The evolution of Conor McGregor: A visual timeline

Take a walk down memory lane ahead of Conor McGregor's return at UFC 303.
Jul 11, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA;  Conor McGregor (blue gloves) celebrates after defeating Chad
Jul 11, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Conor McGregor (blue gloves) celebrates after defeating Chad / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The life of Conor McGregor may as well be the greatest MMA story ever told. It is as "rags to riches" as it can get, but much of the allure lies in how he carried the fame on his person - in his flamboyance, words, mystic predictions - rather than just being famous.

McGregor's origin story is well-known - a boy with bowl-cut hair from a working-class family in Dublin who played soccer for Lourdes Celtic Football Club. Despite switching sports, the Irishman never forgot his roots. In 2020, McGregor Sports and Entertainment became Lourdes Celtic's principal sponsor, investing in infrastructure and player kits.

At the age of 12, he took up boxing to fight off bullies at school. "I walked into a gym not giving a f*ck about a belt or a title," he told Men's Health in 2019. "I got into it just to deal with the street.” Soon, he was picking up kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, grappling, wrestling - any combat sports discipline possible to learn. He fought his first amateur fight in Feb. 2007, which he won via a first-round KO.

Shortly afterward, he would begin training at Straight Blast Gym under John Kavanagh and turn professional within a year. McGregor was fashionably late for the undercard fight, knocked his opponent out, and went home after a few pints, his striking coach Owen Roddy told Bleacher Report in 2017.

Pre-UFC days: Conor McGregor has been terrorizing 'little scrawny featherweights' since 2011

It wasn't before he saw his first UFC event in Dublin at the age of 18 that he finally decided to pursue MMA. He didn't see anyone in the octagon who was better than him that night; so, he soon gave up his job of a plumbing apprentice to become a full-time fighter.

But after losing his third professional bout, a disheartened McGregor stopped coming to the gym. One fight later, he took a break for two years. But once he came back, there was almost no stopping him.

McGregor won the Cage Warriors featherweight title three fights into the promotion in June 2012, just like he had promised after his debut.

Six months later, in the very next outing, became a double champion by winning the lightweight belt as well.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Conor McGregor in the UFC: The rise of a megastar

With an 11-2 professional record, Conor McGregor sent a message to Dana White in June 2012 asking for a "crack" at a UFC stint, like many upcoming fighters often do. Rarely do they become the biggest draw in the history of the sport in less than a decade.

Dana White may or may not have seen the tweet. But he heard his name enough at local pubs while receiving a Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage from Trinity College in Dublin. Soon, the brash 24-year-old was signed to the UFC around Feb. 2013.

After having a celebratory dinner with him in Las Vegas, White made a phone call to Lorenzo Fertitta and said, "Dude, I don't know if this kid can fight or not, but if he can even throw a punch, he's gonna be a huge superstar."

In about two months, McGregor proved that he can throw a punch all right.

Ahead of his UFC debut against Marcus Brimage, he returned to the welfare payment kiosk on Tower Road in Dublin one last time. He stood in a queue, like he had many times before, collected his final social payment check of € 188 (a little over $200), and told the officials at the welfare office that he was to start fighting in the UFC. The wait to encash the check at the post office nearly caused him to miss his flight to Sweden, but he made it just in time.

That night, knocking Brimage out in the first round, McGregor collected an additional $60,000 on top of his show and win money. McGregor had announced his arrival in the world's biggest MMA promotion, first with a clinical uppercut and then with a cheeky "Dana, 60Gs baby!"

"Dana, 60Gs BABY!!!" #OnThisDay in 2013 Conor McGregor made his UFC debut❗️

Posted by UFC on Monday, April 6, 2020

In his next outing, he faced a young Max Holloway. For the first time in his career, McGregor could not finish a fight. He heard his knee pop in the second round, which later turned out to be a complete ACL tear that would keep him out for around ten months. Nonetheless, he dominated the fight and secured a unanimous decision.

