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When it comes to Conor McGregor, somehow we just get “it”

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When Dustin Poirier fought (and beat) Diego Brandao at UFC 168, the only real story there was that Brandao threatened to stab Poirier in his neck before the fight, and that he was slipping from consciousness before the second round. Otherwise, a pretty freaking mellow encounter.

When Conor McGregor fought (and beat) Diego Brandao seven months later, we were celebrating everything from the fact that Brandao made weight to the importance of the two-step Guinness pour. We were wrapping ourselves in the Irish tricolor flag, and humming bars from Sinead O’Connor B-sides. We were locking arms and dancing to "My Own Dear Galway Bay," and taking second stabs at reading Ulysses.

Forget that the thing was being shown exclusively on Fight Pass in the States -- suddenly, it was all about Ireland.

More pointedly, it was all about the Irishman Conor McGregor, who has what Dana White calls that "it" factor. What is the "it" factor? It’s a lot of things, not the least of which is an ability to make people care and feel and want to associate with a unique experience. Even White himself was talking about his dear old grammy, who stemmed from the green center of Cork, before the fight.

White, too, was warming his hands by the Irish fire that McGregor started.

In fact, White shot through Atlantic City where two actual contenders were fighting on Wednesday en-route to Dublin, so that he could see the No. 12 ranked "Notorious" one fight in front of his people. Media traveled to Ireland, too, because it wasn’t to be missed. The people of the Republic of Ireland turned out and created pandemonium in McGregor’s work place, total reverberation, reaching UFC-tested decibel levels of 111. Those are rock concert levels.

Rock concerts have amplifiers. McGregor has countrymen.

McGregor did what many thought he might do to Brandao, which was beat him up. There were a couple of good exchanges early, in which Brandao came forward and popped McGregor with his best declaratives, but that courage was quickly drown out by the tide. McGregor, in his very upright Fighting Irish stance, disrupted the space and got the rhythm of the counters down. It wasn’t long before McGregor had Brandao turtling up on the canvas, and he was sitting atop his cage domain draped in the Irish flag.

And that’s…that’s how you handle a year’s worth of mounting pressure.

Who else can suffer an ACL injury after just his second UFC fight, yet through the process of recovery actually increase his star power? He has the accent. He has the bow tie and skinny pants and the beard. He has the audacity, and the humor, and the drive. He rubs people the wrong way, in many cases, but then he’s drinking "fat ass whiskey" after his cage fights with people who have billions of dollars. And he can fight, best we can see, though the evidence really only runs three-fights deep. (Unless you want to count his demolition work against poor Paddy Doherty, who lasted just four seconds in the cage with him).

McGregor has the "it" factor, alright, and if you’re a featherweight in the UFC at this point, that’s the guy you want to face. He’s the next best thing to Aldo in terms of bigness. When he said he could sell out a football stadium in Ireland, you get the feeling it wasn’t just a bunch of delusional fighter hooey. White said after Saturday’s experience at Dublin’s O2 Arena that "literally" every fighter was calling him wanting to fight in Ireland. Literally. And that’s more of that "it" factor that McGregor has.

That’s why McGregor has a little queue forming of people who want to smash his hype to smithereens…people like Poirier, who is well above him in the rankings, and Cub Swanson, who admitted (almost masochistically) that he sort of liked McGregor, and Nik Lentz, who knows the carny biz inside and out. There are wrestlers who want to ground McGregor into the earth, and boxers who want to end capoeira forever, and lowly rung-climbers who haven’t achieved in a dozen UFC fights an ounce of what McGregor has in three. Think Clay Guida has ever shared Midleton rare blends with Lorenzo Fertitta?

Nah, bro.

Conor McGregor is one of those guys that comes along in the fight game whose phenomenon you can’t easily define. Who knows how long it’ll last, or if he’ll do as well in Las Vegas, or if he’ll become a pay-per-view draw…but right now? Right now, McGregor just sort has that thing that gets people caring, and you can call "it" whatever you want.

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