The untold truth of Conor McGregor

Who has crazy tattoos, a wild way with words, and the most devastating left hand in combat sports? The answer, of course, is UFC superstar Conor McGregor. A two-time champ with nine UFC wins and only one loss (for a total record of 21-3-0), this Irish southpaw shakes up the world every time he steps into the cage, and in the last few years, he's become one of the biggest stars in UFC history.

But what's the story behind McGregor's meteoric rise to success? And why exactly is he such a big deal in the world of MMA? Well, if you want to know more about the undisputed Octagon king, then grab your tricolor flag and cue up "Foggy Dew" as we explore the untold truth of Conor McGregor.

From rags...

Conor McGregor made his UFC debut in 2013, knocking out a guy named Marcus Brimage. After his win, McGregor earned a $16,000 purse and picked up a $60,000 bonus for his performance. That must've been a big relief for the young fighter, as he'd been living off welfare checks before signing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Of course, McGregor was no stranger to hard work with little reward. Before going pro, he worked as an apprentice plumber, getting the gig at age 17 with the help of his mom. However, McGregor wasn't happy with his lot in life. After waking up at five in the morning, he would spend up to 12 hours at a worksite that was "cold, dark, and wet." As he put it, "It was a rough time. I did not like the life. Plumbing did not interest me." On top of that, his job took time away from training, which was a big problem for a guy with athletic aspirations.

Dreaming of a career in the UFC, McGregor eventually quit his job, but this didn't sit well with his parents. After all, no Irish athlete had ever found success in the UFC. Evidently, the conversation with his dad got kind of heated — and possibly physical, depending on who's telling the story. But McGregor wouldn't change his mind: he was giving up his pipe wrench for a pair of gloves. 

...To riches

Just a few years after singing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, McGregor would become one of the wealthiest men in the sport.

In fact, in 2016, McGregor became the first MMA fighter in history to appear on Forbes' list of the 100 highest-paid athletes, showing up at #85 with the tidy sum of $22 million. But hey, as McGregor himself put it, the man has "an unhealthy obsession with spending money" and "a healthy obsession with making it." So it should come as no surprise that in 2017, he vaulted up to #24, raking in a hefty $34 million…and wasn't even 30 yet. 

It's the ultimate Cinderella story, only instead of glass slippers and magic pumpkins, this one involves a lot more left straights and uppercuts.

McGregor vs. Mendes

So what makes this knockout artist from Ireland so special? Well, in just the first four years he fought in the UFC, he racked up a list of insanely impressive achievements. After winning five straight fights, McGregor got his first crack at UFC gold, fighting Chad Mendes for the interim featherweight belt. (He was originally supposed to face champion Jose Aldo, but the Brazilian pulled out after breaking his rib.) Many people wondered if McGregor could defeat such a skilled wrestler — questions surrounding Conor's ground game have haunted his career for years — but "The Notorious One" overcame "Money" Mendes in round two, defeating the grappler by TKO.

Beating Aldo and Alvarez

With the interim belt wrapped around his waist, McGregor then turned his attention to the real champ, Jose Aldo. This is where McGregor joined the pantheon of MMA gods. You see, Aldo hadn't lost a match since 2005 and boasted an impressive 18-fight win streak. He was previously the champ of World Extreme Cagefighting (where he did nasty things to people's legs) and was the only featherweight champ in UFC history (where he did nasty things to people's heads). In short, Aldo was considered the greatest featherweight of all-time.

And then, after months of build-up and trash talk, McGregor knocked Aldo out cold in 13 seconds, setting the record for the fastest KO in a UFC title fight.

As the newly crowned king, McGregor immediately set his sights on a new goal. He wanted to become the first UFC fighter to hold two belts at once. Sure, the legendary B.J. Penn and Randy Couture had won titles in more than one weight class, but they didn't wear both belts at one time. Hoping to gain MMA immortality, McGregor went up against lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 in New York City. It was the first time the UFC had ever held an event in Madison Square Garden, and The Notorious One didn't disappoint. Even though Alvarez is one of the toughest in the sport (he was previously a two-time Bellator champ), McGregor cleaned his clock inside of two rounds, making history and apologizing to absolutely nobody.

