How Conor McGregor went from Dublin plumber to the king of combat sports

  • Conor McGregor is one of the most dominant fighters in the history of UFC.
  • Between his astonishing knockout power and notorious trash talk, McGregor rose to become the king of combat sports.
  • While it might appear as though McGregor was always meant for superstardom, his journey to the top of the fighting world started with humble beginnings.
  • On the eve of his UFC return against Dustin Poirier, take a look back at the moments that brought McGregor where he is today.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Conor McGregor is one of the most dominant fighters in UFC history.

A two-division champion in UFC, McGregor was for a time considered the king of combat sports, living a lavish life and earning a nine-figure payday with the help of a dubious boxing match against Floyd "Money" Mayweather.

But while McGregor took naturally to the superstar life, it wasn't something into which he was born. Coming from a working-class family from the suburbs of Dublin, McGregor journeyed his way through childhood gyms, a stint as a plumber's apprentice, and eventual worldwide fame as the most "Notorious" fighter on the planet, and the biggest name in the UFC.

Below we take a look a McGregor's rise to the top of the world.

Conor McGregor was born on July 14, 1988, to parents Tony and Mags. They claim he was born with clenched fists.

Conor McGregor officially vacates his #CWFC featherweight and lightweight titles on Saturday when he makes his @ufc debut against Marcus Brimmage in Stockholm, Sweden. Good luck, Conor!

A post shared by Cage Warriors (@cagewarriors) on Apr 2, 2013 at 4:59am PDT

Source: Bleacher Report

McGregor would spend his youth in Crumlin, a suburb of Dublin. Once his interest in Manchester United gave way to an interest in fighting, he would train in at the Crumlin Boxing Club.

Source: ESPN

In Dublin, McGregor would meet his now longtime coach, John Kavanagh. After going into one of Kavanagh’s gyms, McGregor beat up two of the best fighters there in a sparring session that he took a bit too seriously. Kavanagh responded by “pinning him and throwing heavy blows until Conor promised he was there for training and not for a street brawl.”

The Reign Begins

A post shared by Coach Kavanagh (@coach_kavanagh) on Dec 15, 2015 at 8:37am PST

Source: ESPN

Uninterested in school, McGregor took to plumbing as a trade and did what he could to make it a living for some time. There were times when he would work 12-hour days before heading to the gym to train as a fighter. It was around this time that he started dating his longtime girlfriend, Dee Devlin.

Throwing it back to almost 5 years ago!!! 😍 #FBF

A post shared by Dee Devlin (@deedevlin1) on Apr 22, 2016 at 7:49am PDT

Source: Bleacher Report

WhenMcGregor gave up plumbing to train full time, his parents disapproved of the decision, so much so he and his father came to blows. "You'll be sorry when I'm a millionaire," he told his father. "I remember saying, at 25 years of age I will be a self-made millionaire."

Hello id like to order some competition please I don't have any

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Nov 23, 2016 at 9:48am PST

Source: Bleacher Report

That said, he hasn’t forgotten those roots. Just before McGregor left Ireland to train for his fight against Mayweather in Las Vegas, craftsman Trevor Sweeney drove over to his house and dropped off a project he had been working on for six months: a chess set made from plumber’s materials, emblazoned with McGregor’s logo.

Chess is a great game.

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Jul 8, 2017 at 12:47pm PDT

Source: ESPN

"When you look at that board," Sweeney said of the piece, "it represents your journey from an apprentice plumber to a king." That journey began when Conor committed to fighting professionally.

Custom built chess table built for me by @treveenos_crossface_design.Thank you @serpiconinja and Trevor for this great gift 🙏

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Jul 8, 2017 at 12:27pm PDT

Source: ESPN

McGregor took part in his first MMA fight on March 8, 2008, for the London-based promotion Cage Warriors, defeating Gary Morris by TKO in the second round. He would go 4-2 through his first six fights before starting the winning streak that would take him to international fame.

McGregor v Alers (@jalers) set for New Years Eve in Dublin

A post shared by Cage Warriors (@cagewarriors) on Sep 21, 2012 at 7:34am PDT

Source: Bleacher Report

During that run of early fights, McGregor attended his first-ever UFC event, and caught Chuck Liddell’s attention long enough to snag a selfie. It’s the type of encounter McGregor would soon find himself on the other side of often.

Source: ESPN

After his 4-2 start, Conor would win his next eight fights, all within the first two rounds, and become a two-division champion of Cage Warriors. Buzz continued to grow and he was eventually booked for his first fight with UFC.

