Conor McGregor: Grappling to meet Ireland’s most famous fighter

Conor McGregor pictured after claiming victory in an Ultimate Fighting Championship event in Boston. Credit: PA

Conor McGregor is to mixed martial arts what Cristiano Ronaldo is to football. Rich, talented and charismatic. But try getting an interview with him and you might be asked, like we were, to stump up a significant fee.

We were in Dublin primarily to interview his protégé Nate Kelly, a promising 11 year-old, who’s already claimed dozens of titles and medals in kick-boxing and Taekwondo.

Eleven-year-old Nate Kelly is a mixed martial arts prodigy. Credit: ITV On Assignment

Nate trains at the same gym as McGregor and clearly it would have been a bonus to “grab" Conor for a quick chat while we were there. I subtly asked what car Conor drove, just in case I spotted him pulling up.

“A big fast black Merc” I was told. I thought nothing more of it as we filmed, convinced that Conor would stay clear of the gym that day knowing a film crew was inside. About an hour later I was filming a “piece to camera”, where I was talking about the explosion in popularity of MMA, claimed by some to be the fastest growing sport in the world.

Behind me I could hear the rumble of a powerful engine and caught a flash of black and chrome gliding past. It was Conor and I couldn’t have been any less inconspicuous. It’s highly probable that he saw my cameraman and immediately performed a U-turn, driving back up the busy dual carriageway.

That was that, I thought. My one chance to hear from Ireland’s most famous fighter and I’d blown it before it even began. We ended up staying quite late at the gym filming, and after dark a few hours later the same black Mercedes pulled up. But maybe someone tipped him off that we were still there and the car left soon afterwards.

Conor 'Notorious' McGregor (right) fights Dennis Siver at an UFC Fight Night in January 2015.

Despondent, we wrapped our shoot for the day and headed into Dublin for supper. Our first choice steak joint was packed and couldn’t find a table for us, so we wandered until we found somewhere to eat.

Eventually another restaurant told us there’d be a table free in thirty minutes, so we had a drink and chewed over our near miss with Conor McGregor.

Finally, with our stomachs rumbling, we headed down to our table, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. Or rather who. There at the very next table to ours was…Conor McGregor. Of all the tables, in all the restaurants in Dublin, he couldn’t have been sitting any closer to us.

He was enjoying a quiet meal with his girlfriend. My producer and I sat down, glancing nervously at each other. I don’t think Conor noticed us, but it was too embarrassing for me.

I felt I HAD to say something, worried he’d recognise us at any minute and would assume we’d followed him. I was worried about the reaction of a man who has never been knocked out in his fighting career, but after a few tortured seconds, I leant over and introduced myself, my face flushing with embarrassment. I blurted out something about it being “total coincidence”.

Conor McGregor appeared to be a far cry from his 'bombastic image' during a chance meeting.

I stuttered my way through a stumbling, tongue tied explanation, probably coming across as a mixture of Hugh Grant and Woody Allen.

But rather than exploding with rage, Conor couldn’t have been more polite or charming. He seemed as bashful as I was. It was all a far cry from his bombastic image and from the way he earns his living.

Conor’s rumoured to be on the verge of signing a 100 million dollar contract; yet here he was eating at a nice, but humble steak restaurant, still apparently with his feet firmly on the ground. Conor left a few minutes after we sat down, having been pestered by a fan for a photo first.

I hope we didn’t ruin his evening. I’m sure he thinks we’ve placed a tracker on his car or hired a Private Investigator to tail him.

Anyway, Conor, if you are reading this, we didn’t, it was just fate…so how about that interview?!

Watch 'On Assignment' on Tuesday at 10.40pm on ITV.