Few names in the world of sports and entertainment command as much attention and admiration as Conor McGregor.
The 35-year-old Irish mixed martial arts (MMA) champion has been a global superstar since his 2015 victory over José Aldo in just 13 seconds. The iconic knockout earned McGregor the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight title, as well as the fastest knockout in a title bout in UFC history.
The first fighter to hold UFC championships in two weight classes simultaneously, McGregor has long had the most recognizable name of any MMA fighter, among both fans of the sport and the general public.
But despite his explosive entry into the sport more than a decade ago, and his consistent dominance of his opponents before the eyes of millions of spectators around the world, McGregor built his fame upon more than just prowess in the octagon.
To many, what makes McGregor a role model is his astute business acumen.
His journey from struggling teenage plumber in Dublin to jet-setting multimillionaire entrepreneur is a source of inspiration to fans seeking to emulate his resilience, charisma and strategic vision.
Raised in the working-class neighborhood of Crumlin, the young McGregor knew that if he was to have any chance of escaping the mundanity of a blue-collar existence, he would have to fight for it.
His initial interest was in football, and he played for a local youth league.
“I was big into football as a kid, but more as a player than a watcher,” he said in an interview in 2015. “I admire their athleticism and their dedication. Ronaldo is a phenomenal athlete. His speed, his takeoff from a standing start and his ability to operate at high speeds are impressive.”
After being bullied at school, McGregor would channel his own speed and athleticism into his next great passion – boxing.
Training since the age of 12, he developed skills in the boxing ring that would later prove invaluable in his MMA career, and later, in his historic boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2017, which earned him at least US$100 million.
Starting with his professional MMA debut in 2008, McGregor swiftly developed a following through his ferocious fighting style and habit of putting his opponents down.
After McGregor won featherweight and lightweight titles in the Irish Cage Warriors promotion, Irish fans bombarded UFC President Dana White with requests to sign him, and it was not long before White offered him a contract in 2013.
However, his performance in the ring has only been one part of the story. McGregor’s trash-talking and psychological warfare have earned him the nickname ‘The Notorious’, painting him as a brash, larger-than-life character, which has served McGregor beyond the sport, particularly in his many entrepreneurial pursuits.
Hints of the persona appear in the numerous endorsements McGregor has done for brands like Monster Energy, Reebok, Bud Light and Burger King, earning him millions. For example, in a 2017 advertisement for Beats by Dre, McGregor is seen preparing to train as a children’s choir sings ‘Juicy’ by The Notorious B.I.G.
Beyond endorsements, McGregor has ventured into the fashion industry, launching his own clothing line, August McGregor, in collaboration with custom clothier David August. The line features stylish suits, casual wear and accessories, which embody McGregor’s signature blend of elegance and swagger.
August McGregor owes much of its success to McGregor’s deft use of his personal brand and the marketability of his image. In characteristic McGregor fashion, one of the brand’s slogans is “Whoop ass and look good”.
Not content to settle with success in fashion, in 2018, McGregor made a major foray into the beverage industry with the launch of Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey. Named after the Dublin 12 neighborhood where he grew up, the whiskey was crafted in collaboration with master distiller David Elder.
McGregor’s vision was to create a whiskey that not only paid homage to his Irish roots but also reflected his commitment to quality and authenticity.
“The decision to make my own Irish whiskey brand was a lifelong dream. I’ve always loved Irish whiskey, and I always knew I could create businesses and really preferred that to being the commercial face of someone else’s product,” he said in 2022.
“That’s where my entrepreneurial side comes through. I have been part of all the work – the tastings, the sales and distributor calls, the meetings. Proper No. Twelve is who I am and reflects my vision. Proper No. Twelve is in my DNA. It is part of my legacy.”
Proper No. Twelve quickly gained traction, capitalizing on McGregor’s global fanbase and the growing popularity of Irish whiskey. Even in a crowded market, the brand stood out, not just for its celebrity association but for the quality of the product.
