As a sports broadcaster, there's nothing more satisfying than participating in a special event.
With mixed martial arts being so young, we are constantly witnessing special moments as the sport continues to grow and produce exceptional athletes. My involvement in the sport began in 2005 and in these 10 years I have been lucky enough to witness many things, including the growth of women’s mixed martial arts, the explosion of Irish MMA and of course the rise of The Notorious, Conor McGregor.
My first introduction to McGregor was in 2010 when he appeared on a fight card set to do battle with a certain Joseph Duffy. My notes from that event essentially described him as a confident, aggressive fighter who helped his teammates with their boxing. Today, that confidence is infallible. His aggression is refined and his ability to inspire and teach others earned him a spot as TUF coach to next the wave of European hopefuls.
Ahead of UFC 194, McGregor is an amplified version of his formative years as a regional mixed martial artist. With a curious nature, an obsession for detail and tenacious ambition to be a high achiever, McGregor has skillfully developed every necessary aspect of martial arts and the entertainment business to ensure his rise to the top. As he grew as a fighter, so did his reputation and with that McGregor was given a bigger stage and mouthpiece to deliver his message, the methodology of his SBG team and then of his Irish people.
It has been truly fascinating to have observed, at times closely, the work of Conor McGregor from local fighting stand-out to international sports star. With my position as a commentator and sometimes reporter, it has been my job to call the action during some of McGregor’s fights, including his first two world title victories. I have seen him in the role as teammate and I have visited his training camps in Iceland and Ireland. Through this I have noted a few constants that have never changed: his willingness to learn anything that directly benefits his growth and his champion’s mindset.
This form of simplification has provided the foundation for an unwavering focus towards self-improvement without distraction- something that can trip up the most naturally gifted individuals. McGregor might not have had any money before his UFC debut, but he had a plan. He was uncomfortable in elements of his life, but he embraced the evolutionary process. A phrase that I often hear from the students of SBG coach John Kavanagh, is “to be comfortable in uncomfortable positions.” It would seem that this could be extended to further than the padded walls of the SBG Ireland HQ.
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As McGregor continued to KO his opponents in Ireland and beyond, the wider MMA fraternity started to tune into his results. Sherdog had him noted as a fighter with one of the highest knock out ratios in the world. McGregor also did a good job of shouting about his achievements and very early on stated his ambition to be a UFC champion. He has always had a canny turn of phrase and I could tell that his sharp wit would serve him well.
But it’s the combination of many factors that has made McGregor the force that he has become. He has aligned himself with a group of individuals at SBG that never once suggested they would settle for anything less than greatness. The examples set and performances by warriors like Owen Roddy, Aisling Daly and Tom Egan boosted McGregor’s ambitions. The synergy between him, his coach John Kavanagh and to some extent Gunnar Nelson has benefitted his development greatly. But individually, McGregor’s attention to detail in everything from the mechanics of movement to the projection of success has set him apart.
Before his first world title contest in 2012 I asked McGregor about his mindset going into the fight. His response was: “I feel like a millionaire world champion”.
Factually, back then he wasn’t either of those things. If I asked him again this week, I have no doubt his answer would be the same. And this time he would be right.
Later in 2013 before his UFC debut, he was asked whether he would fight Jose Aldo. McGregor’s quick response was: “In a heartbeat”. It seems that whatever the size of gauge of the weapon that is targeted at him, McGregor shows no sign of retreating. He has always believed he is the King of Unarmed Combat. And finally, at UFC 194 we shall see if he can overthrow the long standing ruler of the featherweight division.
John Gooden is a UK-based presenter, commentator and writer for the UFC and UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnGoodenUK.