WEST HOLLYWOOD (AP) — If Conor McGregor feels the weight of the UFC on his shoulders, the Irish featherweight sure knows how to make such a burden look comfortable.
After Ronda Rousey’s stunning loss last month, the second-biggest celebrity in the UFC’s stable of fighters is eager to carry the promotion forward into 2016 with an undisputed belt around his waist. McGregor (18-2) takes on Jose Aldo in the main event of UFC 194 next weekend in Las Vegas, and he remains unshakably confident in his ability to beat a champion who hasn’t lost in 10 years.
Just ask him.
“I get in there, and I put on a show,” McGregor said Wednesday. “This fight will be a performance. I’m not just going to beat Jose. I’m going to embarrass Jose in there.”
McGregor has been playing elaborate mind games with Aldo for months, goading and taunting the UFC champion with a verbal dexterity and showmanship to rival the greatest self-promoters in sports history. When he finally gets his Brazilian target in the octagon five months after Aldo’s injury postponement, McGregor promises he’ll back up every word he said.
“Nothing can stop me,” McGregor said over lunch at a Sunset Boulevard steakhouse where his presence prompted upscale diners to scramble for their camera phones. “You can throw anything at me. There’s nothing that can break my mindset. I’m bulletproof.”
McGregor was as surprised as most fans by Holly Holm’s second-round knockout of Rousey, the previously unbeaten star who had become the UFC’s most loquacious and most bankable fighter. McGregor and Rousey are friends, and they’ve shown parallel abilities to sell both their fights and their personas.
McGregor thinks he sees where Rousey went wrong, and he doesn’t worry that he could fall victim to the same distractions and wavering focus.
“I watched Ronda fight a little bit (too) emotionally invested,” McGregor said. “I’m sure she had many, many things going on. She’s one of the hardest-working fighters in the game, media-wise and work-wise. So she had a lot on her plate, and it showed in the contest.”
While his attention-grabbing personality and tireless public pronouncements are the reasons he has emerged as a worldwide star after just six UFC fights, McGregor said he still has innumerable goals to reach, effectively preventing his celebrity from interfering with his fighting.
“I’m going to continue to grow this company,” he said. “I’m looking to bring in half a billion dollars in money to this company per show, similar to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. ... I have a long way to go in this game, and I’m hungry, and I’m only getting better.”
McGregor became a star after he turned his remarkable bluster directly on Aldo, the biggest bully on the playground.
The only featherweight champion in UFC history has a vicious combination of ground skill and knockout power, but McGregor put Aldo on the defensive in public with a steady patter of putdowns and a series of calculated stunts — leaping over the cage to confront him, or snatching the belt away from him at a news conference.
Aldo and McGregor originally were scheduled to meet in July, and the UFC sent the fighters on an eight-city media tour of their centerpiece show of the summer. When Aldo pulled out of the bout with a rib injury two weeks beforehand, he was widely criticized — and McGregor stopped late replacement Chad Mendes to earn an interim belt.
Five months later, the UFC 194 promotion has been less pervasive, but the fight is no less compelling. Aldo is widely perceived by mixed martial arts experts to be nearly as unbeatable as Rousey appeared to be last month — but McGregor is so popular that he has actually emerged as the betting favorite in Vegas.
When asked about this remarkable development, McGregor taps his skull.
“When you’re the favorite here, the universe shapes itself,” said McGregor, who has acknowledged reading the self-help bestseller “The Secret.”
“I’m entering this contest heavily favored in my mind, and he’s entering the contest as a big underdog in his mind,” McGregor added. “That’s why you’re seeing what you’re seeing on the (betting) lines.”