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Letter from Las Vegas: It's McGregor's world - and the rest of us are just waiting for him

Niall Kelly was at Wednesday’s open workouts in the MGM Grand – waiting, like everybody else.

Fans at today's event Fans wait for Conor McGregor at the UFC 196 open workouts Source: Raymond Spencer/INPHO

– Niall Kelly reports from Las Vegas

“LOOK AT THESE guys! I have friends who won’t wait for me if I’m five minutes late,” one journalist remarked as the clock edged towards 3.30pm, nearly a full hour after Conor McGregor’s scheduled arrival time.

The packed room at the MGM Grand was still every bit as full as it had been when the open workouts started two-and-a-half hours earlier. For many, just queuing to get in to the Jabbawockeez Theatre was a mission which had taken up most of their morning.

Needless to say, nobody was leaving yet.

Waiting for McGregor is a part of life now for everyone who moves within his sphere, be it officials, organisers, media or fans. It is one of the first rules of engagement when it comes to dealing with the UFC featherweight champion.

L. Jon Wertheim had to wait for him and, as the Sports Illustrated writer noted in the intro to his recent cover story, that power to compel people to willingly hang around is the acid test of celebrity.

In McGregor’s case, these are often the same people who are first to dig deep for merchandise, pay-per-views, travel expenses, tickets. Their patience is much more indicative of his star status than the taxi driver who, zipping from McCarran Airport to the Las Vegas strip late on Tuesday night, commented unprompted: “You’re from Ireland? You guys have a great fighter” — a quick and easy crowd-pleaser honed for the airport run.

A fan at today's event Source: Raymond Spencer/INPHO

Here’s another unwritten rule of life in McGregorland: every event is his event, no matter who else might be sharing the stage.

That was apparent from the moment his opponent at UFC 196 this Saturday, Nate Diaz, first appeared and was greeted by a chorus of boos.

Diaz’s response? His trademark one-fingered salute, though the edge was taken off by a knowingly playful grin.

Support in the UFC has never really been organised along the partisan lines of nationality but when you’re up against McGregor, there is no such thing as home advantage.

The Irish accents were dotted around the room, and you can be sure that their number will increase steadily between now and fight night.

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But for every fan who had made the transatlantic trip, there were another two or three Americans who were just as proud to be wearing McGregor’s replica Reebok shirt or runners (or both), or a Dethrone t-shirt featuring his image, or brandishing a tricolour.

Conor McGregor with Owen Roddy McGregor works out with striking coach Owen Roddy. Source: Raymond Spencer/INPHO

That’s not to say that every person in the room was there to see him. Diaz, women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm, and her challenger Miesha Tate all had their fans, particuarly Holm who broke away from her workout to pull a young girl from the crowd and teach her some dance moves.

“Conor’s an exciting fighter, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be main event,” she said knowingly when asked if she was disappointed that her first title defence was not topping  the bill.

“It’s no big deal to me.”

When McGregor finally arrived, he didn’t disappoint — working out for longer than the other fighters; spending more time answering media questions than the other fighters; signing more autographs and posing for more selfies than the other fighters.

Something for everybody.

“The fans’ support has been absolutely insane and I’m forever grateful,” he said.

A lot of these other champions, a lot of these other people, they get an opportunity to leave a whole event and leave fans who have been queuing up for months to get tickets and support the event, and then they just pull off the card and don’t give a shit. They don’t care about the fans.

And what about missing out on dos Anjos and a shot at history by becoming the first man to simultaneously hold two UFC titles?

“I’m here for a fight and a cheque and that’s it. Fuck the belt.”

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Saturday could spell the beginning of the end for Conor McGregor’s time as a featherweight

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Niall Kelly

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