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Ariel Helwani Tells Balls.ie About His First Encounter With Conor McGregor

Ariel Helwani Tells Balls.ie About His First Encounter With Conor McGregor
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For many people on the other side of the Atlantic, the first glimpse of Conor McGregor was when he was popping blueberries and lamenting being so broke that he didn't even have a 'pot to piss in' on Ariel Helwani's The MMA Hour.

It was a few weeks prior to the Dubliner's UFC debut in Stockholm against Marcus Brimage and Helwani, now a six-time winner of the MMA journalist of the year award, asked McGregor to appear on his show via Skype. So electric was McGregor's appearance on the show that it set in motion an MMA hype movement which endures to this day - and, in fact, will reach near supersonic levels next weekend when McGregor faces Nate Diaz in the Octagon once more.


Helwani appeared on the Balls.ie MMA Podcast this week and told hosts John Balfe and Mikey Traynor that, while he initially wasn't overly-familiar with McGregor's personality, it didn't take him long to understand that he was dealing with a special character.

I don't know if a lot of people saw this coming, that he would become one of the biggest stars in the history of the sport. If you recall, at the time he came on the show it was around a month and half before his UFC debut and I recall when he won his second Cage Warriors a couple of months before, a lot of the Irish fans - as they have often done when it comes to Conor - they were very vocal and they were telling me on Twitter, 'you need to get this guy on the show'. I knew who he was but I wasn't really all that familiar with his personality.

Almost as soon as the interview was underway, Helwani knew something special was happening.

I remember telling him that I didn't recall having this many requests for an international fighter before and then, two minutes in, I recognised that this was a special kind of character. He is different and it was one of the most enjoyable interviews that I have ever done because I didn't really have many expectations for it and I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't really think all that much of it, I just thought, 'OK I'm going to appease the Irish fans and it was very clear to me by the end of it that the guy had this star quality that we always talk about. Afterwards, I remember talking to (MMA Hour producer) New York Ric, you can see on the clip, we talk about if that was the greatest interview in the history of the show. It was very clear right then and there that it was a special thing.


It is sometimes said in the fight game that it is very difficult to hold a grudge against someone after you have spent time in the cage with them - and this appears to be true when it comes to Diaz and McGregor. The press conferences and media appearances prior to the pair's first clash in March were laced with animostity and verbal barbs. McGregor's rhetoric suggested that Diaz didn't deserve to be in the cage with him.

The Californian, on the other hand, was angered by what he perceived to be McGregor's expedited rise to the top of the sport after he had toiled away in the UFC for the better part of a decade and was still chasing the type of paydays which had become commonplace to his Irish rival.

While ultimately it was Diaz who underlined his point to the greater extent, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a growing level of respect between the two fighters since their first encounter. Diaz could have taken a shot at McGregor's refusal to show up for a press conference earlier this year which led to him being pulled from the UFC 200 card, instead saying that he understood the reasoning behind the decision.


McGregor, too, has always been a proponent of staying with the same coaching team throughout your career - a sentiment echoed by Diaz, who has trained under the tutorship of Richard Perez since his teens.

How does Ariel Helwani define the camraderie between the pair?

First of all, Conor is a very likeable person if you get to know him and get to be around him. Nate is a very likeable person if you get to know him and get to be around him. One thing that I have always appreciated about Conor is that he has been very consistant throughout his entire UFC career. The way he handled the loss [to Diaz] has been incredibly impressive. He really put out the blueprint, in my opinion, on how to handle a loss of that magnitude.

Conor essentially plucked Nate out of the pack and said, 'that's going to be my guy'. When he saw Nate say what he said in the cage after the Michael Johnson fight in Orlando in December, I think there was something about that that Conor admired. Look, the guy has got some massive - pardon the pun - balls, he's calling [him] out on national television in a very direct way.

Now is where it gets really interesting. Immediately after the fight Conor says, 'I don't want to fight for the featherweight title. I want this guy again and I want him at 170'. The book the fight but Conor gets pulled from UFC 200. [The UFC] puts Nate up in front of the world and hope that he will embarrass Conor and side with the UFC. What does he do? He flips the script and says I'm not fighting anyone but Conor. And right there the bond continues to get forged.

They have been working in unison, and never interacting behind the scenes, but both are very smart businessmen.

You can listen to the entire interview with Ariel Helwani on the first episode of the Balls.ie MMA Podcast below.

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