The trailer for 'The Rise of Conor McGregor' now available to view at #conor #mcgregor the #notorious #irish #mma #fighter #mixedmartialarts #ukmma #cagewarriors #mtv @mtvuk

A post shared by Cage Warriors (@cagewarriors) on Mar 1, 2013 at 7:38am PST

On April 6, 2013, McGregor made his UFC debut against Marcus Brimage, winning by knockout in the first round. The win was not only his UFC debut, but later led to the first post to his now (in)famous Instagram account.

60gs BABY @ufc #mma #ufc #champion #conormcgregor

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Jun 18, 2013 at 2:52am PDT

Source: Yahoo

Just a week before that fight he had picked up a welfare check for 188 euros to help him get by, but McGregor took home the prize for Knockout of the Night that night and the $60,000 bonus that came with it. Later in life, he would name his boat "The 188" in memory of those checks.

The 188.

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on May 26, 2017 at 7:43pm PDT

Source: ESPN

UFC president Dana White was immediately impressed with McGregor. "Let me put it this away: I'm blown away," White said after McGregor’s debut in Stockholm. "First of all, it's his first fight ever in the UFC. He walked out tonight and got into the octagon like it was his 100th fight in the UFC.” It was the beginning of a profitable relationship.

Source: Yahoo

From there, Conor’s run of dominance continued. He won five more fights, four of which didn’t make it through two rounds, and claimed the interim UFC Featherweight Championship against Chad Mendes.

This put McGregor in a position to face Jose Aldo in a unification bout for the UFC Featherweight Championship. In the lead-up to the fight, McGregor was as cocky as ever, saying "I'm going to unify the belts, I'm going to destroy the [featherweight] division, and then I'm going to take the lightweight division as well."

Source: MMAFighting

On December 12, 2015, McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds. It was the fastest finish ever for a UFC title fight. Again, it was his unstoppable left that did the job.

True to his word, McGregor set out to win in the lightweight division, and a fight with Rafael dos Anjos for the title was set for UFC 196 in March, but dos Anjos had to withdraw after breaking his foot, leading former lightweight contender Nate Diaz to step up on short notice to face McGregor.

Diaz had been training as a welterweight at 170 pounds, and McGregor decided he would gain the weight to meet him there, jumping two weight classes in just two weeks. "Weight should never be an issue," he said. "Champions should be able to go up and down and fight any challenge that comes before them."

McGregor was the heavy favorite going into the fight, but would get caught in the second round and end up tapping out after Diaz locked in a rear-naked chokehold, giving McGregor the first loss of his UFC career.

Despite his shocking loss to Nate Diaz, in 2016 McGregor became the first mixed martial artist to appear on Forbes list of the 100 highest-paid athletes, taking $22 million on the year between his fights with Diaz, Aldo, and a variety of sponsorships.

This week's profit.

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Mar 26, 2015 at 6:45pm PDT

Source: Rolling Stone

Additionally, 2016 saw McGregor's profile rise further with a spread in ESPN's Body Issue, with Conor baring all in a photoshoot for the magazine.

ESPN Body Issue 2016!

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Jul 6, 2016 at 12:14am PDT

After a series of negotiations that included McGregor being dropped from the UFC 200 for refusing to go on a press tour promoting the fight, "McGregor-Diaz 2" was set for UFC 202.

The fight was a bloodbath, thrilling fans around the world. It would go down as one of McGregor's most memorable performances in the octagon.

In the end, McGregor outlasted Diaz in a rare fight for Conor that went all five rounds. Both fighters would once again receive "Fight of the Night" honors, with Conor winning by majority decision.

Just three months later, he would challenge Eddie Alvarez for the UFC Lightweight Championship. The fight was set for UFC 205. In the prelude to the fight McGregor showed his normal confidence, telling his opponent to "Show up, take your ass whooping, and I'll see you later."

Source: Daily Star

Conor would win by TKO in the second round and become a two-division champion. After the win, McGregor said that he would take time off from fighting to wait for the birth of his child.

During that time off, McGregor began pushing for a boxing match against Mayweather, bringing it up at public appearances and on social media like the Instagram post below. Rumors that negotiations were underway began swirling.

I am going to break his face

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Dec 24, 2016 at 2:44am PST

On May 5, 2017, Conor Jack McGregor Jr. was born. McGregor often shows himself as a happy dad on Instagram.