McGregor’s hands-on approach to the venture, from the selection of ingredients to the design of the bottle, showcased his dedication to making Proper No. Twelve a premium and authentic brand.
And despite famously apologizing “to absolutely nobody” following his victory over Eddie Alvarez in 2016, McGregor decided he would issue an apology after stocks of Proper No. Twelve sold out soon after being launched.
“I don’t usually see reason to apologize, but in this case, I want to take this chance to apologize to absolutely everyone for our out-of-stock situation,” he said at the time, assuring customers that he had visited the distillery to hammer out plans to restock in Ireland and the United States.
Beyond its commercial success, Proper No. Twelve has also demonstrated McGregor’s philanthropic side. A portion of the profits from each bottle sold is donated to first-responder organizations and charities, aligning the brand with a sense of social responsibility.
This decision not only enhances the brand’s reputation but also reflects McGregor’s desire to make a positive impact beyond the world of sports and entertainment.
McGregor and his business partners eventually sold their majority stake in Proper No. Twelve to Proximo Spirits, which previously had a 49 percent stake, in a deal reportedly worth US$600 million.
“While we sold the brand in 2021, me and my founding partners plan to continue to play a major role in the brand and its success for years to come,” he said in 2022.
After entering the whiskey scene, it was a logical next step for McGregor to enter the hospitality sector. In 2020, he did just that, with the purchase of The Black Forge Inn, a pub in his hometown of Crumlin, Dublin.
The establishment quickly gained popularity, attracting both locals and tourists alike and winning awards for being one of the most beloved bars in the city.
McGregor’s personal touch and involvement in the pub’s operations has further enhanced its appeal.
Capitalizing on the success of The Black Forge Inn, McGregor expanded his pub portfolio in 2021 by acquiring The Marble Arch pub in Dublin’s Temple Bar district. This iconic venue, steeped in Irish history, became a strategic addition to McGregor’s hospitality empire.
Beyond pubs, a natural extension of McGregor’s entrepreneurialism was into the beer industry with the launch of Forged Irish Stout in 2021. This premium Irish stout, crafted to reflect McGregor’s heritage and fighting spirit, quickly gained recognition for its smooth taste and robust flavor.
Like Proper No. Twelve, Forged Irish Stout received a boost from McGregor’s strategic partnerships and marketing savvy. A collaboration with the renowned Porterhouse Brewery in Dublin ensured the quality and authenticity of the product.
As usual, McGregor also leveraged his social media following and celebrity status to promote the brand, generating significant buzz and demand.
Following the stout’s success at home, McGregor announced in late 2023 that it would soon be available across the United States.
“It’s time the world got to experience a true Irish stout that is 100 percent Irish, compared to the competition,” he said. “My team and I have worked extremely hard to produce the world’s creamiest stout here in my brewery in Dublin, Ireland, and it is breaking all records in Ireland and the UK. Now it’s time to take over the USA.”
From early on in his journey, McGregor has understood the importance of branding and self-promotion. Recognizing the particular power of digital media, he founded The Mac Life in 2016, an online platform that provides fans with exclusive behind-the-scenes access to his training, lifestyle and personal journey.
The Mac Life has evolved into a multimedia powerhouse, featuring videos, articles and interviews that offer a unique glimpse into the life of one of the world’s most celebrated athletes.
But the success of The Mac Life extends beyond its content creation. McGregor has leveraged the platform to forge partnerships and collaborations with various brands, further expanding his reach and influence.
The Mac Life exemplifies McGregor’s understanding of the shifting dynamics of media consumption and his ability to stay ahead of the curve in the digital landscape.
Summarizing his business successes in 2022, McGregor said: “I have so many interests though – starting with the best public house in all of Ireland, The Black Forge, which will become a global restaurant powerhouse with more locations to open in the future.
“Plus there’s TIDL, McGregor FAST and my newest creation, Forged Irish Stout, which are all quality products that I am proud to own. The McGregor business empire is just beginning.”