Dave Sholler first met Conor McGregor in August 2013 at UFC Fight Night 26, and he won’t ever forget his first impression of the then 25-year-old fighter – particularly that strut – about to make just his second octagon appearance against Max Holloway.
“I remember meeting him at the Wang Theater in Boston, and he walked kind of behind the curtain,” Sholler, the former UFC vice president of public relations, told MMAjunkie. “And he has that big, like (WWE Chairman and CEO) Vince McMahon swagger walk that he has. And he walks that way every day. He walks into the convenience store that way. He walks into Target that way. That’s how Conor walks.
“And I remember saying, ‘Man, this guy’s got some confidence.’ And I remember it just stuck with me.”
Four years later, that confidence has led McGregor to accomplish so much.
He won the UFC interim featherweight title. He unified the featherweight title in stunning fashion. Then he won the lightweight title, which made him the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold belts in two divisions.
After all that, now there’s “The Money Fight.”
McGregor (21-3 MMA, 9-1 UFC) faces Floyd Mayweather (49-0 boxing) in a boxing match on Aug. 26 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in a pay-per-view event expected to be the most lucrative prize fight of all time.
That McGregor, with zero professional boxing experience, has put himself in position to earn a potential $100 million – his biggest payday by a long shot – is an astonishing achievement in itself.
“What this guy has turned into and what he’s become is incredible,” UFC President Dana White told MMAjunkie during last month’s Mayweather-McGregor world tour. “I call him the unicorn. He’s unlike anybody I’ve ever dealt with.”
McGregor has called his shots the entire way, too.
He said he’d beat Chad Mendes for the interim featherweight title and did. He said he’d beat Jose Aldo to become undisputed champion and knocked out the greatest featherweight of all time in 13 seconds. He said he’d beat Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title and made it look easy.
Sholler saw all of it happen up close. He admitted he thought none of it would.
“There have been times where I’m like, ‘There’s no way Conor is beating this guy,’” Sholler said. “There’s no way Conor can outstrike Jose Aldo or survive the wrestling of Chad Mendes or not get pinned up against the fence against Eddie Alvarez. … They’re so highly proficient in those skills. You look at Conor, you’re like, ‘How’s he going to solve this puzzle?’
“He says it, and he does it. And we laugh. He calls himself ‘Mystic Mac.’ But damn, he knows what he’s talking about.”
For more than a year before Mayweather-McGregor became a serious idea, the two men trash-talked each other on social media. Of course, McGregor instigated it; he wanted this fight all along. Initially nobody thought anything would come of the barbs. White was against the idea of McGregor boxing Mayweather.
But as the Twitter and Instagram posts increased, the media started asking questions. Mostly it was just McGregor doing the talking, with the former pound-for-pound boxing king comfortably retired.
Sholler, who left the UFC in November 2016 to become the Philadelphia 76ers vice president of communications, was with the MMA-industry leader when Mayweather-McGregor was still just a fantasy. But it was a fantasy being talked about loudly by the UFC lightweight champion.
For all the reasons you’d expect – Would White go for it? Would Showtime go for it? Would Mayweather go for it? – Sholler didn’t believe the fight had a chance at becoming reality.
“I don’t want to say I said never,” Sholler said. “… But I just didn’t know if it could get across the line.”
Four months after Sholler’s departure from the UFC, and still roughly three months before an official announcement, McGregor erupted on boxing media at Madison Square Garden, declaring “I am boxing” for the first time. That was the moment that convinced Sholler.
“I said, ‘This guy – he’s doing it again,’” Sholler said. “‘He’s willing this thing into existence.’ And I’ll be damned. He gets Dana on board, he gets Showtime on board, and he gets Floyd on board. He’s a special character.”
So here we are, fewer than two weeks away from what’s being called the biggest event in the history of combat sports – one expected to break records. McGregor naturally is a big underdog against Mayweather. To many, he stands zero chance at winning – or even landing a punch of consequence.
McGregor, meanwhile, is supremely confident, guaranteeing he’ll finish Mayweather inside of four rounds – or two if they fight in eight-ounce gloves.
Sholler understands why there are so many McGregor doubters, but he’s also seen how this story line ends before. The way Sholler sees it, McGregor’s left hand is “the great equalizer” – land that, and McGregor has “the chance to change the course of Floyd Mayweather’s history.”
“Conor McGregor, to me, is the one human being in my lifetime that I’ve met that believes everything that comes out of his mouth,” Sholler said. “And I don’t mean that negatively. He talks a lot about visualization. I think it’s a powerful tool to be quite honest. A lot of us in our lives are trying to get to certain points, and I think getting there is a lot easier when you can visualize it – touch it, taste it, feel it. Conor believes and wills things into existence.”
A win over Mayweather would be the biggest thing yet.
For more on “The Money Fight: Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor,” check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.