LAS VEGAS: In the space of four short years, Conor McGregor has grown accustomed to the trappings of luxury that have accompanied his rise through the ranks of mixed martial arts.
But the 29-year-old multi-millionaire Irishman, who faces Floyd Mayweather in a cross-combat superfight on Saturday, insists he has never forgotten his humble beginnings.
Until he was discovered and signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 2013, McGregor was eking out a hand-to-mouth existence.
The former apprentice plumber was on the dole as he attempted to make a name for himself on the Irish mixed martial arts circuit.
“It’s mind-blowing. But I never forget the struggles. I never forget where I came from. I never ever forget the hard times,” McGregor says.
“When things were really bad I didn’t have a pot to piss in. Really, nothing. I’m not a stupid guy and it was hard standing in a dole queue.”
McGregor’s life now, as he contemplates Saturday’s bout with Mayweather, could not be more different.
Private jets, tailor-made suits and multi-million-dollar purses feature regularly in his life.
He owns a luxury yacht which he christened “The 188” — a reference to the amount of his 188-euro (222 dollar) weekly benefits cheque before his career took off.
“I pinch myself because I am surrounded by luxury. But make no mistake – it’s luxury built on sacrifice,” McGregor explained.
Initially, McGregor’s family had attempted to steer him away from fighting, encouraging him to work as a plumber’s apprentice during his teens.
“I hated every minute of it,” McGregor recalled. “You were talking 14 or 15-hour days. I was getting ordered around, getting people their lunch, all this crap. I just thought, ‘This life isn’t for me, I’m going to pack it in. I’m going to chase my dreams.’”
‘Combat is my life’
A mixed early start to his career in Ireland was followed by an eight-fight winning streak between 2011 and 2012.
In 2013, UFC chief Dana White signed him to a mult-fight contract and the world’s dominant mixed martial arts circuit had its next star.
McGregor’s explosive punching and ability to market himself, backing up his brash, cocksure press conference persona inside the octagon quickly endeared him to the sport’s fans.
A serene start to his UFC career culminated with McGregor winning back-to-back titles, defeating Chad Mendes by knockout in July 2015 before a 13-second demolition of Jose Aldo five months later.
An upset defeat to Nate Diaz in early 2016 was followed by a decision that stunned the MMA world soon afterwards — McGregor declaring his apparent retirement from the sport.
The announcement, however, was widely seen as a negotiating gambit, with McGregor increasingly reluctant to fulfil his contractual obligations to promote each fight.
“I am paid to fight. I am not yet paid to promote. I have become lost in the game of promotion and forgot about the art of fighting,” McGregor said.
“There comes a time when you need to stop handing out flyers and get back to the damn shop.”
He was back in the shop later in 2016, avenging his loss to Diaz with a win by decision in August before knocking out Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight title three months later.
While safely back in the UFC fold, though, McGregor remained determined to try and land his ultimate prize — a showdown with Mayweather.
Ever since the fight was announced in June, few commentators have given McGregor a chance.
The Irishman has never fought a boxing contest before, and will be facing an opponent who will be aiming for a 50th straight career victory.
McGregor, who has vowed to knock out Mayweather inside two rounds, is unfazed by his underdog status.
“I’m borderline insane,” McGregor said. “I don’t know about anything else and don’t care about anything else. Combat is my life.”