When you ascend to the rank of superstar in the fight game, time alone is a luxury that money can’t buy. It’s why those like Conor McGregor treasure the moments in combat, where for 25 minutes or less, there’s nothing else to think about or deal with than the opponent looking to separate his head from his shoulders.
In 2014, things were heating up but had not gone nuclear for the Dublin native facing Floyd Mayweather in the biggest fight of 2017 on Aug. 26. Then, he was fresh from a homecoming win over Diego Brandao that captivated the MMA world and was about to face Dustin Poirier at UFC 178.
He arrived in Las Vegas to finish preparations for the bout, and on a Saturday night, the rest of his team had not yet joined him. He was alone, a young man with big dreams, the talent to achieve them, and with no crowds following him, at least not at this moment.
It was a reminder that for all the hype and for all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds a prizefight, it’s a lonely game. McGregor disagreed as we chatted that evening.
“Maybe some people might consider it a lonely thing,” McGregor said. “Me personally, I consider it a beautiful thing. I love being here alone, traveling from country to country, beating up people from different countries.”
The bravado that made headlines was nowhere to be found, the tailored suits and fur coats not yet part of the wardrobe. In this instance, he was just a fighter, and it spoke volumes about what he was going to do in the next three years and what he may do in the most important fight of his career this weekend.
McGregor, now 29, will make a lot of money to battle the 49-0 Mayweather. “A lot” probably doesn’t cover it when describing the millions that will soon be deposited in his bank account. And that’s important. Not just for McGregor, but for the future well-being of his family. But there was always the impression that this journey has been more than a way to make a living. As murals decorate Dublin and fans travel here to the States, while boxing pundits question why he is even allowed to face a future Hall of Famer in his first step into the pro ring, McGregor has opted to chase after accomplishments most fighters won’t.
Take on the greatest featherweight in MMA history in his seventh UFC fight and win in 13 seconds? Done
Move up two weight classes on short notice to face Nate Diaz with no title on the line? Done
Lose to Diaz then demand an immediate rematch at the same weight? Done
Move up in order to become the first fighter in UFC history to wear two belts simultaneously. Done.
And now, fighting Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match without having ever boxed before.
That’s not a quest for money, but a quest for greatness, and all along, the idea was to make a mark on the game while enjoying the ride at the same time.
“I’ll fight anywhere,” he said before the Poirier fight. “I’ll fight in this hotel room right now. If the money’s on the line, if the belt’s on the line, let’s do it. Anyplace, anywhere.
I’ll fight in this hotel room right now. If the money’s on the line, if the belt’s on the line, let’s do it. Anyplace, anywhere.
But as I go through these experiences, I embrace these things. These are things that people who compete in combat sports dream of getting to. So of course, I embrace it as it’s happening, but I’m trying not to get too caught up in it. I feel I really have tunnel vision through it all. I’m going along, doing my thing, taking note of where it is and being grateful for it, but ultimately, I’m there to conduct business, and whoever is in my way and wherever it may be, it makes no difference.”
The general theme heading into this week’s bout at T-Mobile Arena is that we should enjoy Mayweather while he’s here because this will be his last fight. But what about McGregor? If he defeats the best boxer of this era in a boxing match, where does he go from here? Would a retirement on the spot be the ultimate mic drop? It would be, but that probably won’t happen. So another theme should be to enjoy McGregor while he’s here, because it’s damn enjoyable to watch someone continue to raise the bar in a combat sports world where there has been a differentiation between fighters and businessmen. McGregor has managed to do both, using a unique philosophy that living on the edge and taking risks is good business.
“You get to these events, and then you go ‘what’s next?’” he said, foreshadowing his future in the fight game. “You go forward and go bigger. There are no limits. The bigger the better. That alone inspires me to work harder than everybody and overcome every obstacle and adapt to every situation and evolve.”
It was a dose of reality uttered not in front of the media at a press conference, sent to the masses on social media, or even to his teammates in the gym. He was one man issuing a mission statement as he sat alone looking over a city he would soon conquer, knowing that in a lonely game, the only truth that matters is that which you believe.
Conor McGregor believes he will beat Floyd Mayweather. In a little over than 24 hours, we’ll see if he’s right or not.