“In my lifetime I’ve seen few examples of visualization as obvious or impressive as that exercised by UFC fighter Conor McGregor, who in the span of three and a half years went from a relatively unknown but reasonably accomplished regional circuit champion to the promotion’s first ever simultaneous two-division world champion and the biggest pay-per-view draw in mixed martial arts history.”
Motivational Monday: Visualization and How Conor McGregor Became a Legend in 3 Years
12 min read
Visualization is something that is often talked about as a valuable tool but paradoxically it’s rather difficult to see or understand or, well, visualize, if you haven’t specifically benefitted from it yourself or seen someone else use it to great effect. We’ll talk about that more in a moment.
I differentiate visualization from the power of self-fulfilling prophecies or the law of attraction. When I say visualization I’m referring to the specific process of effortfully picturing scenarios in which you are performing some action and focusing on potential outcomes of that action or series of actions as a form of practice.
And in my lifetime I’ve seen few examples of visualization as obvious or impressive as that exercised by UFC fighter Conor McGregor, who in the span of three and a half years went from a relatively unknown but reasonably accomplished regional circuit champion to the promotion’s first ever simultaneous two-division world champion and the biggest pay-per-view draw in mixed martial arts history, breaking records for the company’s all-time highest pay-per-view buyrate three times in a single calendar year. He also set records for the highest disclosed pay rate and highest grossing athlete in mixed martial arts history. But even among all of these astonishing accomplishments, the thing that I find most fascinating about McGregor is the fact that he publicly stated and predicted many stages of his career with alarming accuracy, to the extent that he is widely known also as “Mystic Mac.”
That’s where I want to focus today. Indeed McGregor’s trash talking antics and lavish lifestyle have endeared him to a wide audience of casual mixed martial arts fans, and certainly his physical skills and talents are considerable, but one thing so often discussed about McGregor is his mindset and his incredible ability to visualize outcomes that he goes on to materialize. His predictions about his fights and career trajectory have made him fascinating even among those who loathe his public persona.
So what exactly does McGregor’s visualization pattern look like? Well, in chronological order:
Prior to ever developing considerable skill, a young McGregor is pictured in pre-fight video interviews stating with steadfast confidence that he will one day be champion in his current organization and that afterwards, he would be seen in the UFC.
McGregor goes on to become a champion in the European organization Cage Warriors. He publicly claims he will be a two weight world champion.
In his next fight, McGregor wins by knockout to become the first Cage Warriors dual-weight world champion. He states publicly that he will be seen in the UFC where he will repeat his accomplishment, a feat nobody has ever achieved before.
McGregor nearly gives up on the sport due to financial struggles. He has stated in interviews that he drove his girlfriend’s car to get to his plumbing job and to collect welfare checks. On these drives, he recalls imagining himself driving a brand new car with such fervor that he could all but feel the steering wheel of a brand new luxury car.
McGregor receives the call to join the UFC and wins his first fight in impressive fashion. He earns a Knockout of the Night bonus that nets him $60,000 USD, more money than he’d ever had in his life by considerable margin. He again repeats his intention to dominate the division.
Following his next victory, McGregor is sidelined with an ACL injury. He tweets in June 2014 the sole statement, “Two belts and shares in the company.”
For his next fight, McGregor’s brash, ultra-confident stage personality truly emerges, and in many pre-fight interviews he says his opponent will overcommit and be knocked out in the first round. In front of an electric hometown crowd in Ireland, he defeats his opponent by knockout in the first round, and proclaims famously, “football stadiums and world titles, that’s what I want — we’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over.”
Again, McGregor states of his next opponent that he will, quote, “clatter his head off the canvas inside one round.” In front of a Las Vegas crowd, he dispatches his opponent in one minute and forty six seconds by way of knockout. In another famous soundbite, he states, “I don’t just knock them out. I pick the round. You can call me Mystic Mac, because I predict these things.” His opponent is quoted saying he had never in his career been so mentally shaken by the confidence of an opponent. McGregor begins campaign more aggressively than ever for a chance to challenge the champion, a man undefeated for a decade, claiming frequently that he would defeat him in a single round.
McGregor’s star has risen, and though his next fight is not against the champion, he will star in his second headline event. Though his two-minute knockout prediction for this fight misses the mark by a few minutes, he reiterates in his post fight interview that he said he will become the champion, and that he will do it.
McGregor is scheduled to fight the champion and the two go on a world media tour in a highly anticipated fight. Two weeks before the bout, the champion pulls out due to a rib injury. McGregor publicly states of his replacement opponent that “they are all the same” and was reported to have offered to bet UFC president Dana White “three million dollars that he would win by knockout in the second round.”
