Under The Bleachers: Conor McGregor And The UFC’s Irish Invasion

Above: Featherweight 'The Notorious' Conor McGregor

It started innocently enough – a single fighter, walking to the Octagon bare-chested, the Irish tricolour draped over his shoulders inside the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Sure, there had been some buzz around the Irish featherweight (read: 145 pounds) in the week leading up to the event, but stationed in the middle of the preliminary card, Fight No. 4 on a night that featured a staggering 13 contests, and taking on a lower level prospect, he was going to need to do something spectacular to really stand out. Even if he did manage to impress, how many times in the past had a newcomer looked great in their debut, been the talk of the sport for a couple of days and then disappear into the ether as the new cycle kept churning and coverage of the next event kicked in?

All it took was 67 seconds for Conor McGregor to put the UFC on its ear and begin what has become a full fledged Irish invasion.

The first clean shot he landed against Marcus Brimage hurt the former Ultimate Fighter contestant and from there, McGregor swarmed. A handful of measured, meaningful punches later and the fight was over. Standing the center of the cage, grinning ear-to-ear, McGregor called out for UFC President Dana White to award him a post-fight bonus, bellowing “50 Gs Baby!” into the microphone that commentator Kenny Florian refused to release.

McGregor became an instant star that night in Sweden and he’s since proven it wasn’t a fluke. He followed up his debut win with a victory over Max Holloway, but suffered a torn ACL in the process, pressing pause on his rapid ascension up the divisional rankings. Once he was healthy, “The Notorious” made a grand return and he brought some friends along too.

Last July, the UFC return to Dublin for the first time in five years with the returning McGregor headlining the show in his hometown. Joining him on the fight card were three of his teammates – flyweight Paddy Holohan, Ultimate Fighter alum Cathal Pendred and Icelandic welterweight prospect Gunnar Nelson. The O2 Arena was deafening before the initial bout even began and the event turned into the starting point of what has become a full-blown Irish Invasion in the UFC.

Holohan opened the night with a first-round submission win. Pendred was next, surviving a hellacious first-round beating to secure a submission win of his own. In the penultimate bout of the evening, the stoic Nelson made it 3-for-3 for John Kavanagh’s SBG Ireland squad, leaving the star of the show to close things out as only star performers are able to do. Once again, McGregor didn’t need much time at all, finishing his bout with Diego Brandao in just over four minutes.

Standing in the cage after his victory, McGregor made his intentions and those of his countryman clear, declaring, “We’re not here to take part – we’re here to take over!”

Sunday night in Boston, McGregor is back in the main event and although Holohan and Pendred are once again competing alongside of their teammate, this event has become “The Conor McGregor Show” and rightfully so.

The stylish and skilled 26-year-old has quickly become one of the biggest draws on the UFC roster, combining his tremendous abilities in the cage with the kind of charisma, moxie and willingness to engage the media that turns a great fighter into a superstar. If he’s able to defeat Dennis Siver this weekend – and most believe he’ll do so easily – McGregor will earn a shot the Jose Aldo and the UFC featherweight title later this year.

In a sport where few fighters distinguish themselves from the masses and have the ability to connect with a larger audience, the leader of the UFC’s Irish Invasion stands out from the pack. He’s a special talent, inside and outside of the Octagon, and Sunday might be the final opportunity to get on the bandwagon before the invasion becomes a full blown takeover.

Watch Conor McGregor take on Dennis Siver in the main event of UFC Fight Night 59 Sunday night on TSN 2 beginning at 10pm ET/7pm PT.

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