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UFC still working on a McGregor fight in Dublin but 'it's very complicated to bring him back'

Irish fans are keen to see him compete on home soil again.

Conor McGregor was at the SSE Arena in Belfast on Saturday night for UFC Fight Night 99.
Conor McGregor was at the SSE Arena in Belfast on Saturday night for UFC Fight Night 99.
Image: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

CONOR McGREGOR HAS been linked with a fight at Croke Park ever since he became one of the UFC’s most valuable commodities.

McGregor is now the organisation’s biggest star and the first fighter in its 23-year history to hold two titles at the same time. However, a mixed martial arts event at GAA headquarters still appears to be a pipe dream for now.

The reigning UFC featherweight and lightweight champion has made no secret of his desire to fight in Dublin again — something he hasn’t experienced since his first-round stoppage of Diego Brandao at the 3Arena in July 2014.

Since then, McGregor has only fought in the US — fives times in Las Vegas and once each in Boston and New York. Nine days ago, the 28-year-old dethroned defending lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez at Madison Square Garden.

With a baby on the way and some financial issues to resolve with the UFC, the details of when McGregor will return to the octagon are unclear. The organisation’s head of operations in Europe has also admitted that bringing a McGregor fight to his native Ireland is a “complicated” process.

On Saturday night at the SSE Arena in Belfast, the UFC acknowledged the rapid growth of MMA in this part of the world by hosting a show on Irish soil for the third year in a row. With McGregor in the audience, Gegard Mousasi defeated Uriah Hall in the main event.

In the post-event press conference, the possibility of McGregor fighting in Ireland again was broached with James Elliott, the UFC’s Vice President and General Manager of Europe, Middle East and Africa.

James Elliott James Elliott, the UFC's Vice President and General Manager of Europe, Middle East and Africa. Source: UFC

“We’re working through all the different possibilities for Conor. Obviously there are a number of things up in the air at the moment. We’ve made no secret about the fact that we’d love to figure out a way to get it done,” Elliott said.

“He’s gone on to such success that it’s something which I know he’s keen to try and get done as well. It’s very, very complicated to try and bring him back, particularly to Dublin. We’ll always try and figure out the best way of getting it done if we can. We’re working on it.”

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Croke Park bosses have already expressed their interest in hosting McGregor and the UFC. Bringing a fight to the largest stadium in their biggest star’s hometown would aappear to be a no-brainer for the UFC, but there are logistical hurldes to overcome.

The time difference between Ireland and the US is understood to be the main issue. A curfew for live events in Dublin dictates that the UFC would need to have a show wrapped up by 11pm (3pm Pacific Standard Time), which doesn’t tie in favourably with primetime TV slots and maximising pay-per-view sales in the US.

Headlined by Englishman Michael Bisping’s successful middleweight title defence against Dan Henderson, the UFC held a pay-per-view event in Manchester last month. But with no such curfew in place there, it was after 5am local time when Bisping and Henderson entered the octagon.

UFC president Dana White has often paid lip service to Irish fans by claiming that a Croke Park show is imminent, but he has yet to deliver on that promise. As the man largely responsible for ensuring that the UFC is successful in Europe, James Elliott is clearly keen to do whatever he can to bring a McGregor fight to this side of the Atlantic.

UFC 204 - Manchester Arena A sold-out Manchester Arena in the early hours of Sunday, 9 October for UFC 204: Bisping v Henderson. Source: Pete Byrne

The achievements of McGregor, Bisping and Joanna Jedrzejczyk [the UFC's strawweight champion from Poland] have helped to increase the value of the European market to the UFC. But with McGregor continuing to break pay-per-view records, the decision to put their most lucrative revenue source at risk becomes even more difficult for UFC bosses in Las Vegas.

“We’re very confident in the abilities of not only the team to deliver those kinds of events, but also the markets to support them. If you look at the way the markets have grown over the last two-to-three years, we’re in a completely different level to where we have been,” said Elliott.

“As long as that continues, it makes my case a lot easier every time we go and start discussing where we put these fights. The fact that we’ve got more European champions now than we’ve ever had before means that those conversations are also easier to have.

“If we can bring some big-level events, if we can get the right pieces to fall in the right places, then we’re definitely looking to bring the biggest events we possibly can to this region and particularly to these markets where we’ve been so successful over the course of the last two years. It’s definitely something we’re looking at.

“It’s a complicated business putting it all together, but if we can do, there’s no limit to our ambition for these markets so we’re going to keep pushing as hard as we can.”

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Paul Dollery

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