In July 2014, UFC returned to McGregor's hometown, Dublin, after five years. The last time the promotion was there, it pushed him to dedicatedly pursue a career in MMA. Half a decade later, he was headlining a UFC card in the same city.

With every punch and kick McGregor landed on Diego Brandao, the 3Arena (then known as The O2), erupted in a soccer-style chant echoing across the venue. He showed off some of his often-criticized ground game as well. But in the end, it was still his striking - a subtle mix of karate and Thai style - that sent Brandao to the canvas with around a minute remaining in Round 1.

Pandemonium in Ireland!🇮🇪 #OnThisDay in 2014, Conor McGregor sent the Dublin crowd in frenzy after this incredible finish! 📺📱💻 Stream more of The Notorious only on UFC Fight Pass

Posted by UFC on Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The cheers blew the roof of the place as McGregor delivered one of his most memorable quotes to date, "We're not here to take part, we're here to take over." This was also the first fight in which we saw him with his now-trademark tattoo of a silverback gorilla, a twist on the symbol of John Kavanagh's Straight Blast Gym.

Dustin Poirier became McGregor's next prey as he climbed his way up to the coveted featherweight title shot. He did to the Louisiana native exactly what he said he would - knock him out in the first round - and gave himself the 'Mystic Mac' moniker that still sticks.

Eight years ago today, Conor McGregor predicted he'd finish Dustin Poirier in the first fight of their trilogy 💥

Posted by ESPN MMA on Tuesday, September 27, 2022

According to several UFC insiders and onlookers, such as Megan Olivi and Ariel Helwani, the usually calm and collected Poirier was uncannily agitated by McGregor's cunning mind games. It would pave the way for two more fights down the line.

McGregor needed another win to cement himself as the next title challenger for the belt, and he did so with yet another TKO. This time, the victim was Dennis Siver.

Conor McGregor becoming UFC featherweight champion

The win over Dennis Siver earned Conor McGregor a title shot against the reigning featherweight champion, Jose Aldo. But with around two weeks remaining before the bout, the Brazilian pulled out owing to a rib fracture. Chad Mendes stepped in for Aldo as the stage was set for an interim featherweight championship at UFC 189.

There is no doubt that Conor McGregor is almost single-handedly responsible for putting MMA on the map of the world, doing everything an athlete could do right for the sport at that time. Many believe it is this fight that truly shifted the paradigm.

More than 16,000 people packed the MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 11 and at least a third of that number flocked to watch McGregor stand on a scale the day before.

McGregor emerged from the dressing room in a walkout for the ages. Sinead O'Connor's mesmerizing live performance of "Foggy Dew" reverberated across the arena as the proud Irishman walked out with his country's flag wrapped around his shoulders.

The fight ended with three seconds remaining in the second round when a visibly exhausted Mendes could barely put his hands up to defend himself and got caught by McGregor's signature left hand. With blood oozing out of his head, he celebrated with his team as Joe Rogan wondered what a title fight with Jose Aldo would look like now.

The answer was - 13 seconds.

Throughout the build-up to UFC 194, he spewed trash-talk that was often poor in taste but always excellent in aim. His words landed right where he intended them to - under Aldo's skin. Getting his opponent aggravated and unfocused before a fight had always been McGregor's thing, but his words were now far cruder and therefore, more effective.

Aldo inarguably remains one of the greatest ever to do it. But that fated December night in Las Vegas, he fell in just 13 seconds. McGregor became the fighter with the fastest-ever title win, an achievement still unsurpassed in all the years.

Conor McGregor's first UFC loss and a hot-blooded rivalry with Nate Diaz

While Conor McGregor sailed his way to the featherweight championship, elsewhere in the MMA world, a man from Stockton kept a wary eye on the horizon. After a year's layoff and a huge win over Michael Johnson, Nate Diaz said it straight. "Conor McGregor, you're taking everything I worked for, motherf*cker."

