It’s crazy to imagine a world of mixed martial arts without Conor McGregor.
Back when “The Notorious” was just starting off his career in MMA and barely making ends meet, he almost walked a completely different path but was lured back on track by his coach, John Kavanagh.
Kavanagh spoke with Paul Kimmage of the Independent about a time where he had to get “The Notorious” back to his gym after losing a fight and quite a bit of money of Kavanagh’s.
“I used to run these little shows in Good Counsel (the GAA club) down the road and I’d give the guys tickets to sell and give them a commission or whatever,” Kavanagh explained. “So he had a bunch of tickets and all his mates were there, and he was ‘the name’, the rising star, but he was fighting this skinny little Lithuanian fella who just ran through him. I keep saying it – fighters don’t mind getting hurt, but they hate being embarrassed, and that was an embarrassment for him.”
After the loss, Kavanagh said that Conor was nowhere to be found.
“I didn’t see him and I didn’t see the money – I think he had already spent it.”
Kavanagh said that he “would never have seen” Conor McGregor again if it wasn’t for Conor’s mother calling him.
“I had no interest,” Kavanagh stated. “I had a lot of other guys coming through. Tom Egan was better than him; Owen Roddy was doing great; Ashling was starting to do well. I don’t put negative energy into chasing people who are not in the gym: if you’re not here, you’re not on my mind; if you are here, I’ll give you everything. So I wasn’t ringing him.”
“His mother was worried” Kavanagh said of Conor. “Her name was Margaret – my mother is Margaret too – and it was one of the first times, maybe the first time, that a parent had reached out to me. It got me thinking: ‘Maybe I have a bigger role here than punching and kicking. Maybe I’m doing a bit more for them than I thought.’ And I guess I started to realise that a lot of people get into fighting for the same reasons I did – it’s not for the fighting, they are dealing with something in their childhood.”
Kavanagh said when he finally went to see Conor at his home, he had an emotional talk with “The Notorious” and told him to not worry about the money that was owed from the ticket sales.
“I was used to this bubbly, charismatic athlete but he looked very down and just didn’t look healthy to me. So we had a conversation that I’ve had with a couple of guys since: ‘You don’t want to be the guy in your 40s saying ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ with a pint in your hand at the bar. You’ve got potential. Use it. Do it. Don’t worry about the ticket money – scratch it off, I don’t care.’”
Kavanagh explained that he knew if he didn’t let the money issue go that Conor would not go back to the gym, even during a time when he could have definitely used the money himself.
Kavanagh stated that “a blind man could see” the potential in Conor but the times were especially tough before they broke into the UFC scene.
“Well it wasn’t easy – he was on the dole, earning €100 a fight and training at the height of winter in a cold gym. Now I don’t care how passionate you are, but there are always going to be periods of thinking: ‘Fuck this! What am I doing here?’ And he was going through one of those periods. He was a two-weight world champion in ‘Cage Warriors’ and I couldn’t get him a sponsor for a tub of protein. His annual earnings for that five-year period was something like €1,500 a year! There was no money and I was running out of ideas. The UFC was a closed shop. There were no opportunities and he had one foot out the door.”
Hard to believe how much has changed for Conor McGregor and his team since.
Conor McGregor is set to headline UFC 205 in a lightweight title fight against Eddie Alvarez. If McGregor gets his hand raised over Alvarez, he will become the first fighter in UFC history to hold two UFC division’s titles at the same time.