Many UFC debuts have been memorable, but few in the modern era of mixed martial arts can go as picture perfect as UFC featherweight Conor McGregor's did on Saturday in Stockholm, Sweden. Fighting on the preliminary card of UFC on FUEL TV 9, McGregor entered the bout with a ton of hype and delivered in every conceivable way, stopping opponent Marcus Brimage in just over a minute into the first round and earning a $60,000 Knockout of the Night bonus.
"Man, it's unbelievable," McGregor said of the experience after being interviewed by Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. "Words can't describe it, you know what I mean? I was walking out and I could just see Ireland flags everywhere and the Irish rugby jersey. I could see it everywhere int he whole arena. I couldn't believe it."
And as for the fight itself - a one-sided, calm dismantling of a very respectable opponent in Brimage - along with the aftermath of celebration and good will from fans, "everything went the way I said it would. I said I was going to steal the show. I still feel like I'm in a bubble here. I haven't come down. I still feel like my adrenaline is going. I still don't know what the f--- to be doing with myself," McGregor said.
McGregor went on to describe the entire week as that of a 'video game', where everything seemed surreal, yet went according to script.
Yet, it didn't. In fact, two strange injuries nearly derailed his entire debut.
For starters, two weeks out McGregor suffered from neck pain so severe he could barely turn his head. While rest, acupuncture and other forms of physical therapy helped, his training all but stopped. His calorie intake went way down as well.
But that was hardly the worst of it and at least a manageable problem. Much worse was a surprise tooth infection he discovered with searing pain on the Sunday prior to his fight. "I couldn't close or open my mouth past a certain bit and the gum was coming over the wisdom tooth in the most horrible pain ever," McGregor said.
A local dentist gave McGregor what was described as 'light antibiotics', so the UFC featherweight wouldn't run afoul of any drug testing regulation. The problem is the medicine didn't work. McGregor said he couldn't sleep at any point during the week because the pain was so intense. If the infection was being treated, it was too slowly and he could see no change.
While in Sweden, McGregor realized something had to change. "We got in touch with Burt Watson. He said, 'Yeah, there's a place here'. So we went there," he said. McGregor finally got on antibiotics and a pain management regimen the Wednesday of fight week from a Swedish dentist Watson, the UFC rep in charge of essentially handling fighter needs during fight week, just in time to recuperate before weigh-ins and fight time. And yes, McGregor was finally able to get some sleep.
"It was just another thing," McGregor said. "Nothing could've stopped me in there. I wasn't going to be broken. It was just another thing. Adversity causes some men to break and other men to break records. I chose to be the second one. That's the way I looked at it. I looked at it as another challenge and f--- the pain. It's only a tooth at the end of the day. I got through it."
And the rest is essentially history. McGregor blazed through Brimage in the first round, earned a bonus and even the direct attention and respect of UFC President Dana White, who sought out a private moment with the Irish fighter after his win.
"[White] was saying, 'Brimage came out you. Brimage was tough', which he did. Brimage came in and gave me some exchanges and he went for it.
"He just said, 'Well done, man. I've been getting hounded by all the Irish people.' I was just like, 'Look, have that 60 g's ready!'," McGregor recalls.
As for what's next, McGregor is just as interested in fighting at featherweight as he is lightweight, although the UFC has already told him they have little interest in watching him compete in two weight classes so early into his career. In fact, while White indicated UFC wants to save McGregor for the UFC's return to Boston in August, the Dublin native is already petitioning UFC brass to substitute in for an injured Joe Proctor at UFC 159 later this month.
Whatever happens next, McGregor is fighting not merely as if he's in control of his destiny, but certain as to what his destiny already looks like.
"Nothing could've stopped me there," McGregor said firmly. "I just kept saying, I'll beat this guy on my death bed. That's the way I was looking at it. Nothing could've stopped me. Absolutely nothing."