This Saturday night, the MGM grand garden arena in Las Vegas will play host to UFC 178. The show will be headlined by flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson defending his title against relatively unknown challenger Chris Cariaso. Although you would hardly know it from looking at a lot of the promotional material surrounding the event. The reason for this is Dublin’s own Conor McGregor. The McGregor promotional machine has caused enough of a buzz to overshadow the rest of the spectacular card. Ireland is united behind their favourite fighting son and the rest of the world is clambering to see what will happen. They want to see him win or they want to see the hype train come to an abrupt stop, either way, they want to see him. To truly become a megastar in the fight game, it never hurts to be a polarising figure.
Currently 3-0 in the UFC and coming off a first round knockout win in Dublin last July, Conor is facing what nobody denies will be his biggest test to date in Dustin Poirier. 8-2 in the UFC the American is good everywhere and always dangerous. At the media day stare downs on Thursday Conor and Dustin had to be separated by UFC president Dana White, the chest pumping will almost certainly continue until fight day. McGregor seems to revel in this sort of occasion where as Poirier appears to be letting Conor’s antics get to him. Fighters will often look for any mental edge in the lead up to a contest, round one to Ireland’s own.
A lot of the media attention in the run up to Saturday has focused on what appears to be highly preferential treatment for Conor from the UFC. The fly on the wall promotional series ‘Embedded’ recently showed Conor and Dana White hanging out in a fancy hotel room in Las Vegas watching last weeks fights and eating room service, while on Dustin’s segment he was doing some local radio interviews. This isn’t new behaviour however as in only his second UFC appearance Conor was given the blackout treatment for his entrance in Boston. They dim the lights to add to the flare of a fighters walk to the octagon, a treatment usually reserved for champions or main event fighters. His third fight was a main event slot in his hometown and his fourth is the third fight from the top on a huge pay per view card brimming with talent, a former champion and UFC veterans. One can hardly blame the UFC, they are in the money making business, they know a marketable star when they see one, and McGregor still has to perform in the cage. Still that’s not likely to make Dustin Poirier feel any better about the situation.
So what will a win mean for The Notorious One? Potentially anything and everything, but it will all depend on many other factors. If he gets the 1st round KO he predicts, he is sure to call out champion Jose Aldo who defends his title against Chad Mendez in Brazil in October. If the pay per view numbers come back huge, he could even skip the winner of the upcoming Frankie Edgar VS. Cub Swanson fight and get his wish. More often than not timing is everything in the UFC, and McGregor stays ready. There are those who say anything short of a UFC belt will mean that Conor has not lived up to the hype, the problem with talking such a good game is that you have to constantly back it up. I think Conor relishes in and feeds off of that pressure. If he wins on Saturday night, he will have overcome a huge test, proven a lot, but still have to deal with the voices asking if he really is that good. Those voices should just be a little quieter.
MMA has come along way in Ireland in the last year. 3e will even be airing the event two days later on Monday night. The event at the 02 in July permeated all forms of mainstream media, with another win for Conor, expect that trend to continue. With three more SBG trained fighters competing in the UFC in the coming weeks there has never been a more exciting time for MMA in Ireland. If you have never before seen a UFC fight night, make an effort to see this one. If you already watch every event then get your friends to watch, explain to your family members about how it’s not some barbaric cage fight. Get everyone who will listen on board and support our nations athletes, the way only we can.
Philip Hannafollow Philip on Twitter @Philiphanna_