UFC’s Conor McGregor: Chest Tattoos Hurt Way More Than Getting Punched

The Dublin-born fighter spent some time at Peter Welch's Gym in South Boston talking to fans and promoting his January event at TD Garden.

photo by Steve Annear

photo by Steve Annear

Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White promised that the league would return to Boston to put on another show after hosting a successful event at the TD Garden last year, despite some hits he took from critics about how dangerous and violent the sport can be.

And on Sunday, January 18, he will follow through with that guarantee.

It’s on that night that tattooed, Irish featherweight fighter Conor McGregor, known as “The Notorious” McGregor, will take on Dennis Siver in a matchup inside the Octagon that could determine the division’s next title challenger. The event will mark just the third trip the UFC has made to the Garden since its inception, and be somewhat of a homecoming for McGregor, who said he’s excited to be sparring in “Irish America.”

The excitement around McGregor’s battle in the Octagon is a far shot from the commotion caused in 2013 when then-City Council President Stephen Murphy and others tried to keep younger fans from attending the UFC event at TD Garden. At that time there were talks of passing an ordinance ahead of the fights that would have required anyone under the age of 18 to be accompanied by an adult when attending UFC matches and cage fights. Ultimately, the motion to enact the ban failed, and the show went on uninterrupted.

This time around, Murphy has shown a somewhat different attitude about the fights, with news that the UFC is making a triumphant return. “The UFC has a right to be in the city, and Massachusetts residents have a right to choose their own entertainment,” a spokesperson from his office said. “Councilor Murphy hopes that fans of the UFC and its president, Dana White, exercise good judgement by supporting those fighters who embody commitment, discipline, and moral aptitude. Those are the kind of people our minors should be exposed to.”

Even Mayor Marty Walsh’s office is looking forward to the event featuring McGregor, and what it will mean for the city and fans of the full-contact sport.

“The UFC is one of the largest mixed martial arts companies in the world. Hosting major events like this in Boston attracts visitors from around the country. Coming after Boston’s First Night 2015, this is one of the first major events of the year, bringing visitors and creating an economic engine during a time that is traditionally quiet for the tourism industry,” said Kate Norton, a spokesperson for Walsh. “We welcome the opportunity.”

On Wednesday, McGregor traveled around the city making media appearances before stopping in at Peter Welch’s Gym to greet a crowd of fans, one day before tickets to see his fight against Siver go on sale at the box office. McGregor, who kicked around bags and chatted with local fighters like Danny O’Connor and Tommy Egan, a trainer at Welch’s gym, took a few minutes to talk to Boston about the January match, and what it means for him to return to a city with a large Irish population and following.

Welcome back to Boston.

It feels good to be back here. I had such a good experience the last time. This is Irish-America. Now I’m really the headline, so we will have a lot of Irish people coming out, who have never been here before, to experience this Irish-American feeling—that passion that the Irish-American here have. It’s going to a be a beautiful thing.

Are you expecting a big Irish crowd? 

I think so. It’s closer than [my Las Vegas fight], and Vegas there was a big number of people who came out. And add on the fact that Boston is like Ireland. I think the people will come out. I’m aiming for a good 20% of fans being from Ireland. I believe we will fill up the [TD] Garden. The Boston people love a fight like the Irish, so I believe it will be packed.

We have an Irish mayor, too.

Oh, wow.

His staff is welcoming the event, which is a little different than last year when you were here and the City Council tried to keep a younger crowd from attending.

Combat sport is something that’s in us. It’s a passionate sport and it’s in our DNA, as Dana [White] always says. It’s in our DNA, so it’s really good to see people come around. I’m representing my country—Ireland—and it’s phenomenal to be here representing that in a place that’s Irish-America.

People argue that UFC fights actually send a positive message to fans, based on the way you guys treat each other after fights.

Yes, definitely. But fighting solves everything, though. It’s that simple. One-hundred percent. Clean fighting solves everything. It ends all bad blood, and any ill feelings people have. That’s my thoughts.

What do you do to get prepared for some of that clean fighting? Especially being the main focus of this event?

I train the same, that’s it. I continue to show up at the gym, put in the work. Last time I was here I fought like I was the main event. Now I am the main event. So there’s no change. I continue working and continue putting in those hours to get better and that’s it—I show up.

Being the focus of the evening doesn’t make you nervous?

This is the second time I have been the main event, so it’s the same emotion. It could be if I fight in front of one person, or one million people. It’s still the same emotions.

What else goes into training from now until January?

There’s a bit more intensity to the training. I have to keep my diet clean and keep my weight down naturally, and then handle my business.

When you actually get into the ring, what is going through your head? What keeps you driven to win?

I just see a head. A blank face.

That you want to smash?

Not particularly. I just see a blank face and a new body type, and I simply go out there and figure out my route to victory, and I steam roll down that route at 100 miles-per-hour. And during this fight I will shoot him down nice and smoothly and early.

Last time you were in Boston you didn’t have as many tattoos. What hurts more, a chest tattoo or getting punched repeatedly?

The neck and the sternum [tattoo]. That was the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. Even more than getting in a fight and getting hit. There was nothing I could do about it. At least in a fight I can figure out a way out, but I had to sit there and take it [when I got the tattoo].

Have you had a chance to get a taste for Boston’s Irish culture since you’ve been here?

I’m experiencing it right now. This is, this is an Irish boxing gym. So it’s pretty good. I have a lot of obligations though, so I’m just handling my business.

Anything you’d like to get out and do?

I don’t know. I’d like to get a training session in or something, maybe.

At Peter Welch’s Gym?

Maybe. This looks like a place I’d like to work out in, there’s a real good vibe here.

This has nothing to do with fighting, but you’re sort of known for your after-fight style sense

A good feeling for me is when you train and then you put on fresh clothes. New clothes after a training session, you have this rush of endorphins from exercise that everybody gets, and then you get that nice feeling of fresh clothes. It’s a double whammy. It’s something that I always liked to do, especially when I fight. It’s the ultimate feeling of joy. You go in, you compete, and you win, and then you go backstage and have a shower and put on a crisp suit and it just puts me right. It’s enjoyable.

Well, good luck.