Heading into UFC 189 this past weekend I was not sold on Conor McGregor. While I recognized his talents, I just didn’t see him as being one of the best featherweights in the world. But that all changed on July 11, 2015, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas when McGregor knocked out perennial contender Chad Mendes in the second round to claim the interim featherweight title. McGregor’s performance solidified his place atop the division and it substantiated the hype surrounding him.

It wasn’t just that McGregor defeated Mendes last Saturday, it was how he did it. McGregor was tagged with some solid shots, he was taken down and put on his back, and most of all he was cut. Mendes tested McGregor’s heart and resilience early and he passed with flying colors. McGregor stayed calm on the ground and waited for his opportunity to scramble back to his feet. Once there he landed crisp accurate shots that hurt Mendes before finally dropping him with a solid combination.

McGregor was already a star for the UFC heading into UFC 189, but with his performance against Mendes he now must be considered a legitimate superstar. When he and Jose Aldo finally settle their score and unify the featherweight title it will undoubtedly be one of the biggest fights in UFC history.

Specifically quantifying what makes someone a star can be a difficult task, but no matter how you see it or measure it McGregor has it.

Mic Skills

If there is one thing the great Chael Sonnen taught us over the years it’s that the best fighters don’t always get the best opportunities. Even though Sonnen was a top fighter, he earned UFC title shots in two weight classes because of his ability to hold court and talk. Sonnen knew what to say and how to say it; something McGregor too is great with.

Whether it is random trash talk, thoughts on philosophy or just the answering of simple questions, when McGregor speaks people listen. He’s not the most eloquent person in the world, but he is an engaging and captivating speaker. It’s a huge reason why he has been able to connect with so many fight fans.

Polarizing Personality

Being a huge star isn’t just about being loved and adored; that will only take fighter’s popularity so far. The fighters who reach “Force of Nature” status have to be as hated as they are loved. They have to create an instant reaction that makes fans fall on either one side or the other. With a fighter like McGregor, there is no middle ground with fans, it’s either love or hate.

Why that is so important is because when you polarize a fan base to the degree McGregor has it essentially doubles the projected viewing audience. Fans who love him will tune in to see him succeed while just as many fans will tune in to see him fail.

Style

While MMA is very much about what a fighter does in the cage it’s also entertainment; making the fighters celebrities. In this day in age — between the 24/7 news cycle and social media — if fighters want to accelerate their ascent up the ladder they need to know how to market themselves.

McGregor understands that his look and style is very important to his brand. He sells himself as a star just by the clothes he wears and the manner in which he carries himself. McGregor has a “look” and it’s one that is synonymous with success.

Skill Set

While those other three things are important to the total package, at the end of the day none of it would matter if McGregor was a mediocre fighter. But because he truly is one of the best in the sport today, his stardom is amplified by everything else.

His unorthodox but highly technical striking paired with his speed and power have led him to being undefeated in the UFC with five of his six wins coming by way of knockout. McGregor fights with flare and he fights to finish; two qualities that will instantly endear anyone to fight fans.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.