When Conor McGregor attended UFC 93 at the then O2 Arena in Dublin, he was there to cheer on Tom Egan. The Crumlin man, who was by then already training alongside Egan at SBG Ireland and had several pro fights under his belt, was enthralled by the spectacle.
Seeing the action in his home city left a huge impression on him, and set him on a path that would make him one of the biggest superstars in the history of the UFC.
Here, in no particular order, are eight moments from McGregor’s career that shook the UFC world.
8. Cage Warriors: 51
By 2012 McGregor was well on the way to fulfilling his dream of becoming a UFC fighter, and his next fight would prove to be the catalyst to the big time. McGregor had won the Cage Warriors featherweight title via submission on June 2nd, 2012.
On New Year’s Eve he fought for the lightweight title against Ivan Buchinger. With no disrespect to McGregor’s other opponents, Buchinger was a step up in class and a rugged and very experienced fighter. McGregor duly knocked out his opponent in 3:40 to give him a belt in two different weight classes.
The UFC could no longer ignore the supremely confident Dubliner and he put pen to paper on February 1st, 2013 to fulfil his ambition of fighting on the game’s biggest stage.
7. UFC Fight Night 26
One of the most remarkable victories in McGregor’s short career occurred on August 17th, 2013 in a bout against Max Holloway. While both men would go on to become champions, the fight almost ended before it began for the Irishman.
McGregor sustained a serious knee injury in the first round, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. The painful and serious tear would have derailed most fighters, but somehow McGregor fought on.
In winning the fight he showed not just physical but real mental fortitude. The injury he sustained would keep him out of the Octagon for elevn months, but the victory was another huge step forward for the Crumlin native.
6. UFC 178
The McGregor bandwagon was now starting to roll, but the fight with Dustin Poirier at UFC 178, had the potential to make or break the Dubliner’s career.
His opponent entered the fight on the back of an impressive three-fight winning streak, and many doubted the very vocal McGregor would be able to back up his bold assertion that he would make light work of Poirier.
‘Mystic Mac’ lived up to his prediction and knocked out his opponent in round one (1.46). In claiming the much-vaunted scalp of the No. 5-ranked American, the Dubliner had well and truly arrived on the UFC stage.
5. UFC 189
After champion Jose Aldo pulled out with a rib injury less than two weeks before UFC 189 on July 11th, the well respected Chad Mendes stepped into the breach.
Mendes, who took the bout on ten days’ notice, looked set to be an awkward and durable replacement. Mendes was an excellent and powerful wrestler who could expose McGregor’s supposed shortcomings as a grappler.
It turned out to be a bruising encounter with both men having their moments, but crucially a body-kick from McGregor caused the damage, and he finished a winded Mendes with a well crafted barrage of strikes that culminated in a big left-hand just before the second round expired.
4. Jose Aldo Knockout
McGregor finally got to lock horns with long-reigning featherweight champion Jose Aldo on December 12th, 2015. After a bitter and prolonged war of words on a tumultuous press tour, a canceled fight and almost a year’s hype, it was all over in 13 seconds flat.
McGregor predicted that Aldo would come at him all guns blazing and he would knock the Brazilian out in round one. Aldo himself had not been shy about making predictions, and had been enraged by what he saw as an apparent lack of respect from the challenger.
When the rhetoric had subsided and the bell sounded, Aldo threw a wild shot which proved to be his last.
McGregor had not only proved his undoubted class, he had again won the psychological battle. The most telling image was the sight of Aldo closing his eyes as the pre-fight introductions were being made, in an attempt to block out the Irishman.
It was again proof that while most opponents felt that he merely talked the talk, the Irishman could also walk the walk.
3. Diaz Loss
On March 5th 2016, Diaz was expected to be another straightforward fight on the way to UFC domination.
UFC 196 would witness a stunning upset as Diaz ripped up the script. In a well-executed move, he forced McGregor to submit to a rear-naked choke in the second round. The Irishman had started strongly but the durable Californian weathered the storm to turn McGregor’s UFC dream on its head.
2. McGregor-Diaz 2
The most eagerly anticipated rematch in UFC history would not disappoint. McGregor was again happy to cede the weight advantage at welterweight. If the Dubliner were to lose here it would seriously damage his credentials going forward.
McGregor was in control early, and his sharper, slicker punches forced Diaz to the canvas on three occasions in the first two rounds. Nate Diaz, to his eternal credit, stayed alive and also struck some telling blows.
Entering the fifth and final round, many worried that McGregor’s lack of experience in lengthy battles might go against him. He was used to ending fights early, and Diaz had engineered the bout on his terms. The Dubliner, however, showed the character required as he ground out a result that went all the way to the final bell.
The rematch between Diaz and McGregor was the most successful bout from a pay-per-view standpoint in UFC history, reportedly selling more than 1.6 million units.
1. UFC 205
At UFC 205 McGregor became the first and only man in UFC history to be champion in two weight classes simultaneously. He annexed the lightweight crown, when he knocked out Eddie Alvarez. The win was proof of the versatility he had in his locker as he again proved he could seamlessly move between divisions.
The historic victory in New York was his last fight in MMA, and propelled him onto a different stage, as the Mayweather bout was about to become a reality.