Skip to main content

Paul Hughes’ recent career trajectory couldn’t have gone much better.

The Irishman, who, like McGregor, has held a Cage Warriors world title (or two, in McGregor’s case), was successful in his Bellator/PFL debut on June 22 inside Dublin’s 3Arena, stopping the very game American Bobby King with a barrage of strikes prior to the conclusion the second round.

Watching on from cageside was the man whose achievements Hughes is aiming to emulate: Conor McGregor. And while Hughes has designs on chasing lightweight gold in is new home (as well as pursuing the PFL’s $1 million season prize), ‘Big News’ used his time on the mic in Ireland’s capital last month to pay tribute to the man responsible for the sport’s boom in the Emerald Isle.

“It came from the heart,” Hughes told Ariel Helwani during a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, via MMA Fighting.

“Dan [Hardy] asked me the question, ‘How does it feel having Conor McGregor here?’ I had just seen him, he came up to the cage, I was looking at him, and I just spoke from the heart. That’s the reality. I’m just speaking the truth. He did break down the mental barriers for us young lads coming up, especially coming from the island of Ireland.”

The coronation of Irish MMA’s next big thing came a decade or so removed from McGregor’s own starmaking turn in the same arena, where he scored a first round finish of Diego Brandao and declared (also to Dan Hardy) afterwards his now infamous line about Ireland’s combat sports athletes being set to “take over.”

“Just 10 years ago he was fighting Brandao in the same arena, and that was the beginning of his rise and the beginning of the change of Irish MMA forever,” Hughes explained. “Then 10 years later, he’s inspired me and I’m in the same arena, co-main eventing my first huge, global show. And there I am having an interaction with him cageside. It just felt right to thank him, because it was just the truth.”