What's his secret?

In addition to making champs look like amateurs, McGregor has found quite a bit of success outside the Octagon. He's appeared on the cover of GQ, showed up in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, picked up sponsors like Beats Electronics and Budweiser, and he's encouraged athletes to copy his "billionaire strut." 

Okay, the walk originated with Vince McMahon, but it's safe to say McGregor has taken the move to the next level.

So what makes McGregor so successful both inside and outside the cage? Is it hard work and expert coaches? Social media savvy coupled with the gift of gab? A pinpoint accurate left hand? Well, McGregor would probably say "all of the above," but he would also give credit to a certain self-help book. That's right…

His secret is The Secret

When Conor was an up-and-comer, his sister Erin told him about The Secretby Rhonda Byrne. The book focuses on the "law of attraction," essentially the power of positive thinking. If you visualize your desires, you can "attract" it to you, including wealth and power.

At first, McGregor didn't buy it, but eventually, he watched the DVD version with his girlfriend, Dee Devlin. Inspired, the two began experimenting. "We would be driving to the shop and visualizing the exact car park space," he explained to Bleacher Report. "And then we'd be able to get it every time." McGregor then carried the secret over to MMA, and after defeating Jose Aldo, he confessed in his post-fight interview, "If you can see it here [your head], and have the courage to speak it, it will happen. If you put out what you truly believe in, it will create the law of attraction, and it becomes reality."

Since then, McGregor has continued using his trick of visualization. For example, in preparing for his rematch with Nate Diaz, McGregor covered the walls of his gym with images from their first fight, depicting moments where he landed punches on his bigger opponent. And for his showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr, Conor's coach ordered a mural for his gym showing the MMA star slugging the legendary boxer. Sure, it might sound like mumbo-jumbo to most of us, but McGregor is one of the biggest athletes on the planet. Maybe The Secret really is the Irishman's key to success.

McGregor's many mentors

No man is an island. That's true even for modern-day legends like Conor McGregor. After all, you don't win 18 of 21 victories by knockout without a little help back at the gym. McGregor has worked with some of the best people in the business, such as Dillon Danis, a jiu-jitsu black belt who's helped McGregor improve his ground game. And when it comes to growing as a fighter, McGregor isn't afraid to think outside of the box, as he's used movement coach Ido Portal to develop rather unusual, well, movements.

But really, the man behind McGregor is John Kavanagh, also known as "The Godfather of Irish MMA," which is probably the coolest nickname of all-time. 

John Kavanagh: The man behind McGregor

John Kavanagh runs Straight Blast Gym Ireland, located in Dublin, and he's been involved in the world of combat sports for quite some time. Even though he's got a degree in Engineering (and once considered becoming a math teacher), Kavanagh has been teaching martial arts since he was 18. He had a brief MMA career that lasted a few years, and he's also the first ever jiu-jitsu black belt in Irish history.

McGregor discovered Kavanagh's gym early on, and right away, he knew it was special. Where other gyms had been too close-minded, demanding their pupils follow their exact way of doing martial arts, McGregor found that Kavanagh was different. As Conor explained, "He was more open to exploring, figuring out why to do it this way rather than that way and realizing that there's a time and a place for every way."

Under Kavanagh's tutelage, McGregor started thinking about going pro, and at one point — before the young athlete had committed to fighting — Kavanagh visited McGregor at his home and told him that "he would change the game" if he started training more seriously. Multiple belts and millions of dollars later, Kavanagh and McGregor have one of the best coach-student relationships around, and they've become a duo you don't want to mess with.

