It’s been a long and winding path to get to UFC 229, where undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his UFC lightweight championship against former UFC lightweight and featherweight titleholder Conor McGregor. How did we get here? Yahoo Sports looks at the top 10 most important moments along the way for both competitors in the Oct. 6 bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, this time with McGregor:
1. McGregor’s early days in Dublin
The native of the Crumlin section of Dublin was not an overnight success, getting submitted twice in his first six fights as he competed in Ireland. But the Straight Blast Gym competitor eventually caught on with one of Europe’s leading promotions, Cage Warriors, and in 2012 he captured championships in two weight classes over consecutive bouts in Dublin: McGregor submitted Dave Hill in the second round of his June 2 bout to capture the featherweight title, then knocked out Ivan Buchinger in the first round on Dec. 31 to take the lightweight crown.
2. UFC debut
McGregor signed with the UFC and wasted little time making a big impression. “The Notorious” flattened Marcus Brimage with his big left hand to end their bout in just 67 seconds at UFC on Fuel 9 in Stockholm in April 2013. McGregor earned a $60,000 Fight of the Night bonus and made worldwide headlines for noting he had been on the public dole as recently as the week before the fight. He also asked for, and received, a day with UFC president Dana White traveling around Las Vegas in the latter’s convertible, a bold request that helped sell White on going all out in pushing McGregor.
3. Boston fight and fallout
As it turned out, by the time McGregor was again ready to fight, the UFC had a big date at TD Garden in Boston, America’s most Irish city. Despite fighting on the undercard of the Aug. 17, 2013 card, McGregor had his own media day at an Irish boxing gym, and was given a spectacular ring entrance with a light show, which raised the hackles of more established competitors. As for the fight, McGregor scored a one-sided win over a fellow you may have heard of named Max Holloway, who has since won 12 straight fights and become featherweight champion. The victory came with a cost, however: McGregor tore his left ACL during the fight and was out of action nearly a year.
4. Return and climbing the ladder
When McGregor returned, it was clear he hadn’t missed a beat. McGregor next fought on July 19, 2014, back home in Dublin in what turned out to be one of the most memorable events in UFC history. A raucous sellout crowd at 02 Arena saw Irish fighters go 4-0 on the evening, reaching earsplitting noise levels when McGregor steamrolled Diego Brandao for a first-round TKO in the main event. McGregor returned just two months later and starched Dustin Poirier at UFC 178 in 1:46, shutting up those who claimed he hadn’t beaten anyone good. Next came the jealousy-inducing megapush, as McGregor’s next fight, back in Boston against Dennis Siver, came on the night of the NFL conference championship games on Jan. 18, 2015. After McGregor was showcased all over the football games, 3.162 million viewers stayed up after midnight ET to watch McGregor’s second-round TKO, affirming the bombastic Irishman was a superstar in the making.
5. The Jose Aldo saga
McGregor then set his sights on longtime featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo, which turned into MMA’s biggest storyline of 2015. The duo went on a multi-country press tour to hype their planned UFC 189 bout, but Aldo had to pull out just two weeks before the fight because of a rib injury. McGregor accepted a bout with replacement Chad Mendes for an interim championship, saving the show. McGregor answered critics of his wrestling game by withstanding the former NCAA wrestling standout’s grappling game for two rounds before smoking Mendes with his big left and ending things with two seconds left in the second. McGregor and Aldo were rescheduled for UFC 194 in December, which came to a swift and stunning conclusion when McGregor dropped Aldo with a left and took the belt via knockout in just 13 seconds. Not only did McGregor take the featherweight belt, but the Mendes fight did 825,000 per-pay-view buys and the Aldo fight 1.2 million, establishing McGregor as a transcendent star.
6. First Diaz fight
Just as McGregor had won belts in consecutive fights in Cage Warriors, he wanted the same in the UFC. McGregor got his wish and signed to meet lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 196 in Las Vegas. Dos Anjos, however, broke his foot two weeks out, and Nate Diaz came in as a replacement in a bout fought at welterweight. McGregor dominated the first round, but was gassed in the second and was submitted by Diaz. It was another box-office smash, as the card, which also featured Miesha Tate’s bantamweight title win over Holly Holm, did 1.317 million buys.
7. “Retirement” and second Diaz fight
Here’s where McGregor solidified his superstar status: Unlike fellow star Ronda Rousey, who disappeared after losing to Holm at the height of her fame and lost touch with her fanbase, McGregor demanded an immediate rematch, and Diaz, who had received far and away the biggest payday of his life for the first fight, certainly didn’t object. The duo were slated to meet again at UFC 200 … until McGregor and the UFC got into a dispute over media obligations, whereupon the UFC yanked the fight and McGregor announced his retirement. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and McGregor eked out a majority-decision victory in a barnburner of a five-round fight at UFC 202 in Las Vegas. Diaz-McGregor 2 did 1.65 million buys, which still sits as the company record.
8. McGregor becomes two-weight-class champ
After the Diaz affair was settled, the race to become the first two-weight-class champ in UFC history was back on. McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez was signed for the main event of UFC 205 on Nov. 12, 2016, a landmark event in UFC history as the first MMA card held at Madison Square Garden after New York dropped its longstanding ban on the sport. McGregor once again lived up to the biggest moments, as he threw Alvarez off his game, swarmed him and finished him via second-round TKO to add the UFC lightweight belt to his collection. Elsewhere on the main card, Nuramgomedov improved to 27-0 with a dominant win over Michael Johnson. This time out, 1.3 million was the buy rate as McGregor finished a breathtaking 11-month run.
9. The Money Fight
The idea of a McGregor boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. seemed too ludicrous to be true … right up until it became reality. Social-media buzz helped will the fight between the two biggest stars in combat sports into existence against all odds. A raucous and at times out of control week-long press tour helped elevate the Aug. 26, 2017, bout into a once-in-a-generation transcendent event, with a live gate of $55.4 million at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and a jaw-dropping 4.3 million domestic PPV buys, falling just shy of the 4.6 million mark set by Mayweather’s fight with Manny Pacquiao. As for the fight, which was heavily derided by boxing intelligentsia, well, it won’t go down as a classic. But McGregor, who was stripped of both his UFC belts due to inactivity, put up a better showing than one might expect for someone making his pro boxing debut in getting into the 10th round before losing via TKO.
10. Mo’ money, mo’ problems
McGregor made a reported $85 million from the Mayweather fight, and immediately started making the wrong type of news. He was caught using a homophobic slur at a UFC event in October 2017 for which he later apologized; had an alleged incident with an Irish mobster in November; and later that month caused a scene at a Bellator event by jumping into the cage and making a run at referee Marc Goddard. The low point came in April. Nurmagomedov’s team had a run-in with McGregor ally Artem Lobov at the fighter hotel on the week of UFC 223 in Brooklyn. McGregor’s response to this was to charter a private jet, fly out to New York with several associates, and then launch an assault on a van carrying Nurmagomedov and several other fighters on the card. McGregor was charged with a felony and three misdemeanors as a result of his actions, which injured several people. After settling the charges and being cleared to fight, the UFC wasted no time booking McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov.