By ZACH BARON
Photography By THOMAS WHITESIDE
For his GQ Style cover story, the ever-controversial Conor McGregor lets loose about everything: Donald Trump, $27,000 shopping sprees, Money Mayweather, and his wild path to becoming the don of the octagon. Warning: McGregor’s tongue is as dangerous as his left fist.
Yesterday, Conor McGregor spent $27,000 at a Dolce & Gabbana store in Los Angeles, and then he did what he usually does after he spends $27,000 somewhere: He went for coffee, to give the store time to pack up all the things he just bought. “That’s a common occurrence for me nowadays,” he says. His handlers and his friends have grown used to the waiting. Spending that much money, they’ve learned, requires patience.
So anyway, he’s waiting, and then he gets a call from the store, and then another call, because the overwhelmed sales staff keep finding stuff in the pile that they forgot to add to the bill—a pair of shoes, a pocket square—and now they keep sheepishly calling back to ask if they can run Conor’s card again. Now, I don’t know Conor McGregor super well yet—we’ve only just met when he tells me this story—but my advice to the luxury-goods salespeople of America and Europe would be: Don’t do this. McGregor’s chosen method of communication does not involve the shrill international tone of disappointed privilege. He is not going to ask to speak to a manager. “I break orbital bones,” he says, trying to explain to me what he’s talking about, rolling the word “orbital” around in his mouth like a particularly zesty lozenge. Like it’s the next county over from Crumlin, the unlovely Irish suburb he grew up in. “I’m dropping $27,000. It’s about my eighth time in the last week. And you can’t drop, like, a pocket square in? Are you fucking serious?!” He’s not looking for anything for free, he says. Just a measure of respect.
Conor McGregor may be rich now, but he still fights for a living. More than fights, actually; he carries his league, the UFC, on his back in the way Ronda Rousey used to do, before she got knocked out for the first time and took a year to recover from it. In her absence—a matter of months, really—McGregor became a mainstream sensation, and the UFC sold for $4.2 billion. How much of that value is attributable to him is a question he asks himself all the time. His scant ten UFC bouts over four years (nine wins, most of them by marvelously precise knockout, and one loss, to a guy he beat in his very next fight) have awakened hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to the savage appeal of mixed martial arts. Someday he may allow himself to acquire a cuddly nouveau riche veneer and go to Aspen or Davos, but right now his civilian life as he describes it is drinking lots of tequila, wearing beautiful mustard yellow Gucci turtlenecks, and going on shopping sprees with the money he’s earned from turning dangerous men into unconscious boys.
He’s never alone and rarely at rest. He chooses to be surrounded—by his agent’s assistant, two security guys, a cameraman, his tattooed buddy Charlie, some indistinct number of cheerful, foulmouthed Irish dudes doing nothing in particular. He can be found at the center of it all, ricocheting around like an agitated molecule. He seems to pogo a bit when he walks. His sharp chin precedes him. His beard looks soft and downy, like something you might die trying to touch. His nose has a little scar-tissue salt flat at the bridge. He has a disproportionately huge ass, by design I guess. Like a built-in power source.
He travels by convoy. He turns parking lots into acid trips: There’s a green Lamborghini, crouched low like a prayer; a dove gray Rolls-Royce, top down, leather interior as orange as a Florida swamp guide, a burly meteor at rest; a black Dodge Challenger, because muscle cars; a big black Escalade. A fleet like a man-child’s dream of success. Like Michael Bay was right about the world.
Right now the sun is setting, the winter light pale and washed-out, and he’s inside a big warehouse in downtown Los Angeles, getting his photo taken. It’s dark by the time he and his friends pour back outside. Car keys are distributed at random, by no recognizable logic at all. Charlie ends up in the Lambo but can’t even find the switch for the headlights. He keeps asking if anyone knows where it is. McGregor and I wind up in the backseat of the Rolls, a cozy little biosphere. One of the security guys, big and silent and obliging, is at the wheel. Conor fidgets, leans in, leans out, makes intense eye contact.
He shows me pictures of some favorite recent outfits on his phone. For a while he was into elaborate tailoring; now it’s pristine sneakers and luxuriously casual knits, minks, brash but accommodating fabrics. He talks about how Ireland is full of mini-McGregors these days, swarms of young men in beards and waistcoats, dressed beautifully—dressed like him—looking for ugly fights. “They all want to be me a little. That’s a Drake line. All them boys want to be me a little. And it’s true as fuck.”
How do you feel about that?
“I mean, I don’t blame them. If I wasn’t me, I’d want to be me, too.”
He says he’s been working like a motherfucker all week. “This is a $2 million trip for me. One week, 2 million.” He’s earned a break. A rest. That’s why we’re headed out to Malibu now, where he’s rented a giant stone house by the sea. “I’m finished.” His only goal is to relax. “Maybe I’ll search for Khloé’s big fat ass—she’s been floating around Malibu. I don’t give a fuck about them. I just like to see them in the flesh.”
You mean…the Kardashians?
“Yeah, just see what the big fat asses on them look like.”
Just to…admire them from a distance?
“Not about admiring. Admire? Never. What’s the saying? Never put the pussy on a pedestal, my friend. I just want to see it. I want to see them.”
He was tired from having his photo taken earlier, and now he’s waking up again. A mischievous glint in his eye. He was out too late last night. Being out in public is fun, he says, until people get too close. “People think I’m a celebrity. I’m not a celebrity. I break people’s faces for money and bounce,” he says. The Rolls floats west.
Suit jacket, $2,370, pants, $1,000 by Salvatore Ferragamo / T-shirt, $390, by Tom Ford / Loafers, $960, by Santoni / Watch by Patek Philippe
He turns to me, suddenly, as if he’s just realized something. “You know what? I like everything we’re talking about here,” he says. He’s enjoying our conversation. He feels comfortable. “But I must get clearance on the article before it goes out. You understand what I’m saying?”
I do. But clearance is not something we give. GQ Style policy. I clear my throat. His face darkens. I’ve seen this expression before, never imagined I’d ever be on the receiving end of it.
“I’ll throw you out onto the motorway right now and run this car over you,” he says, looking straight at me.
I stammer. Maybe his people could talk to my people, get this cleared up?
A long pause.
“That’s okay. That’s okay.” Menace gone from his face like it was never there. A little grin, even. “Don’t worry about it. You were almost gonna get thrown out of the car there on the motorway.”
“I want to negotiate what I’m worth. I want to put my analytics forward, man-to-man, and be like, ‘This is what I’m owed now. Pay me.’”
You can watch all of Conor McGregor’s fights in an afternoon. Even if you’re not an MMA fan, I would encourage doing this. It’s like watching a caterpillar become a butterfly become the bolt gun used by Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men. He is a genius of timing. He finds ways to hit people when they are least prepared to be hit. He seems calmer in a cage than many of us are in the grocery store on a Tuesday afternoon. He fights with his hands up, almost in apology. His right hand tends to reach out and repeatedly grab air, like he’s looking for a light switch in the dark. His left hand lowers opponents to the floor.
In his UFC debut, against a former member of the Air National Guard named Marcus Brimage, McGregor crouched down, skipped around, got loose in his vaguely simian way; the bell rang, and then: a gust of lethally compact uppercuts and Brimage down on the white canvas. Over in one minute seven seconds.
They’ve all pretty much been like that. In McGregor’s second UFC fight, against Max Holloway, McGregor actually tore his ACL in the second round, then went back out and grappled with Holloway for five additional minutes. Another win, by unanimous decision. “Looking back, I should’ve just pulled my knee from my leg and hit him with it,” McGregor said in the post-fight press conference.
He unified the featherweight title at the end of 2015 by knocking out a formidable fighter named José Aldo in 13 seconds. Thirteen seconds! Essentially the time it took for Aldo to come within range of his left hand.
His parents maintain he was born with his fists clenched. “I’ve been fighting my whole fucking life,” Conor McGregor says.
There is a pure wild joy in listening to him talk. He knows this. Sometimes it seems like the true mark of his generosity is how much he’s giving you, how many words, what level of outrageousness. Talk is a weapon, a tool. “ ‘This guy’s a clown! He’s just all talk!’ I’ve heard that many times in my career,” he tells me. “And then they’re sleeping in the middle of the octagon.” He talks before fights, after fights. In November, at the first-ever MMA bout to be held at Madison Square Garden, he beat Eddie Alvarez to seize the UFC’s lightweight championship, and in the ring afterward he grabbed the microphone. “I’ve spent a lot of time slaying everybody in the company. Backstage, I’m starting fights with everybody. I ridiculed everyone on the roster. I just want to say, from the bottom of me heart, I’d like to take this chance to apologize…to absolutely nobody,” he said, full of glee. “The double champ does what the fuck he wants!”
In the Rolls, he leans forward, asking if we might pull over to find something warm for his chest, aching from travel. Aching from work. Then he leans back, tries to explain why he’s so good at what he does. Consider Nate Diaz, whom McGregor unexpectedly lost to last March and then revenge-battered to a victorious decision last August:
“No one’s work is clean like my work. My shots are clean. My shots are precise. Look at Nate. Nate was 200 pounds. When I hit him down, it was exactly like if a sniper took aim at someone in between their eyeballs and let the thing rip. The way he dropped, it was like a sack of shit. So that’s a power I have.”
Can you explain how that works, technically?
He smiles, like this is the exact question he’d hoped to be asked.
“It’s all in the nutsack. It’s all in the ball sack. I just have confidence that comes from my big ball sack, and I know when I smack you, you’re going down. And that’s it.”
For a while, he says, fighting was all there was to him. But then last year he was in (yet another) Dolce & Gabbana on Fifth Avenue in New York, and he met a guy who pulled up in a Ferrari. “He had a glow, like a bronze tan—he was golden,” McGregor recalls. The guy looked like a god. “There’s different tans. You’ve got a sun-bed-shop tan. You’ve had, like, a California tan. You’ve got a Spanish tan. You’ve got a ski tan. Tan on the ski slopes. It’s a unique tan. And then there’s a yacht tan. And it’s a beautiful one. It’s golden.” This guy had the perfect one. The Platonic tan. The richest tan Conor McGregor had ever seen.
Turned out this gentleman owned the building that the two of them were standing in, collecting millions of dollars a year for doing basically nothing. They talked for a while, he and McGregor. Finally the guy said to him: “You fighters are like dentists. If you’re not pulling teeth, you’re not making money.” That blew Conor McGregor’s mind. He’d been living a life of freedom—or so he thought, anyway. Wake up when you want to. Train when you want to. Do what you want. Do nothing! But meeting the real estate guy fucked him up, made him realize something. Fighting was only one possibility among many. There were new avenues and investments to explore. Not just prize money—but ownership, equity, what guys with golden tans might call a controlling interest. “Structure is the key to the billions,” McGregor knows now. Show up on time. Maintain focus, picture what you want, and the whole world is within reach.
So he’s taking a step back from fighting—how big a step, even he doesn’t know—and looking for leverage, an angle, against a bigger opponent: the UFC itself. When he won late last year, in November’s lightweight bout at the Garden, he became the holder of two UFC belts, lightweight and featherweight. But the UFC knew he couldn’t defend both at the same time, and didn’t want to wait for him to get around to doing so, anyway. It took just two weeks from the Alvarez fight for the league to give McGregor’s featherweight title to José Aldo, the fighter from whom he so easily took the belt back in 2015. Then the UFC held an interim bout between Anthony Pettis and Max Holloway, the guy McGregor had already beaten on one leg; Holloway won and will fight Aldo on June 3 for the title that McGregor never even defended. In other words, McGregor’s featherweight belt will soon be held by one of two people who have already lost badly to Conor McGregor.
Needless to say, he does not regard this decision as legitimate. “I’m the two-way world champion. I mean, they can say what they want—”
They did. They already gave it away.
“They’ve done fucking nothing.” This is how he talks sometimes. Almost without verbs. “They’ve done fucking nothing.”
Is there something that you want out of UFC that you don’t have right now?
“Mmm…yeah. Four point two billion dollars.” What the UFC reportedly sold for this summer. “I want to negotiate what I’m worth. I want to put my analytics forward, man-to-man, and be like, ‘This is what I’m owed now. Pay me.’ And then we can talk.”
Is that a piece of the league, or is that a check?
“I mean…certainly hell of a fatter check. Maybe potentially, down the road, an equity, interest or something. I’m just letting them know I want something else.”
He would like not to be a dentist anymore, in other words. He’d like to get paid for not fighting like he currently gets paid to fight. And he doesn’t mind waiting until that reality arrives.
Zach Baron is GQ’s staff writer.
This story appears in the Spring 2017 issue of GQ Style with the title “Are You Not Entertained?”
Excerpts from gq.com
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