Irishman Conor McGregor has gone from food stamps to Dana White's stamp of approval

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – The star of the show was late for his own party. A small group of reporters were sitting around a table in a back room at McMullan's Irish Pub, their plates overflowing with food.

There was plenty of traditional Irish fare, and McMullan's didn't skimp on the portions. When UFC featherweight Conor McGregor finally arrived, he circled the table, looking at the various plates of food.

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"[Expletive!]" he exclaimed. "I need to get myself some of that. [Expletive!] That's awesome."

The entire McGregor story is awesome. He's a guy who literally needed food stamps to eat until April 6, when he made his UFC debut on a Fuel card in Sweden and earned a $60,000 Knockout of the Night bonus.

His was one of the most memorable UFC debuts ever. He stormed Marcus Brimage at the bell and needed just 67 seconds to finish the fight. In addition to his bonus, he earned the attention and, more significantly, the admiration of UFC president Dana White.

A little more than three months after that maiden UFC victory, McGregor found himself tooling around Las Vegas in White's Ferrari. He went from social welfare to zipping around town in a $200,000 sports car and eating dinner at one of the city's high-end restaurants.

"Unbelievable," McGregor says of his night on the town with White. "Totally [expletive] unbelievable."

It's unbelievable, as well, to White, who loves the type of fighter who fights with his heart on his sleeve, as McGregor does. McGregor doesn't fight safe. Perhaps, some might say, he doesn't fight smart. But he fights with fury, passion and intensity, attributes guaranteed to quickly make a fan of White.

It takes only a few seconds of conversation about McGregor to realize that White is smitten.

"This kid is what I call a real fighter, man," White said. "He's a really talented kid and he just goes out there and lays it all on the line."

McGregor will face Max Holloway in a featherweight bout Aug. 17 at Boston's TD Garden in a show that will be televised by the new all-sports channel Fox Sports 1.

McGregor has a sort of manic personality and rarely sits still. After blowing out Brimage, he went to his hotel room and couldn't even think of going to sleep.

"It was 5 in the morning and I was shadowboxing in front of the mirror," he said, grinning.

In 2007, when the UFC held a show in Belfast, Northern Ireland, McGregor made the short trip from his home in Dublin. He stayed in the lobby, holding court with American journalists and vowing to one day fight in the UFC.

He was then a 20-year-old struggling to make ends meet, but he called his shot.

"I saw you in that hotel and I told you what I was going to do, didn't I?" McGregor said to a reporter between bites of his food. "And now look at me. I've got all this [expletive]. I'm here now."

Don't take that last comment as McGregor being satisfied just to have reached the UFC, because he's anything but. He was originally slated to face Andy Ogle in Boston, but Ogle was injured and had to pull out.

McGregor had a suggestion: Top-rated featherweight Ricardo Lamas. Lamas was supposed to fight Chan Sung Jung, aka "The Korean Zombie," at UFC 162 in Las Vegas. But Jung was pulled from that bout in order to fight Jose Aldo for the featherweight title in Brazil.

That left Lamas without a fight and McGregor proposed that Lamas be put on the Fox Sports 1 card against him.

"I don't fear anyone in the division," McGregor said. "I think I am ready right now to fight anyone in the weight class, including Aldo. I think I could have stepped in [at UFC 163] and took the Zombie's place easy. If anyone doesn't think I am ready for anyone, they are nuts."

UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby declined, as it might have been considered malpractice to give an unknown young fighter in just his second UFC bout an opponent as formidable as Lamas, let alone Aldo.

But that bravado is part of what White loves about McGregor.

"This kid, he doesn't give a [expletive] about anything except going out there and beating the [expletive] out of guys," White said. "And he has that 'it' factor. People are going to want to see him. He has the style and the personality that could make him a star."

He'll likely get a long and loud ovation from the crowd in Boston, which has a large Irish-American population.

He's becoming a cult hero among the Irish fans much the same way boxer Steve Collins did a couple of decades back.

Collins was known as "The Celtic Warrior" and drew more than 40,000 to his rematch with Chris Eubank for the WBO super middleweight title in Cork, Ireland.

Collins sees a lot of himself in McGregor.

"Connor spars at my brother Packie’s gym in Dublin, spars boxing," Collins said. "He's not a boxer, but my brother says he can really go, and that if he'd gone into boxing instead of the UFC route, he has no doubt he would have become world class. Packie tells me he's got the heart, the desire, the work ethic, the punching power and the gift of the gab. He thinks the kid is going to become a huge star in the UFC.

"Packie tells me he takes no shortcuts in the gym at all. That's what you want to hear about a prospect who's moving into becoming a contender."

McGregor, who said he believes his fight is the real main event in Boston, said much like Collins, he wants to embrace the Irish fans, who love fighting so much.

McGregor is so passionate about what he's doing and how the crowd receives him that he can barely contain himself.

"I am going there to steal the whole show," McGregor said. "I am the only Irishman on the card and I am going to give the Irish-Americans something to drink about, something to sing about. I want them to have the best night of their lives. I want them to go, '[Expletive] hell! That guy gave me the most exciting few minutes of the entire night!' "

The pressure can be fierce for someone who so desperately wants to please, but McGregor seems to have his priorities in order.

He followed Collins' boxing career with passion and was inspired to fight in part because of seeing those matches. It's the kind of impact he wants to have on the next generation of Irish fighters.

"Steve Collins is a legend, an Irish fighting legend," McGregor said. "I grew up looking up to this guy. When he smashed Chris Eubank, all of Ireland went mental. I idolized him as a kid [and] I wanted to be like him when I grew up. He was 'The Celtic Warrior,' and he carried the great history of being a fighting Irishman so well. I am in shock he's a fan of mine. I can't believe it. I am honored. Like Steve said, I am carrying a whole nation with me. That's what being an Irish fighter means. I have a nation of fighters marching with me. I won't let them down. I'm going to be the world champion. There’s nothing anyone can do to stop it."

Well, Jose Aldo might have something to say about that. But it seems like it may be fun to watch McGregor's journey.

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