How Conor McGregor went from welfare cheques to world’s richest athlete

Conor McGregor’s alarm would go off at 5am. He’d drag himself out of the spare room in his mum’s house he was sharing with his girlfriend and walk in the dark, freezing cold Dublin morning until he reached a nearby highway.

After being collected from a pick-up point, he’d spend 12 hours working on building sites as a plumber before heading home and doing it all over again the next day.

Today that same man wakes as the richest athlete in the world.

McGregor’s inspiring rags-to-riches tale reached a new high on Thursday when he topped Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-earning sports people.

The financial magazine estimated the UFC superstar had raked in more than $200 million in 2020, which saw him surpass the likes of last year’s No. 1 Roger Federer and perennial contenders Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

It’s a staggering result given McGregor was still collecting $280 social welfare cheques the week before his UFC debut in 2013.

How Conor became filthy rich

Conor McGregor is the biggest star in UFC history. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

McGregor defeated his opponent in just 67 seconds in his first fight in the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in the world, earning him an extra $60,000 USD for a knockout of the night bonus to go with the $8000 he was paid to appear and an added $8000 he earned by winning.

It was more money for a minute’s work than he’d ever earned in his life and the first stepping stone in his rise to the top.

Eighteen months later he appeared on pay-per-view for the first time and pulled in $200,000 as he quickly finished Dustin Poirier in their first bout.

But that quickly looked like pocket change after he started headlining cards and winning belts. He started making millions in wins against Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo before becoming the UFC’s highest-paid fighter during his two fights against Nate Diaz and entering the Forbes top 100 for the first time.

Made the Forbes 100 today.
Still in the hood.

The achievement clearly meant something to the Irishman and he began plotting his way up the rankings.

He broke the record for the biggest gate in UFC history while winning the lightweight championship against Eddie Alvarez and off the back of that historic event jumped to 24th the following year.

McGregor had the likes of Ronaldo — who topped the 2017 list — in his sights and even told the football superstar he’d catch him soon.

But to do that he needed to step outside the cage to really maximise his earning potential.

Learning the money game from Mayweather

Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr broke the bank. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

McGregor has never really complained about the way he’s been remunerated by the UFC, which is often criticised by the boxing world for the comparatively smaller pay packets its fighters earn.

They have had squabbles over contracts from time to time but the promotion has largely treated its golden goose like he deserves to be treated.

The biggest example of this was when McGregor was able to leverage his soaring popularity by forcing UFC president Dana White to set up a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather in 2017.

It’s the only time White has ever allowed a fighter under contract to compete outside his banner, but it made sense for all involved as Mayweather made $280 million, McGregor pulled in $130 million and the UFC also took a slice.

It was enough to push McGregor to fourth on the Forbes list behind runaway leader Mayweather and Messi and Ronaldo.

“If I had of fought on the agreed May 12th bout in Rio de Janeiro, I would have surpassed Ronaldo and Messi to take 2nd place,” McGregor wrote at the time. “Something came up however … Ah well, still under 30.”

But rather than being the next step on his way to becoming numero uno it actually sparked a slide.

Suddenly blessed with riches he’d never imagined McGregor’s appetite for competing appeared to dim and his life away from sport was plagued with controversy and run-ins with the law.

A stroke of inspiration amid the turmoil

Conor McGregor started spending more time in court rooms than the cage. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)Source:Getty Images

Without any fight purses as he went two years without competing in the UFC, McGregor tumbled to 53rd on the Forbes list.

But amid the turmoil he made a critical decision that would set up the biggest payday of his life — getting into the whiskey business.

McGregor co-founded Proper No. Twelve and used his incredible social media reach to make the brand an instant hit.

Despite only sporadic appearances in the cage, it became McGregor’s meal ticket as he sold his stake in the company for nine figures and finally claimed top spot on the list he’d been monitoring for years.

McGregor made nine figures from the sale of his whiskey company.Source:Instagram

McGregor is yet to react to the news as he continues to prepare for his trilogy bout against Dustin Poirer in July from his 2021 base in the Middle East.

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