UFC stardom does not come overnight for many fighters. Typically it takes several consecutive wins during fights on the undercard before earning the right to fight a quality opponent and earn the recognition of the MMA fan base. For Ireland’s Conor McGregor however, with just two fights in the octagon to his name he has already established himself as one of the UFC’s rising stars.
His future stardom was apparent from the moment he began his walk to the octagon on Saturday night. The Boston crowd erupted in a way that is usually reserved for hometown favorites or legends of the sport. Boston does have the largest Irish population based on percentage in the USA, but the response was still shocking for a fighter making just his second UFC appearance.
Commentator Joe Rogan was shocked by the reception, pointing out that only Brock Lesnar generated such a response from the crowd in his second fight. He added that Lesnar was such a favorite because he was a ‘freak’ where as McGregor is just a ‘normal dude’.
After just one undercard victory, fans of the sport typically struggle to remember fighters the next time they appear on a card. McGregor’s first UFC victory was anything but typical. Taking just 67 seconds to knock out his opponent, Marcus Brimage, the Irishman was awarded knockout of the night and received a step up in competition as a result.
UFC Fight Night 26 saw McGregor square off against Max Holloway, a rising star in his own right and one of the most talented young fighters at 145 lbs. Holloway is an explosive fighter, who unleashes a bevy of attacks to overwhelm his opponents.
McGregor never allowed Holloway to establish any sort of offense on Saturday night. Pressuring the fight from the moment the bell sounded, McGregor displayed an unbelievable arsenal of kicks throughout the fight. Holloway didn’t know what hit him.
Keeping Max at bay with his hands, he opened up with kicks that not many other fighters can throw. It looked like he would continue to out-strike Holloway until he scored a TKO, however he heard a pop in his knee during the second round that forced him to adjust on the fly.
From that point on, McGregor took the fight to the ground. Enabling himself to continue to control the fight despite an injured leg, the young Irishman dominated the grappling game as well.
There aren’t many fighters on the UFC roster that appear as well-rounded as Conor McGregor. He still has room to develop, and is nowhere near ready for a title shot, however he looks like a star in the making. His next fight will certainly see him square off against higher level competition, a win in which would skyrocket both his ranking and popularity.
The UFC is scheduled to return to Ireland in 2014, and President Dana White is open to the idea of McGregor headlining the card. “He could headline, are you kidding me? If he headlined a card in Dublin it would be insane. He’s not ready to headline. He’s 2-0 he’s headlining the card! It would be great in Ireland, it wouldn’t be so great everywhere else. He could headline in Ireland.”
After his UFC Fight Night 26 win over Max Holloway, the sky is the limit for Conor McGregor’s MMA career.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express