Inside the mind of Conor McGregor

To say Conor McGregor was born to fight might actually be an understatement.

Fighters will tell you they "live and breathe" mixed martial arts, that it's their way of life, or it determines their sense of purpose or personal identity. For McGregor, MMA certainly is all of that, but it also feeds his cerebral and inquisitive nature.

"I've been doing this since I was born," he said. "It has been in me, naturally, to want to fight."

At an early age, fighting intrigued him -- not because he was getting picked on or he was picking on anyone or anything cliché such as that. Rather, he'd ruminate over his movements and strategy; he'd dissect and break down even the smallest playground fight during a game of soccer.

"I remember I head-locked a guy on the field. It was like a judo attack -- I tried to lock up the head and the arm. I think I was 6 or 7," McGregor said. "That was a little go-to move back in the day. I probably flinched and tried to grab my opponent's head and get him to the ground, like most beginners."

Indeed, if you've got a "go-to move" by age 7, you're probably destined to be a fighter.

"Yeah, you hear that story all the time that someone was getting picked on," he said. "I didn't, but where I grew up, fights would happen. Most young boys, wherever they grow up on planet Earth, when they're growing up they get into fights. I was no different.

"No one was picking on me; I was picking on nobody. But I was just a little more curious about fighting than other kids. Other kids you'd see get wrestling and fighting, then two seconds later it's out of their brain and they're back playing together. But me, it wouldn't be out of my brain. I'd be sitting there and thinking, 'I should have moved that way. I should have done this or that.' That just fed and built my curiosity into fighting."

McGregor says by the time he was eight, he started training to be a fighter, but not in the traditional sense of training. He said before he ever stepped foot in a gym, he had already been training in his mind.

"You don't need to have gone to a gym for it to be the specific day you started your training," McGregor said. "Probably from that very day on the soccer field, I was always thinking to myself, 'What should I have done? What way should I have moved to fight that guy? So should I have executed something else there?' But I think around 8 years of age, I really got serious thinking about fighting all the time, self-defense."

Now, as McGregor approaches Dennis Siver, his opponent at UFC Fight Night on Sunday in Boston, and as the all the momentum builds behind his growing popularity, he isn't getting caught up in it all.

Siver doesn't scare him, nor does UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo.

"I don't feel intimidated by anybody, and I've never really have felt intimidated by anybody," McGregor said. "We all breathe the same air here. I do not feel intimidated by nobody."

But don't mistake his confidence as arrogance. He knows this is all he has ever wanted to do, and his mind is completely focused on the fight.

"I'm in this bubble, trying to perfect my movements to become more free, more fluid," McGregor said. "It's embedded in my head. I'm not thinking of anything else."

McGregor brings his serenity to the Octagon too. Other fighters lock in with intensity or anger and emotion. Not McGregor.

"You always hear about a guy's speed, power, toughness. What you don't hear is calmness, the ability to be calm," McGregor said. "The perfect fighter must be calm in situations. Calm under fire. It's a pressure bubble in that Octagon when you hear nothing but the roar of the crowd.

"You must find comfort in those situation -- not fear or panic. It's not all about power or speed. It's about being calm. Your mind has to be 100 percent free and clear. You have to trust that what you are doing is correct."

If McGregor can find that happy place Sunday night, his path should be clear: a shot at Aldo and the UFC featherweight title.