More than two years ago, Conor McGregor famously declared a straightforward path he wanted his career to go down: “Get in. Get rich. Get out.” So with claims he will net upward of $40 million in 2016 alone, why is McGregor still competing in one of the world’s most physically demanding and dangerous sports?
Because plans change, he tells Rolling Stone. The UFC Featherweight champion says he’s financially secure to the point he could support himself and his family for several generations. Now it’s about reaching the highest possible level of athletic success and accomplishing things no else has accomplished within the realm of MMA and combat sports.
He’s already done plenty of that, breaking the UFC’s pay-per-view and gate records multiple times over. But UFC 205, which takes place Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, represents McGregor’s (20-3 MMA, 8-1 UFC) chance at the ultimate achievement. A victory over Eddie Alvarez (28-4, 3-1) would add the UFC Lightweight championship to his resume along with Featherweight gold, making him the first fighter in UFC history to hold two belts simultaneously.
“I’m set for life – I could walk away from this game two fights ago, I could have,” McGregor says. “I’m motivated by the gold, the extra gold. The history of it. It’s historic. Of course the money always motivates. The love for competition. There’s many factors that go into it. I said I would enter and I would dominate two divisions, win the two-weight world title. If I say it, I will do it. That’s where we’re at.”
Although McGregor portrays the image that money rules all by sporting tailor-made suits, wearing expensive watches and driving luxury cars, those around him insist there are many more layers to “The Notorious” than what the public witnesses.
McGregor’s head coach John Kavanagh, who has worked with him for nearly a decade, says he doesn’t see personality traits within his star pupil that indicate he would walk away just because of financially stability. The figures in McGregor’s bank account are apparently high enough he could stop fighting and never look back, but that’s not the person Kavanagh knows. He still sees the son of a middle-class family who walked into his gym as a teenager with the simple desire to pursue a path in martial arts.
“His underlying motivation from Day 1 was never money, and was never fame,” Kavanagh says in an interview to promote his book, Win or Learn. “His underlying motivation was to be the best fighter he could possibly be. He’s not driving himself to the limits right now and training himself half to death, he’s not doing that to add more money to his bank account.
“His grandkids will still not be able to spend what he’s earned and he could certainly make easier money doing some movie roles and some TV ads,” he continues. “The motivation in my mind has never changed. His motivation was always to be the best fighter he could possibly be and he truly enjoys testing himself against other top-level competitors. That’s how it was over 10 years ago when he walked into my gym, and this is how it was in the lead-up to this.”
McGregor’s fortune and fame didn’t come on its own. He had to perform to get there, not only inside the Octagon, where he has won eight of nine fights with six knockouts, but outside of it, as well. McGregor’s brash personality is magnetic, from his raucous and macho one-liners about fellow fighters to his insightful and truthful analysis of the fight game.
As UFC Welterweight and stern McGregor critics Donald Cerrone even puts it, McGregor “knows how to put the asses in the seats.” And once they get there, he delivers a show that’s difficult to forget.
McGregor isn’t bulletproof, though. As Nate Diaz displayed in a matchup at UFC 196 in March, McGregor can be defeated He’s also resilient, though, which he showcased when he bested Diaz in their rematch at UFC 202 in August. Taking the belt from Alvarez might be his sternest challenge to date, though, because the current 155-pounder has fought and defeated the best from around the globe during his illustrious career.
Although Alvarez has thrown some harsh words McGregor’s way in advance of fight night, from questioning his fighting spirit to doubting certain elements of his skillset, the Irishman says he holds no personal animosity toward his next opponent. He says he senses a similar weakness within Alvarez that he’s felt from several other opponents and plans to exploit that sense at UFC 205.
“My fist is bigger than his head, and when I hit it it’s going to explode,” McGregor says. “I wish him all the best. I have no ill will towards him. They talk. Him and his team and his coach they talk all these crazy things pre-fight, now the fight’s signed and they’re all apologies. It’s almost like an acceptance of, ‘Hey, we wanted the fight, now we got the fight and we’ll take our ass whooping and thanks for the cheese, catch yas later. That’s my sense with him. He’s going to come in and fight with his heart and he’s going to be knocked out cold. He’ll get back up, he’ll give me my title and respect will be given. I’ll have two world titles, he’ll make a little money and we’ll move on.”
What McGregor will move on to, exactly, remains to be seen. He has teased a “big” announcement that will be revealed once his UFC 205 bout is complete, but no solid information has been released. When asked, McGregor says to “buy the pay-per-view” to find out.
One thing that’s almost certain to happen if he wins, though, is a clash with UFC President Dana White regarding what will happen with the two belts he would hold in his possession. McGregor doesn’t appear eager to give up either title, but White insists he can’t attempt to defend both as it would throw two divisions into disarray.
McGregor says he will “figure it out” with White if and when the time comes, but for now his focus remains solely on executing inside the Octagon at UFC 205. McGregor feels he holds all the advantages ahead of his encounter with Alvarez, and because of that, he’s predicting a first-round knockout that will land him a permanent place in the history books.
“I’m extremely confident,” McGregor says. “He’s too slow, he’s too predictable. I have the reach, I have the height, I have the youth and I have this freight train rolling in every time. These people don’t represent challenges. This is just another body type. A new body. That’s the way I see it. I run this game.”