Conor McGregor never lacks for confidence. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
To hear him tell it, Conor McGregor was made for moments like these.
Headlining a UFC card in his hometown and backed by a heavy promotional push, the nattily-attired, gum chomping Irishman looked to be in his element as he addressed media on Wednesday.
“I want people to feel like, ‘How’s he going to react after this long layoff?...How can he cope with all of this?’ And then, I go out and perform the way I perform. Blow everyone away, silence the division and put my country on the map,” he said.
McGregor will square off with “Ultimate Fighter 14” winner Diego Brandao in Saturday’s UFC Fight Night featherweight headliner at the O2 Arena in Dublin. It is pretty heady stuff for the former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titlist, a two-time Octagon veteran who has spent the better part of a year on the sidelines due to knee surgery.
But pressure? Forget about it.
“Pressure is an illusion, but I want that illusion of pressure,” McGregor said. “Heap more on me. Give me more pressure so that when I put this guy away and make it look easy -- which I will do -- people will say, ‘How did he do that?’ Let’s jump this guy straight ahead of the queue and put him straight in for a title shot.”
Sitting opposite McGregor on the dais was Brandao, who appeared to alternate between smirking and smoldering at many of his opponent’s outlandish remarks. The Brazilian is just one of many fighters who has called out McGregor in recent months for that very reason. He received his opportunity when Cole Miller was forced to bow out of the fight after tearing ligaments in his thumb.
In McGregor’s mind, however, he is a solo act, and the Octagon inside the O2 arena is his stage. He is the star, the reason for all the hype, while the man across from him is interchangeable.
“I believe the magnitude of this event, the opponent actually doesn’t make the equation,” McGregor said. “Five weeks ago it was Cole Miller. The opponent changed, but nobody batted an eyelid. The tickets still sold out. The magnitude of the event, it’s set in stone.”
Of course, McGregor believes that Saturday’s business is but a mere preamble to his true destiny: UFC gold. While Cub Swanson, a top 145-pound contender riding a six-fight winning streak, is expected to be in attendance on Saturday, McGregor has designs on skipping the divisional line. This despite a resume that features victories over Marcus Brimage and Max Holloway -- both solid competitors but neither anywhere near the top 10. McGregor’s value stems from more than in-cage merit. His ability to sell plays a very significant role in his rapid rise to prominence.
“The country will shut down for this fight. I don’t think there’s a fighter in the UFC’s history that’s done what I have done in the space that I’ve done it,” he said. “And Saturday, when I go out there and put Diego away in the first round, I’ll prove my worth.
“You’re going to see a true No. 1 contender here on Saturday night.”