Diaz got his prayers answered when Rafael dos Anjos pulled out of McGregor's next fight and he stepped in on two week's notice. It was originally supposed to be a lightweight title contest, but now it was set at welterweight. Dana White has often praised McGregor for taking the fight on short notice despite being the champion between the two.

Unlike his previous opponents, Diaz did not crumble under the barrage of McGregor's insults. In fact, Diaz's cool customer approach somewhat put McGregor at unease. It reflected inside the octagon as he exhausted himself in the early rounds. Diaz, known for his gas tank, sought out the right opportunity to mount a rear naked choke and hand McGregor the first loss of his UFC career.

The MMA world was stunned, but McGregor himself was gracious in defeat. Perhaps it is easy to swallow the hard pill of loss when one gets paid the highest disclosed purse of any fighter in UFC history to that point, at $1 million.

McGregor avenged his loss in an absolute barnburner at UFC 202, emerging victorious via majority decision. The fight itself and the rivalry preceding it helped the event break the highest-selling pay-per-view record in the promotion's history, previously held by UFC 100.

Conor McGregor makes history as UFC double champion

Mixed Martial Arts is a sport of blood and grit. There is almost no place for a fairytale. And yet, Conor McGregor started writing one with 'mystic' predictions and finished it with two belts on his shoulders, at the top of the cage, cheered on by a jam-packed Madison Square Garden.

Newer fans of the sport would find McGregor's forecasts the ramblings of a madman, especially after how the recent fights with Dustin Poirier went. But the older fans would remember a time when the Irishman spoke as if he could see the future.

True, he suffered his first UFC loss somewhere in between. But the rivalry with Nate Diaz only added to the legend. Going up against Eddie Alvarez for the UFC lightweight belt, McGregor produced one of the finest performances ever seen to make history at UFC 205 on Nov. 12, 2016.

Repeating his feat from Cage Warriors, McGregor stopped Alvarez in the second round with a beautiful combination to become the first-ever simultaneous two-division champion in the UFC.

For as long as MMA lives, the picture of Conor McGregor hoisting two UFC belts up in the air amid an exploding Madison Square Garden will be remembered.

Floyd Mayweather (and the beginning of the end)

The saying goes, "The higher you rise, the harder you fall."

Merely two weeks after McGregor became the double champion, he was stripped of his featherweight belt due to inactivity in the division. Soon, it seemed like he had no plans of defending the other one either. He announced that he was going to take time off from fighting to wait for the birth of his first child due in 2017. But soon, it became evident that he had other plans.

In June, it was announced that McGregor was to face Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match on Aug. 26, 2017. He spent the weeks in between doing press conferences around the world, each of which were a spectacle in itself. From flaunting Gucci mink coat to the 'F*ck You' embroidered suit, McGregor went full heel mode in the build-up, matching Mayweather in the latter's lavishness and flamboyance.

People counted him out. He was a debutant going up against the greatest boxer of this era. He did lose the fight as Mayweather picked up his 50th professional win via TKO, but not before lasting ten rounds when experts gave him one, at most two.

But more importantly, the bout sold 4.3 million pay-per-views and garnered $396 million in revenue. McGregor had a disclosed purse of $30 million but rumoredly made $100 million more from the fight. The amount is bigger than what many MMA fighters make in a lifetime.

UFC 229: Khabib Nurmagomedov feud will be in the history books

UFC 229 was the biggest event in the history of the sports. It still is. It sold a whopping 2.4 million pay-per-views and generated a $17 million-plus gate.

The card had a bunch of other big names. Tony Ferguson fought Anthony Pettis in the co-main event. But to the wide-eyed fans, nothing else really mattered. Things had got terribly bitter, personal, and out-of-hand in the build-up to the fight.

Khabib Nurmagomedov once used to be a fan of Conor McGregor. The two even had a Twitter conversation about having a training session together. They posed for a picture together after McGregor's first win over Poirier.