McGregor delivers on his prediction, knocking out his opponent at the very end of the second round. He states that he accepted the fight against a very different opponent on short notice and with a torn ACL in order to prove to the fans that he is in fact the best featherweight in the world.
Around this time, it should be noted that McGregor purchases several cars, realizing his previous dream of owning a brand new car.
Again McGregor is scheduled to fight the undisputed champion in a fight that was largely considered one of the most anticipated in the sport’s history. McGregor states in many interviews that he believes the champion will come into the fight over-eager, and that he would over-extend on the right hand which would create the opening for McGregor’s notoriously dangerous left-hand counter, and that this scenario would unfold inside of the first round.
On December 2015, McGregor meets long-time champion Jose Aldo, the promotion’s only Featherweight champion and widely considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time. In the opening exchange, Aldo fakes a left hand and throws the right. McGregor takes a single step back, deflecting the right hand and countering with the left. Aldo immediately falls to the canvas unconscious, and McGregor takes a lap around the Octagon with no change of expression. The thirteen second knockout was the fastest title fight victory in UFC history. At the post-fight press conference, a journalist repeats a McGregor quote that describing the exact scenario that played out in the fight. With a smile, McGregor states again that he simply visualize these things, and they happen.
McGregor’s next fight is scheduled, a weight class up to challenge for the championship title a weight class above where he’d just become champion. Again on short notice, McGregor’s opponent pulls out with an injury, and McGregor accepts a fight yet another weight class up against UFC veteran Nate Diaz. He predicts a first round knockout, which does not materialize. McGregor’s notoriously durable opponent weathers the early storm and finishes McGregor in the second round with a choke. McGregor admits defeat and says he needs to go back to the drawing board.
UFC president Dana White describes McGregor as obsessed with the rematch against Diaz, and that he demands it be done the same way, as a main event and in the same weight class. The fight is scheduled and McGregor is uncharacteristically out of the limelight in the lead-up, stating in comparatively brief media appearances that he has a significant challenge to overcome and he wants to focus on training for the bout.
The rematch against Nate Diaz breaks UFC pay-per-view buy rate records, and in this bout McGregor breaks the record for highest disclosed pay in mixed martial arts history. In a fight many consider to be one of the best of all time, McGregor implements a game plan specifically tailored to defeating his opponent, and he narrowly claims a judge’s decision. He again produces a famous post-fight quote, a prepared line which he later tells his coach and girlfriend he had planned out for months.
With winning momentum back in tow, and with his international stardom at an all-time high, McGregor again repeats his intentions to become a two weight world champion, and repeats his intention to break every quantitative record in franchise history with regards to pay-per-view, fighter pay, and live gate. He is scheduled again for a title bout against the new champion, veteran Eddie Alvarez. McGregor repeats in the leadup that he looks forward to slinging one title belt over each shoulder. He predicts victory by way of knockout, stating that Alvarez is a tough veteran whose skills are average and that he would be easily countered throughout the bout, and that the only question in his mind is how many times would Alvarez be able to get up due to his toughness before he is no longer able to recover. McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh predicts that Conor will win by knockout around the 8-minute mark.
In November 2016, Conor McGregor faces off against Eddie Alvarez for an opportunity to become the first simultaneous two-weight UFC world champion. In a performance fans, commentators, and journalists called “flawless,” McGregor sustains nearly no damage en route to finishing Alvarez with punches in the second round, only three minutes after the 8-minute mark predicted by his coach. McGregor’s demeanor remains unchanged as he celebrates the achievement, as though unsurprised by the outcome. On finally being handed both belts, he slings one over each shoulder and in his post-fight speech he concludes with the statement, “it’s what I dreamed into a reality.”
And finally, in the post-fight press conference, he demands an equity stake in the company if he is to fight again, harkening back to his Tweet in 2014 where he stated, “Two belts and and shares in the company.”
So aside from simply being an impressive story of accomplishment in athletics, the story of Conor McGregor is an amazing example of the power of visualization. If you are not visualizing yourself excelling and winning in the things you are doing, ask yourself: are you in fact excelling and winning? Can you excel more? Can you win more? If so — and I think for most people the answer to those should be yes — then don’t be afraid to set aside time each day, even if it’s ten minutes in the morning or before bed at night, to really focus on imagining yourself handling scenarios in the manner you’d like them to unfold. And further, don’t be afraid to put it out in the world, a topic which we will discuss another time. You too can be your own Mystic Mac. Get out in the world and start turning your wishes into intentioned thoughts and your intentioned thoughts into reality.