(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
Say what you will about UFC featherweight Conor McGregor; just don’t say he lacks confidence.
In a single breath, the fast-talking fighter from Dublin will tell you he’s the best in the world, the most popular mixed martial artist to come out of the Emerald Isle, and he’s ready for the UFC 145-pound title whenever the company brass feels like saving time and putting it around his waist.
“I guess I have a little bit of an ego,” McGregor, 25, tells USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) in a phone interview. “I’m confidently cocky, you might say. I just tell myself I’m the best that ever lived. No one can touch me.”
That’s a hypothesis that will be tested when McGregor (13-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) makes his North American debut in Boston on Saturday, taking on featherweight Max Holloway (7-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 26 (FOX Sports 1, 6 p.m. ET).
Although McGregor has had only one UFC fight — a first-round TKO win against Marcus Brimage in April — the hype around him is exerting its own gravitational pull. Even UFC President Dana White appears to have gotten caught up in it. A recent video McGregor posted shows his boss squiring him around the Las Vegas Strip in a topless Ferrari to celebrate his birthday in July.
It might seem like too much, too soon to some, but not to McGregor. He’ll tell you no one deserves this sort of treatment more than he does.
“Honestly, the hype and all that, to me it feels the same,” McGregor says. “I’ve always felt like there was a lot of hype around me even when there wasn’t. I felt like everyone was talking about me even when no one was talking about me. In my head, it was always like this.”
It probably helps that McGregor has the support of a nation. His Irish fans have long petitioned the UFC to sign the self-proclaimed “King of Dublin,” and now that he’s in the big leagues, his goal is to prove the faith of his supporters is well-founded.
“We’re a small nation, and we support our own who go out and have success, anybody who makes our nation proud,” McGregor says. “You could be playing ping-pong, but if you’re doing well, we get behind you.”
That’s part of why he so desperately wanted to be on this fight card, McGregor said. It might be a big event for the UFC primarily because it helps to kick off the newly created FOX Sports 1 network, but for McGregor it’s also a chance to fight in a place with strong ancestral ties. That’s why walking to the cage in the “long lost Irish city of Boston,” McGregor says, will feel like a homecoming.
“I’m expecting the biggest cheers there,” he added. “Twenty-thousand Irish Americans are going to tear the roof off for me, and I’m going to do them proud. I’m going to give them a show. It’s going to be a special night.”
For the latest on UFC Fight Night 26, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.