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A letter from Las Vegas: McGregor isn’t the only show in town on International Fight Week

We’re in Las Vegas with UFC 189 just days away.

The MGM Grand plays host to UFC 189 on Saturday.
The MGM Grand plays host to UFC 189 on Saturday.
Image: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

– Paul Dollery reports from Las Vegas

THE FLOW OF Conor McGregor’s fans into Las Vegas has been more of a trickle than a flood so far, but that will change significantly as this week unravels.

The Irish are coming — 2,500 of them from Ireland itself, according to McGregor — with many more travelling from other parts of the world to see ‘The Notorious’ take on Chad Mendes here on Saturday night for the interim UFC featherweight title.

There’s no denying that UFC 189 is the McGregor show, but it’s also an important event for fellow Dubliners Cathal Pendred and Neil Seery, who’ll both be on the preliminary card aiming to maintain their current win streaks.

This is International Fight Week on the UFC calendar. The organisation is laying on several fan events here in Las Vegas over the coming days to keep visitors of an MMA persuasion entertained, in addition to Invicta 13 on Thursday night, which features Limerick’s Catherine Costigan.

The IMMAF Amateur World Championships are also taking place. The Straight Blast Gym quartet of James Gallagher, Sinéad Kavanagh, Frans Mlambo and Kiefer Crosbie are flying the Irish flag.

There’s plenty on offer for genuine mixed martial arts fans throughout the week, but in spite of all that, most are here for one man only.

In the Whiskey Down bar in the MGM Grand Hotel, a question about the outcome of Saturday’s co-headliner — welterweight champion Robbie Lawler versus Rory MacDonald — was dismissed by a trio of Irish fans who had just arrived, having driven from San Diego: “Who cares?” and “There’s only one fight that matters” was the general gist of their responses.

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11101507_943503212378835_3435991243341994992_n Chad Mendes and Conor McGregor are the focal point in the lobby at the MGM Grand. Source: Paul Dollery/The42

It’s an indication of McGregor’s pulling power that a world title fight between Lawler and MacDonald has received such a lack of attention, but anyone who has forked out to attend this Saturday’s show would be naive to ignore a bout of that calibre. The same can be said for most of the card — from top to bottom.

When Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo embarked on their promotional world tour back in March and the hype machine went into overload, with four months still to go it seemed that UFC 189 would never arrive. Fight week is finally here, so is the main man McGregor, but Aldo has been replaced.

“It sucks that Conor’s not fighting the champ anymore,” said the US official at pre-clearance in Dublin Airport after inquiring as to the purpose of my visit. “I can’t root for Conor now that he’s fighting a fellow American. I’ve got to go with [Chad] Mendes. I don’t think he’ll beat Mendes. It would just be rude to go to the US and beat one of us up, right?”

With five days to go, the hard work is done for Conor McGregor and his main focus now is trimming down to 145lbs for Friday’s weigh-in. Temperatures here are set to exceed 40 degrees celsius for most of the week, so saunas and salt baths might not be required to shed those last few pounds.

The revised UFC 189 posters — with Mendes taking Aldo’s place — are impossible to avoid, and although there’s still a UFC belt on the line this week, it’s difficult not to wonder what might have been had the most eagerly-anticipated bout in modern MMA history not been scuppered by a fractured rib.

Nevertheless, the Irish fans will still be here in huge numbers, many of them without tickets. If you’re in the business of selling cold beer or Factor 50 suncream on the Las Vegas strip, as Conor McGregor would say — it’s big business and business is booming.

It’s been a long journey from a shed in Galway to the MGM Grand for Neil Seery

‘He knows just enough wrestling to get himself in trouble’ – Chad Mendes analyses McGregor

About the author:

Paul Dollery

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