At one point before his own featherweight title shot, McGregor prophesied that Nurmagomedov will hold the lightweight belt in future. But McGregor's ambition of double championship caused a rift in the camaraderie. In Aug. 2016, Nurmagomedov told him to "stay in his lane", and as we all know, McGregor is not one to take such advices kindly.

Things just went downhill from there. By the time Nurmagomedov fought Al Iaquinta for the undisputed belt stripped off McGregor, it had taken the form of a gang war of sorts. After Nurmagomedov's team allegedly cornered and slapped McGregor's then-friend Artem Lobov, the Irishman hopped on a flight to New York, snuck into Barclays Center on media day, and threw a dolly at the fighter bus.

Nurmagomedov was unhurt, but several others were not. McGregor's plea deal was accepted and he escaped felony charges in favor of community service. Stoked beyond measure, McGregor went all in with his verbal attacks at his nemesis even before their fight was announced. From personal attacks to underhanded insults aimed at Nurmagomedov's religion, McGregor stopped at nothing.

Unfortunately, he could not bring the same fire to the fight. He tapped out in the fourth round to a near-inescapable neck crank by Nurmagomedov and Herb Dean waved the bout off.

And then, all hell broke loose.

Nurmagomedov jumped the cage; McGregor almost followed. Punches, kicks, slaps were thrown around. It was a full-blown melee. Till now, the fits of violence had stemmed only from the Irishman. It seemed like the Dagestani had final had enough.

Both parties were slammed with fines and suspensions. Islam Makhachev, who was in Nurmagomedov's corner, almost got himself a lifetime ban. We now know that did not stand.

The McGregor-Nurmagomedov saga remains one of the most exciting yet nastiest rivalries in all of sporting history, the embers of which have still not gone down.

Conor McGregor's leg break and UFC 303 return

Conor McGregor stuck with playing the heel from his beef with Khabib Nurmagomedov in the years to come. One could argue that his role in his Hollywood debut movie, the remake of Road House, is an exact replica of his real-life persona.

However, occasionally, the "Good Guy" shone through. He was immensely respectful of Donald Cerrone in his return at UFC 246 more than a year later. He had almost retired from the sport once in between. The 40-second knockout with impeccable shoulder strikes made it seem like the McGregor of the old was back.

But then he agreed to a pair of fights with Dustin Poirier.

McGregor got knocked out on his feet for the first time ever in his MMA career at UFC 257.

He went down, but the sporting spirit he maintained throughout the fight week did not. He seemed gracious in defeat and even congratulated Poirier on his way out of the arena. But he was a completely changed man the next time around. From calling names to getting Poirier's wife Jolie involved in their beef, McGregor brought back his old persona in an attempt to avenge his loss.

Many assumed the Irishman would lose again, but the fight at UFC 264 ended in worse than a defeat for McGregor. He fractured his left tibia and fibula, supposedly while landing a leg kick, and wobbled down on it at the end of the first round. Hurt and defeated (via leg injury TKO), McGregor spewed utter vitriol at the Poiriers when Joe Rogan held a mic in front of him.

Conor McGregor has not fought since. He has recovered. He even participated in The Ultimate Fighter. He has shared a few dozen of training videos in the meantime. He has also beefed with a handful of people, some of whom he has fought, others he would never meet inside the octagon. He decided to throw his drink at Machine Gun Kelly at the MTV Awards and beat the Miami Heat mascot black and blue. Most people assumed he was never going to fight again.

Despite all that, it seems like his drawing power has not dwindled at all. It was recently announced that Conor McGregor will face Michael Chandler on June 29 at UFC 303 at the International Fight Week. Dana White revealed during the press conference of UFC St. Louis that the pay-per-view card has already generated $20 million-plus gate and counting. That would make it the biggest gate in the history of the UFC, already around $3 million more than UFC 229.

One wonders, how true were the words when McGregor told Chandler on the set of TUF, "This is my game forever."

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