He was once a plumbing apprentice. But today, Conor McGregor is a household name. UFC champion McGregor has elevated the popularity of mixed martial arts — and made a pretty penny. On the heels of his biggest career payday, a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, McGregor set out to conquer a new realm: the whiskey market. So far, his latest venture, a whiskey brand called Proper No. 12 valued at $200 million, is paying off handsomely.
From UFC to businessman
Despite his relative youth, at 32 years old, McGregor has already had quite a storied career. Four years after his 2008 MMA debut for the Irish Cage of Truth promotion, he won the Cage Warriors Featherweight Championship. Six months later, McGregor captured the Cage Warriors Lightweight Championship.
His rising popularity inspired UFC President Dana White to sign him to a multi-year contract in 2013. There, he was undefeated for three years. In 2015, he captured the Interim Featherweight Championship as well as the Featherweight Championship. After avenging his first loss to Nate Diaz in 2016, he won the UFC Lightweight Championship, becoming the first two-division champion in UFC history.
As his star rose, so did his fight purses. By the time he bested Eddie Alvarez in UFC 205 to win the Lightweight Championship, he was earning a guaranteed $3 million per fight, according to The Sun. But that paled compared to his payday with boxing champ Floyd Mayweather. Though McGregor lost via 10th round TKO, he walked away with a guaranteed $30 million. However, with a negotiated revenue-sharing agreement of pay-per-view dollars, McGregor told Forbes that he walked away with over $100 million.
If you follow McGregor on social media, you’ll see he’s blown some of that dough on expensive toys and suits. But he’s also wisely invested a good chunk of the money in business ventures, notably Proper No. 12 whiskey, which may be his biggest win yet.
How Conor McGregor developed Proper No. 12 whiskey
Shortly after the Mayweather fight, reports Vine Pair, McGregor displayed a bottle of his Proper No. 12 whiskey at the post-fight press conference. However, it would only hit shelves a year later. He’d been working with Ken Austin, who, along with McGregor’s manager and the fighter himself, own Eire Born Spirits, which produces the brand.
Austin had previously worked with rapper Jeezy to found Tequila Avíon. Pernod Ricard later bought it for more than $100 million. He’s also worked with Dwayne Johnson on Teremana tequila, one of the fastest-growing tequilas on the market, reports Vine Pair.
Austin approached McGregor about collaborating on a spirits brand, seeing the marketing value McGregor could bring to the table. As Business Insider reported, Austin and McGregor worked with master distiller and former Guinness employee David Elder to perfect the taste. Working at Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery, they tried nearly 100 blends before choosing the one that became Proper No. 12.
Behind Proper No. 12’s meteoric growth
And McGregor has been very involved in all aspects of the brand. Indeed, its very name stems from the fighter. In an Instagram post, McGregor notes his roots in the Dublin suburb of Crumlin 12 and that he is a proper Irishman, hence the name. It’s one of many social media posts about the brand. He frequently appears with a bottle in hand at his public appearances.
McGregor’s work as a pitchman is undoubtedly fueling Proper No. 12’s popularity. He’s able to tap into the UFC market, whose demographics overlap quite a bit with that of whiskey drinkers. Irish whiskey drinkers tend to be males between 25 and 34 years old. While three-quarters of UFC fans are 18- to 44-year-old males; nearly half of them are heavy social media users. As McGregor continues to use every opportunity to promote Proper No. 12 online and offline, sales have been soaring.
Proper No. 12’s sales are still far below market leader Jameson. However, according to The Irish Times, McGregor’s whiskey is now the fourth highest-selling in the world. That’s an incredible accomplishment, given that it’s been on the market for only a couple of years. And given its tremendous upside-potential, it’s valued at an eye-popping $235 million. And given that Eire Born Spirits owns 51 percent, Proper No. 12 has likely already added close to $100 million to McGregor’s bottom line.
There’s always a risk when you launch a new business. But in this case, whatever risk McGregor took with his upfront investment in Proper No. 12 turns out to have been well worth the reward.