Conor McGregor can recall his last fight with hair-raising detail: The warm beer flowing between his bare feet; the crowd, roaring but muted by intense focus; the tunnel before making his walkout, the view of the awaiting fans and the intense calmness that swept over him as he entered the arena.
It should come as no surprise that “Notorious” — or “King” as seems to be his chosen moniker these days – can relay the details of that July summer evening with such perfect clarity. After all, that was the day Conor McGregor, a native of Dublin, Ireland, made his hometown debut, defeating Brazilian Diego Brandao with a vicious onslaught early into the first round. The performance sent the crowd inside the O2 Dublin Arena into a frenzy, and it officially marked the birth of a 26-year-old international MMA superstar, whose hometown fan-base happens to come from one of the most historically fight-rich regions on the planet.
After asserting his “takeover” of Dublin, McGregor is now setting his sights on Sin City, and fellow featherweight Dustin Poirier at this weekend’s UFC 178 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. And for McGregor – whose pale complexion and tidy, full length suit would suggest otherwise – he claims that not only is Vegas next in line for his self-proclaimed takeover, but it’s a perfect marriage for ‘The King” and his proverbial desert queen.
“Honestly, I feel like a tropical person. I love the sun. This feels like home to me,” said McGregor draped in what has now become signature custom fitted attire – attire supplied from a special tailor provided by UFC owner, and Vegas casino mogul Lorenzo Fertitta.
The Irishman arrived in town a few weeks early to help himself get acclimated to the time change and arid landscape. He is currently holed up inside a suite at the Red Rock Casino Hotel and Casino just off the Strip, and is meeting with a select group of local media for a roundtable discussion regarding his looming fight with “The Diamond” in just a few days.
Having spent the last two years building an undefeated UFC record (3-0 UFC/15-2 MMA) and earning a hearty reputation for slinging verbal venom, McGregor now finds himself fighting for the very first time on pay-per-view, in what most pundits are heralding as one of the more enticing cards of the year.
“Pay-per-view is where it’s it. You want them big, big paychecks, you gotta bring in those pay-per-view numbers,” he said. “So, this is my start on the pay-per-view. “
He quickly reminds everyone how his last fight was the most watched event on terrestrial television in his native country, and how it was wildly successful in North America on the company’s online streaming service, UFC Fight Pass. He talks about how he could sell out a soccer stadium in Europe tomorrow if the word came down, and he is just as confident about his drawing power stateside, “I’m only starting my journey,” he exclaims. “This is the start of the takeover. I’m gonna take over the pay-per-view game. This whole game is mine.”
As he speaks, it’s hard not to notice the documentary crew from RTÉ — Ireland’s equivalent to NBC or CBS: “It’s channel 1, get me?” — in tow behind him, remaining an ever-present sign of his growing popularity.
The slick-tongued promo-machine already had a one-hour special air on the network last year and it was so wildly successful that RTÉ is expanding it into a multi-part documentary this time around. Only now, the increasingly keen businessman has made sure that he’s in on the ground level, serving as executive producer and seeing the fruits of his fistic labor end up where it counts most.
His bank account.
“Now it’s a little bit different. Now I’m a bit bigger than the first one,” he says with a chuckle. “Now you gotta pay me.”
“Nobody has ever seen somebody like me. Nobody from the nation of Ireland has ever come out the gate throwing shots like I throw, speaking the way I speak, dressing the way I dress. I could go on.”
And he does.
With all the distractions (the suites, the documentary, the suits, the growing responsibilities of an international athlete) it is entirely logical to wonder if McGregor is looking past a deadly featherweight contender, in Poirier, come Saturday night.
“No, not really,” he replies when asked if there is any worry he might be too comfortable headed into this weekend’s showdown. “Because, ultimately, this is an uncomfortable situation. If you think about it, for ninety-nine-percent of the people, it’s an uncomfortable situation. But I am comfortable in the uncomfortable. That’s is what I’m trying to get across. That is what getting to perfection is about. That is what getting to a higher level is about.”
He says he isn’t looking past Poirier. He says he isn’t letting the suite-life get to him. He says he has all energy focused on his opponent at UFC 178.
This rhetoric is all well and fine, and he may truly be focused on “The Diamond” one-hundred-percent, but his employer has a trip planed for their rising prospect in the very near future.
Hint: It isn’t back to Dublin.
And it is safe to say that even if McGregor isn’t looking past his next opponent, then perhaps the UFC might be. That is because when Brazilian featherweight champion, and perennial all-time great José Aldo meets Chad Mendes on October 25th in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 179, McGregor will be in attendance.
The UFC is flying McGregor down to Brazil to sit cage-side for the next featherweight title fight. What could be the purpose of this journey, you might ask?
A face-to-face opportunity with the winner of Aldo/Mendes, perhaps?
There is little point speculating if the UFC plans to give the 26-year-old a title shot at the winner of UFC 179, because if McGregor has his way, then he might be fighting for gold come late October anyway.
“Who knows, I might stick a few banana peels around the weigh-in area,” he says with a smirk. “If someone falls…that ain’t my business!”
The room erupts.
One reporter asks if McGregor will be learning any Portuguese (Brazil’s native language) for his inaugural journey to South America.
He pauses, and for a second, you can almost see how proud he is of himself. A coy sneer forms around the edge of his mouth, and he proclaims, “Kings don’t speak. Kings just have to wave.”
The room erupts.
It is unavoidable at this point: Conor McGregor has “it.” The only question that remains now is: Can McGregor back up the braggadocio? Can the brash brawler capitalize on his growing popularity with wins instead of his quick wit?
Up until now, he has has done a fine job managing both. However, on Saturday, he meets Dustin Poirier in the toughest test of his 17-fight career, and the MMA world will quickly learn if Conor McGregor is truly a King, or just another Jester.