That’s not all that surprising given that he is a promoter and this is the fight game.
However, in the past, that favoritism was usually reserved for aging legends who had been around for a lengthy period of time and who had built a personal relationship with White. Fighters like Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, and BJ Penn will undoubtedly always have a place in the UFC in some shape, form, or fashion.
It seems that recently, though, White has taken a shine to a newcomer in the promotion: Irish-born slugger Conor McGregor.
Despite just one win inside the Octagon, albeit an extremely impressive one, McGregor finds himself on a rapid ascent. After his career-making first-round knockout of fellow featherweight Marcus Brimmage – his promotional debut – at UFC on Fuel TV 9 in April, McGregor instantly became the next fighter to watch in the 145-pound division.
It wasn’t just fans and pundits who were beaming about the flashy Irishman, either, as was evident by a recent trip to Las Vegas.
“I was over at the Zuffa headquarters with (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby. He just gave me a tour around the place and he rang Dana on his phone, then handed the phone to me,” McGregor recalled to MMAWeekly.com during a media lunch, the day after his now infamous night with White back in mid-July.
“Dana was like, ‘Listen here you badass Irish (expletive), how are you getting on? How is Vegas treating you?’
“I didn’t really know what to say, so I said, ‘I’m just bummed I won’t get to see ya.’ He was in LA at the time. He asked how long I was here, and I told him I was here till Friday. And he said, ‘Well, that’s it, we’re going out Monday.’”
I can’t imagine what it’s like to come to America after spending your entire life in Ireland. But I have an even harder time comprehending what it would be like having Las Vegas serve as your introduction to the American way of life.
Beach parties, snap backs, and beer bongs anyone?
A YouTube video followed that now infamous meeting on that July summer night. The video showed an elated, almost childlike, McGregor beaming in the front seat of White’s Ferrari, cruising the Las Vegas strip, and blaring out rock music as the cluttered lights of Las Vegas Boulevard flew by.
You know, just like your first trip to Vegas…
That Ferrari carriage ride was preceded by a five-star dinner and plenty of talk about fighting and career goals.
“It was a fun conversation. We were talking back and forth about all sorts of things,” he recalled. “It was crazy. I had that Kobe beef! You know that Japanese beef?! That’s unbelievable!
“First off, I tried to be fashionably late. You know, show up 10-15 minutes late. So I walk in and they tell me Dana is not here yet. So I sit down and I wait. I still got my shades on. And then after a little bit Dana walks in and I jump up and say what’s up and everything. It was a really fun night.”
When McGregor was unable to make media obligations the next morning for a local radio show, it wasn’t the late-night rendezvous with White and his Ferrari that kept him up until the early morning, causing him to miss the appointment. It was McGregor – a former recipient of social welfare in Ireland – and his inability to calm down after fully realizing the opportunity being placed at his feet.
Okay, maybe the Ferrari had a little something to do with it.
“How can I not be driven and focused now?” exclaimed the 25-year-old. “After cruising around town in a Ferrari soft-top with the Don – you know what I mean, the Don of the fight game – how could that not keep me on the straight and narrow? How could that not keep me focused?
“That’s why I couldn’t sleep. It’s like five o’clock in the morning and I’m still shadowboxing in the (expletive) mirror. I’m just thinking of things. I couldn’t sit. I’m just saying, ‘Okay, three more fights and I’ll have a Ferrari shipped out to Dublin!’”
Whether there was a deal to get the 145-pound brawler an Italian pony after three more wins is a reality or not, one thing is for sure, that dinner, and whatever was said between White and his new-found diamond in the rough, has McGregor overflowing with confidence.
“All this going on, it just makes me want to train,” he stated. “It makes me want to work. I’m not getting comfortable. You see people getting comfortable all the time; they think they have one or two or three fights in the promotion and they’re part of the furniture, you know what I mean? They don’t think they have to put in the work. They don’t think they have to show up and perform. I don’t feel like that. All of this is driving me to the gym, it’s driving me to work,” said McGregor.
“I was even saying that to Dana last night. I said, ‘I know you don’t bring people out to dinner who are on the prelims and stuff.’ I told him don’t think I’ve been getting comfortable, I know this is a business. I need to be ready, I need to stay in shape and be available for any things that may come my way. That way when the call comes, I’m ready to perform.”
With McGregor’s fan-friendly approach to fighting and his propensity for scoring knockouts at a weight class where finishing ability is at a premium, the brash slugger is primed for a star-making run in the UFC featherweight division.
His loose (some call it “wild”) fighting style has endeared him to legions of fans across the globe. Many of his followers are already relishing the possibility of seeing their favorite fighter in a title fight someday soon… something obviously not lost on Dana White.
“He actually said, ‘I’d like nothing more than for you to fight for the belt tomorrow, but I don’t want to rush you.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re not hurting me Dana. I’m ready to go.”
When asked why he thinks the president likes him so much, McGregor offers little explanation, other than he doesn’t care why.
“I don’t know why, but he’s a cool guy. What they’re doing for guys like me; where would the sport be without them? I have the coolest boss in the world. My boss is a (expletive) billionaire, so my life is good,” he said with a chuckle.
“He’s from Southie, right? He’s from Boston? So that definitely helps.”
McGregor has another opportunity to impress “the Don” when he meets Max Holloway at UFC Fight Night 26: Shogun vs. Sonnen on Saturday at the TD Garden in “the long-lost city of Ireland,” Boston.
(Follow @RyanMcKinnell on Twitter)