He's never defended any of his belts

Conor McGregor has achieved some great things throughout his career, but even legends deserve criticism now and then. And in McGregor's case, many people are upset that the man has never defended any of his belts.

This trend started in June 2012, when McGregor fought Dave Hill for the featherweight title (145 pounds) in a European organization called Cage Warriors. After winning the belt via rear naked choke, a series of accidents eventually led to McGregor jumping weight classes and knocking out Ivan Buchinger for the lightweight title (155 pounds). However, The Notorious One never defended either belt, because that's when he signed with the UFC.

Soon after, McGregor destroyed featherweight champ Jose Aldo, but instead of facing the next rightful contender (Frankie Edgar), McGregor challenged lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Unfortunately, dos Anjos broke his foot, and Nate Diaz jumped in as a last minute replacement, defeating Conor via rear naked choke. Hoping to avenge his loss, McGregor put featherweight on hold for a rematch against the lightweight, and after going five rounds, Conor walked away with the decision.

But instead of returning to 145, he decided to fight the new lightweight champ, Eddie Alvarez. After making the Philadelphia native look like a rookie, McGregor announced he would take an extended break from fighting. Then, over half a year later, the Irishman shocked the world by announcing he would compete in a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr…leaving the lightweight division a real mess.

As a result, McGregor's refusal to defend his titles has caused many to question his legacy…

Second best?

While he's easily the most famous MMA fighter on the planet, McGregor generally shows up on pound-for-pound lists as the second best in the world, underneath UFC flyweight champ Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson. While the 125-pound king isn't nearly as popular or wealthy as McGregor, Johnson has defended his belt a staggering 10 times and may very well break the record for all-time title defenses. As a result, many consider him to be the greatest fighter in the game.

However, there have been rumors that McGregor will finally defend his lightweight belt after the upcoming Mayweather match. If he accepts a lightweight fight against the likes of Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, or Nate Diaz, maybe The Notorious One will silence his critics once and for all.

The story behind his short-lived retirement

On April 19, 2016, after his loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196, Conor McGregor turned the sports world upside down with a mysterious tweet: "I have decided to retire young. Thanks for the cheese. Catch ya's later." In just a few hours, Conor's farewell had been re-tweeted more times than Kobe Bryant's retirement tweet. Outlets ranging from ESPN to NPR covered the news, and the sports world was totally baffled by McGregor's sudden decision.

So what prompted the tweet? Well, after Diaz choked out McGregor at UFC 196, the Irishman demanded an immediate rematch at UFC 200. And this time, he wanted to train harder than he ever had before. That meant spending more time in the gym and less time chatting with reporters. But the UFC threw a wrench into his plans, demanding he show up for a press conference to promote the upcoming bout. However, McGregor was training in Iceland and didn't want to interrupt his schedule by flying all the way to Las Vegas.

The UFC wasn't happy, and made it clear that Conor was contractually obligated to show up. And that's when McGregor fired back with his infamous tweet, hoping to use his celebrity as leverage against the UFC brass. In retaliation, UFC president Dana White pulled McGregor from UFC 200 (a move that was just the first of several disasters to befall the highly anticipated card). Then, just days after thanking everyone for the cheese, McGregor posted a lengthy note on Facebook, defending his actions before declaring, "I AM NOT RETIRED." Soon enough, McGregor and the UFC were back in business together, and The Notorious One finally got his Diaz rematch at UFC 202.

Why he was stripped of the featherweight belt

Conor McGregor made history after defeating Eddie Alvarez, becoming the first person in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously. And he held this distinction for a whopping two weeks. Just fourteen days after his victory at Madison Square Garden, the UFC stripped McGregor of his featherweight title, leaving him with just his lightweight belt. So what happened?

It partly has to do with the fact that McGregor hadn't defended the featherweight belt in almost a year, and it wasn't because he was sick or injured. He was simply more concerned with challenging fighters outside his weight class. 