A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma)

Source: MMAFighting

A month later, it was announced that the fight was officially on. Mayweather and McGregor would meet in the ring in Las Vegas for what would surely be the biggest fight of the year. McGregor made the announcement official with a post on Instagram, trolling the undefeated boxer.


A post shared by Conor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Jun 14, 2017 at 2:21pm PDT

Read more: The Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor mega-fight is officially set

The build to the fight on August 26 was fast and furious. Both Mayweather and McGregor set out on a four-city tour to promote the fight, trading verbal jabs and obscenities along the way.

At the kickoff to the tour in Los Angeles, McGregor made headlines with his wardrobe, wearing a custom suit with pinstripes that read "F— You" to anyone who got close enough to see it.

Read more: Conor McGregor wore a custom suit to the Mayweather press conference with a vulgar message sewn into it

At their next confrontation in front of a particularly frisky crowd in Toronto, McGregor called out Mayweather's rumored illiteracy, much to the delight of those who had gathered to watch the press conference.

Read more: 'You can't even read!' — Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather's war of words continues to escalate

But McGregor wasn't without his detractors. He faced accusations of racism after some of his comments on the tour.

Read more: Conor McGregor is coming under fire for making more racially driven comments during his Floyd Mayweather fight press tour

Not one to apologize, Conor did not back down, only promising to "break his face"when he met Mayweather in the ring.

Read more: Conor McGregor pledges to 'break' Floyd Mayweather's face in viral trailer

Experts didn't give McGregor much of a chance to beat Mayweather, with former champion Mike Tyson saying of Conor simply, "He's gonna get killed."

Read more: 'He's gonna get killed' — Mike Tyson weighs in on McGregor's chances against Mayweather

Additionally, some mocked McGregor for training sessions he made public, especially his bag work and his warm-up routine.

Read more: Conor McGregor's bizarre warm-up routine got roasted by a world champion boxer in a viral video

Many were surprised that the McGregor team didn't bring more coaches with boxing experience, but Coach Kavanagh chose to keep things simple, saying "Too much new stuff … would be a disaster."

McGregor never really stood a chance against Mayweather, and was eventually dispatched by TKO in the 10th round.

Read more: Floyd Mayweather takes out Conor McGregor in epic fight

But despite the loss, McGregor was still surely pleased with the result, earning a rumored $100 million for his role in the circus of a fight.

Source: MMA Fighting

After the Mayweather fight, McGregor took a bit more time off to enjoy his riches.

Dons under 30.

A post shared byConor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Mar 6, 2018 at 4:47pm PST


He took in the 2018 World Cup final…

Enjoying the World Cup final in Russia. A truly amazing spectacle!

A post shared byConor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Jul 15, 2018 at 10:03am PDT


And did so as a personal guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Today I was invited to the World Cup final as a guest of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This man is one of the greatest leaders of our time and I was honored to attend such a landmark event alongside him. Today was an honor for me Mr. Putin. Thank you and congratulations on an amazing World Cup. Россия вперёд!

A post shared byConor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Jul 15, 2018 at 11:08am PDT


But soon enough, there was reason to tease his return to the UFC.

In the name of fighting 🙏

A post shared byConor McGregor Official (@thenotoriousmma) on Mar 27, 2018 at 5:16am PDT


His natural opponent was Khabib Nurmagomedov, the undefeated Russian fighter who had taken over as champion of the lightweight division in McGregor's absence.

Things came to a head when McGregor bizarrely attacked a bus Nurmagomedov was on ahead of UFC 223, leading to several injuries to other fighters.

Read more: Conor McGregor stormed a UFC press conference and attacked a bus in a bizarre and chaotic scene

McGregor would later explain that he was acting to protect his teammate Artem Lobov, who was confronted by Nurmagomedov at a hotel.

Read more: We're learning more about what led to Conor McGregor's bizarre attack on a bus of fighters at a UFC event

McGregor would be taken into custody and charged with assault for his attack, but ultimately got off relatively unscathed.

Read more: Plea deal opens the door for Conor McGregor to return for UFC's biggest fight in years — but he will have to attend anger management class

And thus, the stage was set for a fight between McGregor and Khabib for the UFC lightweight title.

UFC even used footage of McGregor's attack on the bus to promote the upcoming fight.


At the fight, Khabib dominated McGregor, eventually forcing him to tap out in the fourth round.

When the final bell rang, Khabib would leap out of the octagon and start a brawl with some of McGregor's teammates, resulting in suspensions for both fighters.

