was seeing his first show at home that made McGregor determined to reach the UFC.
His buddy, Tommy Egan, fought on the card and McGregor was in the stands roaring his approval as Egan battled John Hathaway.
McGregor decided he wanted to do what Egan did and it sent him down this path.
9. McGregor signs with the UFC on Feb. 1, 2013 – McGregor wouldn’t be fighting for a nine-figure purse, and wouldn’t be one of the most recognizable figures in sport were it not for landing in the UFC.
McGregor had long been on matchmaker Sean Shelby’s radar, and the UFC’s interest in the fighting Irishman only increased after UFC president Dana White went to Dublin and fans harangued him about McGregor.
Pen was put to paper on the first of February 2013 and history was about to be changed dramatically, though few recognized it at the time.
8. McGregor wins Cage Warriors lightweight title on New Year’s Eve 2012 – McGregor knocked out Ivan Buchinger in 3:40 of the first round to win the title, giving him a belt in two weight classes. He’d won the Cage Warriors featherweight title via submission on June 2, 2012.
But the Buchinger win, his final non-UFC match, is significant because of coach John Kavanagh’s determination that he was ready for the big-time.
“The Buchinger fight, to me, was when I really thought he was coming into his own,” Kavanagh said. “The fights leading up to that, we didn’t get to see too much of him. He got a lot of quick victories and they were over a lot of lower-level guys, if I’m being honest. But the Buchinger fight was his first fight against a pretty seasoned opponent who wasn’t intimidated and wasn’t going to be put out of there in seconds. Everything about that fight, the lead-up to it, handling the media, I thought there was a real maturity in that training camp and in that performance. That opened my eyes to how far he could take this.”
7. McGregor overcomes a serious knee injury to defeat Max Holloway – McGregor faced Holloway on Aug. 17, 2013, in a bout that few realized at the time was one that pitted two future champions against each other.
McGregor injured his knee in the first round of the bout, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. It would keep him out of the cage for 10 months, but it didn’t keep him from winning.
McGregor found a way and persevered en route to an impressive victory over one of the game’s best young fighters.
That proved his grit and will to win.
6. ‘Mystic Mac’ is born as McGregor defeats his first top-10 opponent – Prior to UFC 178, McGregor’s biggest shortcoming was that he hadn’t faced an elite opponent. But on this night, he’d face No. 5 Dustin Poirier, an elite fighter by any stretch who entered the bout on a three-fight winning streak.
McGregor dominated and took Poirier out in just 1:46. But it was his penchant for calling exactly how he’d win that was the story of this match.
“I just don’t knock them out, I pick the round,” McGregor said in the cage to UFC analyst Joe Rogan. “… These featherweights don’t understand, when they get hit by me, it’s a whole different ballgame. I said I’d knock him out in the first round and I knocked him out in the first round.
“You could call me ‘Mystic Mac,’ because I predict these things.”
5. The classic one-liner – McGregor had long been known for his clever lines and great trash talk, but he delivered the line of his career and created a meme that will live forever when he ripped Jeremy Stephens at a Sept. 27, 2016, news conference in New York.
The UFC held the news conference to announce its first bout ever at Madison Square Garden, a mega-moment for the company after years of trying to convince New York to lift a ban on MMA in the state.
All the stars who would fight at UFC 205 in November were on stage. McGregor was asked which of the fighters surrounding him on stage would give him the best fight.
Before he could answer, Stephens jumped in. “Right here,” Stephens said. “The hardest-hitting 145-pounder. The real hardest-hitting 145-er right here. This guy TKOs people. When I knock people out, they don’t [expletive] move.’ ”
McGregor looked back over his left shoulder at Stephens and, with perfect comedic time, said, ‘Who the [expletive] is that guy?’ ”
The crowd went wild and it cemented McGregor as one of the sport’s funniest characters.
4. McGregor wins interim featherweight title at UFC 189 – McGregor was supposed to fight champion Jose Aldo on July 11, 2015, but Aldo pulled out several weeks earlier with a rib injury.
Chad Mendes took the bout on 10 days’ notice and the UFC made it for the interim featherweight title. Mendes seemed the worst opponent for McGregor: He was a powerful wrestler who had the ability to put McGregor on his back and take advantage of his shortcomings as a grappler.
McGregor was in some difficult spots in the fight, but fought Mendes off, hurt him with a kick and finished him with strikes as time wound down in the second round.
It proved how good McGregor could be.
3. McGregor wins rematch against Nate Diaz at UFC 202 – The rematch between Diaz and McGregor was the most successful bout from a pay-per-view standpoint in UFC history, selling a reported 1.6 million units.
McGregor had tapped to a rear-naked choke in the second round of his first fight with Diaz on March 5, 2016, in the main event of UFC 196. McGregor had a strong opening to the fight, but faded and Diaz took what he had to give, weathered the storm and choked McGregor out.
McGregor insisted all terms remain the same for the rematch, and he faced Diaz at welterweight. He knocked Diaz down early and won a majority decision in a hellacious fight.
2. McGregor wins lightweight title at UFC 205 – McGregor became the first and remains the only man in UFC history to hold two weight class championships at the same time, when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in New York to add the lightweight belt to his featherweight title.
It was his last fight in MMA and was the one that made the Mayweather bout a reality.
1. McGregor knocks out long-reigning featherweight champion Jose Aldo in 13 seconds – After a tumultuous press tour, a canceled fight and near a year’s worth of hype, McGregor again called his shot when he predicted he’d knock out long-time champion Jose Aldo.
Before the fight, McGregor told reporters he’d so enraged Aldo in the build-up to the fight that Aldo would storm out of the corner, throw a wild shot at him and that he’d counter it and knock him out.
That’s exactly what happened and McGregor claimed the lightweight belt in just 13 seconds.