How Conor McGregor went from cashing welfare checks to a nine-figure payday

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

His post-fight interview had ended, but the crowd at Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, was still buzzing about Conor McGregor’s 67-second knockout of Marcus Brimage in the Irishman’s UFC debut on April 6, 2013.

Just as Fox MMA analyst Kenny Florian finished the interview and had begun to turn away, McGregor reached out to grab the microphone to say one more thing.

“Dana,” McGregor shouted, referring to UFC president Dana White. “Sixty G’s, baby!”

He let go a devilish laugh and soaked in the roars from the adoring crowd.

This was a man who but a week earlier had accepted public assistance – about $235 – in his native Ireland. He was struggling to make ends meet and needed help from the government to make his way.

By stopping Brimage, McGregor earned a bonus of $60,000 for Knockout of the Night. That was the first step on an incredibly fast journey that made him the biggest name in mixed martial arts.

On Tuesday in Los Angeles, exactly 1,558 days later, McGregor will take the next step toward a fight that will pay him close to, or slightly more than, $100 million.

McGregor will appear with unbeaten boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather on Tuesday at Staples Center in Los Angeles, on the first stop of an international tour that also lands in Toronto, New York and London to promote a sporting event the likes of which hasn’t been seen before in American sports history.

Conor McGregor has been calling his shots his whole career. (Getty)

The truth is, there has never been a sporting event like it anywhere in history.

There are no accurate comparisons for this fight, which pits the best from two similar, but very different, sports against each other.

Mayweather is one of the greatest boxers in history. He compiled a 49-0 record, won world titles at 130, 135, 140, 147 and 154 pounds, and is the most highly paid athlete in history.

McGregor is the biggest draw in the UFC, the only man to ever hold two weight class titles simultaneously and among the elite MMA fighters in the world.

This is all about a man and a dream that became a reality thanks to the power of social media.

After he needed just 13 seconds to defeat Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 194 in Las Vegas on Dec. 12, 2015, McGregor stood at the podium and asked what was next.

He’d just set a record for the highest-paid MMA gate in U.S. history (which has since been surpassed). The pay-per-view sales were among the biggest in company history. The social media presence of the fight was substantially larger than any previous UFC show.

He wasn’t satisfied. He wasn’t ready to cruise to the finish line. That night, the first seeds of what has become the first match of the social media age, were germinated.

Just 10 months earlier in the same venue, Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao set all sorts of financial records. McGregor, after a win in which he called the shot, began to pick at that.

“What did Floyd and Manny do?” McGregor asked a reporter, referring to the paid gate for Mayweather-Pacquiao on May 2, 2015.

Told it was a $72.2 million gate, McGregor didn’t blink.

“We done $10.1 [million], [so] I’m catching up,” he said. “I’m only 27. Them old [expletives] are 40. I’m only warming up. I said to [then-UFC CEO] Lorenzo [Fertitta] and I said to [UFC president] Dana [White], ‘I’m bringing these big numbers. I’m bringing these half-a-billion dollar revenue numbers like the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight done.

“At 27 years of age, I stand here as the unified champion, [with] back-to-back gate records at the MGM. This is trending as the highest pay-per-view I believe of all-time for the UFC, so at 27 years of age with every record in the book, weight divisions above for me to go at, superfights left and right, tell me one other champion that’s been like that? … I’m going straight up. I’m bringing these big numbers and the sky is the limit.”

And Tuesday, some 19 months later, McGregor starts a journey which could, indeed, wind up smashing all records.

The four stops on the tour are all sold out, and organizers moved Wednesday’s stop in Toronto to a larger venue to accommodate the demand.

The $89.95 suggested retail price for the pay-per-view – an additional $10 to watch in high definition – may turn off some potential customers, but the tour figures to take care of that.

Expect McGregor to taunt Mayweather mercilessly, about his tax issues with the IRS and his past transgressions with abuse of women. The atmosphere will be electric, the coverage will be wall-to-wall, and the relentless hype will eventually wear down most of the doubters.

It may not be much of a fight – Mayweather is a heavy favorite and most experts believe he’ll win easily – but this is more spectacle than sport.

It’s the big top coming to town and McGregor is the barker.

It’s a remarkable story for a guy who, four years, three months and six days ago, was thrilled by a $60,000 bonus.

Seven weeks from now, he’ll collect a paycheck for around $100 million.

This is a guy who doesn’t turn 29 until Friday, the final day of the tour.

He calls himself “Mystic Mac,” and one can see why.

No one soul on this planet even gave consideration as he celebrated his $60,000 bonus in the Octagon, that four years and change later, he’d be earning a nine-figure check in one night.

A lot of talent, a great wit, and a relentless determination for greatness have led him to this point.

Who can ever doubt the man again?

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