Despite the loss, McGregor was expected to return to the octagon in 2019, having signed a six-fight deal with the UFC ahead of the Khabib fight.

Read more: Conor McGregor struck a big deal with UFC to promote his whiskey — and it also includes 6 more fights

Instead, McGregor shockingly announced his retirement from fighting in March of 2019.

Read more: Conor McGregor told Jimmy Fallon he was 'set for life' right before announcing his retirement from MMA

But as is often the case, McGregor's retirement didn't stick, and he began needling for a rematch with Khabib.

Read more: Conor McGregor apparently desperate for the Khabib Nurmagomedov rematch but 'isn't the man anymore,' the UFC president Dana White says

But there were other fighters in line for a title shot though, meaning McGregor would have to wait his turn.

In the mean time, McGregor had more trouble with the law.

In March of 2019, McGregor was arrested after an encounter with a fan in Miami, slapping a phone out his hand and stomping on it.

Read more: Conor McGregor says patience is 'a virtue he continues to work on' after he was arrested for allegedly slapping a phone out of a fan's hand, stomping on it, then walking away

Then in April, McGregor reportedly punched an older man in a Dublin pub after he refused a shot of the Irish fighter's whiskey.

Read more: A video appears to show Conor McGregor punching an elderly man in the face after he declines a shot of the UFC fighter's Proper No. Twelve whiskey

Over the course of the year, the New York Times also reported on two separate accusations of sexual assault against McGregor.

Read more: Conor McGregor is reportedly being investigated by Irish police over a second sexual assault allegation

McGregor denied the accusations, saying that "time will show all."

Read more: Conor McGregor has broken his silence about 2 sexual assault allegations, saying 'time will show all'

Eventually, McGregor starting focusing on his return to UFC.

Longtime UFC contender Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone emerged as a potential opponent.

Read more: Conor McGregor will return to UFC against 'Cowboy' Cerrone, and experts say the Irishman will challenge Jorge Masvidal for the 'BMF' title if he wins

Leading up to their fight at UFC 246, McGregor's trainer said his fighter was in the best shape of his life.

Read more: Conor McGregor's coach says the Irishman is in the best shape he's ever seen him ahead of his comeback UFC fight in Las Vegas

McGregor made quick work of Cerrone, knocking the Cowboy out in just 40 seconds after opening the fight with a devastating shoulder charge and ending it with a brutal series of punches.

Read more: Conor McGregor just knocked out Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds, called his rivals fools, and said he's off to party

After the fight, McGregor paid respect to his opponent, and even embraced Cowboy's grandmother in the octagon.

Read more: Conor McGregor gave 'Cowboy' Cerrone's grandma a big hug after knocking him out in just 40 seconds

A few months after the fight, McGregor announced his retirement once again, but it wouldn't last long.

Read more: Conor McGregor retired because he's 'bored,' 'tired,' and just not excited by the fight game anymore

By August he was teasing another potential superstar boxing bout, this time against Manny Pacquiao.

Read more: Conor McGregor has been teasing a comeback, and one option could involve a $250 million mega-bout against Manny Pacquiao

But by October, his next UFC bout was in the works, setting up a rematch against Dustin Poirier on Fight Island.

Read more: Conor McGregor has accepted a UFC lightweight bout against Dustin Poirier providing it meets one condition

McGregor previous beat Poirier in 2014, winning via first-round knockout.

The two will face off again this Saturday at UFC 257.

After Poirier, there's plenty of other opponents McGregor might take on. He's repeatedly expressed a desire for another shot at now-retired champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Read more: Khabib Nurmagomedov says he doesn't like inflicting pain on opponents unless he's fighting Conor McGregor

McGregor has also been tied to a potential return to boxing, where a fight against Manny Pacquiao could potentially net $250 million.

Read more: A fight against Conor McGregor could generate $250 million and be Manny Pacquiao's retirement party, according to an expert

There's no telling what the future holds for McGregor.

More Conor McGregor:

Khabib Nurmagomedov responded to Conor McGregor's shock retirement by saying 'there can be only one king in the jungle'

The coach of Conor McGregor, who just retired from MMA, says the ex-UFC star doesn't spend much money because his expensive clothes and cars are 'given to him'

Sylvester Stallone says the UFC is worried about Conor McGregor after the Irishman got 'publicly humiliated'

Conor McGregor hosted his mom's 60th birthday party at the $1,000-a-night Versace Mansion in Miami

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