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A letter from Las Vegas: 'You've come all the way from Ireland for the Robbie Lawler fight?'

The build-up to UFC 189 is in its final few days.

Las Vegas is preparing itself for an Irish invasion.
Las Vegas is preparing itself for an Irish invasion.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

– Paul Dollery reports from Las Vegas

SEVERAL QUITE SPECTACULAR buildings compete for dominance on the skyline along the Las Vegas strip, but the MGM Grand reigns supreme.

There are a few famous faces emblazoned over its emerald green facade; David Copperfield, Calvin Harris, Floyd Mayweather too… but Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes have joined them in the build-up to their bout on Saturday.

Mayweather was here in May to defeat Manny Pacquiao in the biggest bout in the history of boxing. Some believe that this weekend’s UFC 189 main event is its MMA equivalent. That point was at least worth a debate until Jose Aldo’s withdrawal due to injury.

Conor McGregor’s fans have started to arrive here in Vegas over the past 48 hours but the majority are still en route. Until then at least, it seems that this week is no different to any other for the locals.

The cab driver who transported me to the Flamingo Hotel and Casino on Monday for the opening day of the IMMAF Amateur World Championships was able to provide some perspective.

“You’ve come all the way from Ireland for the Robbie Lawler fight?” he asked in jest, referencing the manner in which this weekend’s UFC co-headliner has flown under the radar due to the hype surrounding McGregor versus Mendes.

He added: “I’m a UFC fan so I know that this week is a big deal for the UFC, but for most people around here it’s not something they even know about. But you can tell that they [the UFC] invested a lot in building this fight up.

“The weekend we had the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight, there was no comparison. This place was crazy, people everywhere. Thousands of them who didn’t even have tickets. It ain’t going to be like that this time… unless you guys end up bringing the entire country.”

IMG_3684 The UFC 189 headliners keep a watchful eye over the Las Vegas strip. Source: Paul Dollery/The42

The entire country won’t quite be here, but there’ll be a considerable Irish presence nevertheless. In addition to those travelling from Ireland, Conor McGregor’s fans are also coming in from other parts of the US, Canada and Australia too. It might be just another Saturday night in Las Vegas, but for these fans it’s the weekend of a lifetime.

Dean Connolly and Seamus O’Leary have made their way to Vegas from Sydney, where they both now live. Seamus hasn’t been home to Tipperary since Christmas 2013 but there was no way he was missing out on this trip.

“My family don’t even know I’m here,” he told me, satisfied to take the risk that his cover may be blown by this very article. “If they did they’d bite the head off me for not going home for a year-and-a-half. But the father is after becoming a big Conor McGregor fan so knowing my luck he’ll arrive out here as well and I’ll be caught out.”

A long-awaited trip home has been put on hold, so why has Seamus O’Leary come to Las Vegas for this weekend’s fight when he hasn’t been able to afford to make it back to Ireland in so long?

“I’ve been watching the UFC for years,” he said. “The likes of Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva were my heroes… but they were from other countries. Now that an Irishman has come along and is challenging for a UFC belt, there’s not a chance I could miss that.”

As for McGregor himself, everything appears to be on track for his interim UFC featherweight title challenge — in spite of the rumours that he’s struggling to make the 145lbs weight limit in time for Friday, which have clearly provided some amusement within the camp.

We’re still a few days away from fight night but the Irish have already been made to feel at home here. In the early hours of yesterday a flash flood warning was issued by the City of Las Vegas. Exceptional hospitality.

And even the desert heat has taken its foot off the pedal — not that the Irish will notice. Temperatures are apparently quite cool for this time of year, closer to 35 degrees celsius than 45. Balmy.

The build-up to UFC 189 will crank up a notch today, with Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes — along with co-headliners Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald — due to hold open workouts at the MGM Grand, while the UFC 189 press conference will take place at 7pm Irish time on Thursday.

The protracted build-up is finally almost at an end. McGregor versus Aldo will have to wait for another day but McGregor versus Mendes will certainly suffice for now. And depending on the outcome, Seamus O’Leary might even make a detour on his way back to Sydney.

“I’ve a nice few dollars on McGregor to win in the second round so that might get me home to Tipp for a few days first if it comes in. So Conor, if you’re reading this, it’d make my mammy very happy if you could let Chad survive the first round!”

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Paul Dollery

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