Sunday 26 February 2017

'This means everything... it's my life's work' - Conor McGregor ready to make history at UFC 205

Gareth A Davies

UFC president Dana White, centre, stands next to Eddie Alvarez, left, and Conor McGregor during the weigh-in for Saturday's UFC 205
UFC president Dana White, centre, stands next to Eddie Alvarez, left, and Conor McGregor during the weigh-in for Saturday's UFC 205

The rise and rise of Conor McGregor, UFC's biggest star, has seen him become the king here in the Big Apple, with the major slice of publicity in this historic event poised for Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. The man in the white mink coat has carried the air of one who already holds the UFC lightweight crown, to sit alongside the featherweight title he won in 13 seconds against Jose Aldo a year ago.

And yet McGregor, in this turbulent week in US politics, has yet to pull his trump card on the incumbent champion at 155lbs, Eddie Alvarez. McGregor believes the contest with the Philadelphian will allow him to expose technical deficiencies, though questioning the will of the American would be beyond the pale. Indeed, the feeling is that McGregor may have to get the job done and the safe locked before the end of the third round in this contest. From this, seat, anyway, that's how I see it.

McGregor managed to upstage Alvarez at Thursday's news conference, the champion seemingly flummoxed by the Irishman's antics: turning up late; stealing his belt, and at one pointy even picking up a chair in WWE-style gesture. It was part-panto, part real time energy, but once it all settled down the war of words was won by McGregor - and his fans. That said, these histrionics will have little bearing when the pair trade leather and bone in the Octagon for a Madison Square Garden UFC first.

“He’s flustered," McGregor reckoned after the men faced off with their respective belts. "I just have fun and tell the truth and tell how the contest is going to go and that does a sound job. I’m not trying to specifically say something or get something. I just do whatever happens. I’ll be ready for five rounds, but I think I’ll hit him and he’ll fall.”

McGregor insists he has taken nothing for granted. Five years ago, he was picking up a dole cheque. Now he's the main man in the global phenomenon that the UFC sports franchise continues to be.

Headlining New York, and the fighting history the venue holds, such as Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier in 1971, and the names who have fought here - Joe Louis, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Roberto Duran, Rocky Marciano - to name just a few, has not been lost on the irascible Irishman who has been a lightning rod for a generation coming to the sport and identifying with the colourful, and at times controversial, mixed martial artist.

“This means everything (fighting in New York and headlining). It’s my life’s work. I worked hard to get here. I’m enjoying every single moment and I won’t let nobody take it away from me,” explained 28-year-old McGregor who has become a multi-millionaire in the last two years, now commanding 7-10million US dollars per fight. On the possibility of taking a second concurrent belt on Saturday night - which has never been in the 23-year history of the UFC, he added: “Let’s see what happens. Again, I'm living in the moment. I’m in the moment, and enjoying every bit.”

Dana White, the UFC president, could not be happier that McGregor has brought his entertainment to the event. "Madison Square Garden is the most famous arena on earth," White told me. "To hold an event here, when this goes down on Saturday night, when everyone starts walking in and the fight starts happening ... I rarely stop and take it all on -- we're always going 100 mph -- but I will on Saturday. The fight to get here was ridiculous, it should've never happened, but it has made it a bigger event, more special, and I wouldn't change it."

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