However, there was another element at play when it came to stealing McGregor's featherweight crown. Near the end of 2016, the UFC was preparing to hold one of their final cards of the year, UFC 206. The plan was for light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier to face knockout artist Anthony Johnson, but unfortunately, Cormier injured his knee before the fight could go down.

Thinking they needed a title fight to sell pay-per-views, the UFC made a series of questionable decisions. They bumped the co-main event — a featherweight fight between Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis (pictured above) — to main event status. And for some reason, they decided to have these guys fight for an "interim title"…which the UFC made up on the spot. As a result, they automatically promoted Jose Aldo to real champion and stripped McGregor of his belt, making him the 11th champ in the sport's history to ever have his title taken away.

The Monster can incident

Conor McGregor's press conferences are always interesting. At one, he delivered the sickest burn in MMA history. At another, he threatened a dude with a chair while wearing a Gucci mink coat. But every McGregor press conference pales in comparison to the shenanigans at UFC 202.

It was the Diaz-McGregor rematch, and in the days leading up to the fight, the two were supposed to field questions and talk trash at the David Copperfield Theater at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In true McGregor fashion, the Irishman was 30 minutes late. Responding in kind, Diaz walked off the stage pretty much as soon as McGregor showed up.

This is where things get a bit crazy. As Diaz and his entourage were leaving, they began hurling insults at McGregor. The champ fired back, and that's when Diaz and his crew began chunking water bottles. Never one to back down, Conor launched  a few of his own…before scooping up a couple of Monster Energy drinks and tossing them across the theater. Fortunately for everyone in the room, McGregor is a great fighter but a lousy pitcher.

McGregor was fined $150,000 and ordered to serve 50 hours of community service by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. But instead of complying, McGregor threatened to never fight in Nevada again and took the case to court. Of course, the commission decided to drastically reduce the sentence in 2017. Why the change in heart? Well, that depends who you ask. Some wonder if maybe the commission reduced the fine to encourage McGregor to pay it off. Once that was taken care of, he could then apply for a Nevada boxing license, thus opening the door for a Las Vegas fight with Floyd Mayweather. Of course, the Nevada State Athletic Commission denies this.

The Conor controversies

Love him or hate him, you've got to agree that Conor McGregor is a brash, in-your-face kind of guy who's stirred up quite a bit of controversy over the years. In fact, he was making waves just two fights into his UFC contract. In 2013, a fan asked McGregor via Twitter if he sexually preferred women's bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey or her rival Miesha Tate. McGregor responded with a less-than-appropriate lyric from Dr. Dre's "Let's Get High." Soon after, McGregor deleted the tweet and issued an apology, but he still received a scolding from UFC president Dana White.

McGregor took his scandalous comments up a notch in preparation for his fight with Jose Aldo. In a press conference with the Brazilian champ, the Irishman said, "If this was a different time, I would invade [Aldo's] favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work." Similarly, when squaring off in public with Nate Diaz, McGregor dropped a few slurs that didn't win him any fans in the Latino community. As a result of these insults, political writer Shaun King attacked McGregor online, labeling McGregor a racist.

In August 2016, McGregor stirred up a new hornet's nest by posting a selfie to Instagram, one that showed him proudly wearing a Pablo Escobar T-shirt. Many Colombians criticized the move, pointing out that Escobar isn't a guy who deserves admiration. 

McGregor vs. the WWE

When McGregor isn't angering entire countries, he's taking aim at professional wrestling. That same August, Conor shared some opinions about the WWE, calling the athletes involved a bunch of…well, read it for yourself. He also said he could "slap the head off your entire roster. And twice on Sunday's [sic]." 

Naturally, WWE fans were furious, but McGregor's comments also angered quite a few WWE superstars. Wrestlers like Kurt Angle, Sasha Banks, Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, and Roman Reigns all took shots at McGregor on Twitter, but as Conor is basically the UFC champion of trolling, he was probably loving every minute of it.