Meet the fighter who's talking titles and crowds of 80,000 ... after two UFC fights

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Conor McGregor says Dustin Poirier is "basic." (Getty Images)

Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor says Dustin Poirier is "basic." (Getty Images)

The conversation ends almost as quickly as it started. Conor McGregor heard something that sounded preposterous to him and he couldn't let it slip past.

The UFC featherweight contender from Dublin is one of the most hyped fighters to come along in years, mostly of his own doing.

He's only 2-0 in the UFC and hasn't beaten anyone within the same area code of the top 10, but he's already talking about championships and drawing 80,000 spectators and becoming one of the sport's legends.

He simply can't fathom losing and doesn't take kindly to suggestions he might lose.

Conor McGregor, left, and Diego Brandao face off during UFC media day Wednesday. (Getty Images)
Conor McGregor, left, and Diego Brandao face off during UFC media day Wednesday. (Getty Images)

"People don't understand my confidence in myself," McGregor said. "They haven't seen me enough, I guess. But I believe in myself and what I'm capable of doing completely. I believe I'll be fighting for the title by the end of the year."

He's filled with confidence and, if he is to be believed, never lets self doubt creep in. Not even returning from a major knee surgery makes him concerned about his first bout in 11 months.

The O2 arena in Dublin sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale, so intense was the demand from fans to see their hometown hero fight Diego Brandao on Saturday in a five-round featherweight main event.

Brandao is no pushover. He won Season 14 of "The Ultimate Fighter," and has scored notable wins in the UFC over the likes of Dennis Bermudez, among others.

There is enormous pressure on McGregor, most of which he heaped upon his own shoulders. He's carrying the hopes of a nation to the cage.

Losing, though, isn't a subject McGregor wants to discuss.

"That's crazy talk, dream stuff," McGregor said. "I don't even take that kind of talk seriously."

He's beaten Marcus Brimage and Max Holloway in his two UFC fights, but says he's a vastly better fighter than he was on that night in Boston last August when he tore up his left knee in the first round.

McGregor clearly defeated Holloway, a quality fighter, despite fighting the last two rounds on a leg that would require surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a lengthy rehabilitation.

Even for those who are turned off by his cockiness, that says a lot about him. The worst UFC fighter is among the best in the world at mixed martial arts, and Holloway is no walkover, but he was never really in the fight.

After the fight, he had his surgery and set a very difficult goal for himself.

"It was simple: I wanted to come back better than anyone's ever come back from this before, and I wanted to come back better than I was when I got hurt," McGregor said.

After the surgery, long before he could spar, he would sit on the edge of the mat in the gym and watch others.

"I'd see these techniques happen and I got thinking about them a lot more, and my brain was working hard to learn all this," he said. "My brain was working harder than my body for a change. It strengthened me. When I got back, I was able to pull off these moves I'd been doing over and over in my head like nothing ever happened. It was like I hadn't left the gym."

McGregor tore the ACL in his left knee in his last bout in August 2013. (Getty Images)
McGregor tore the ACL in his left knee in his last bout in August 2013. (Getty Images)

If he puts on a good performance Saturday, he wants a significant upgrade in the caliber of opposition, as well as promotion.

He wants to fight in Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, where he could attract more than 80,000 fans to the live event. If he did that, it would smash the UFC's live attendance record of 55,724 set in 2011 at UFC 129 in Toronto's Rogers Centre.

Give the kid credit: When he dreams, he dreams big.

He knows there are those who retain their doubts about him, who don't think he's proven himself yet.

He invites those skeptics to sit cageside and judge for themselves.

He has nothing to prove to most of the fans in Dublin, who have showered him with love all week.

Former two-division boxing champion Steve Collins is one of Ireland's greatest sporting heroes, and even approaching his 50th birthday next week, he remains extraordinarily popular.

"We're two of a kind," McGregor said. "He got in there and he put our nation on the boxing map by getting some big, big wins, and I'm going to put us on the MMA map."

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