Friday 23 February 2018

A week in the life of Paul Kimmage and the bright lights of Las Vegas for Conor McGregor v Floyd Mayweather

A general view of T-Mobile Arena prior to the the super welterweight boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Conor McGregor in Las Vegas, USA. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
A general view of T-Mobile Arena prior to the the super welterweight boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Conor McGregor in Las Vegas, USA. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

It had been bothering him all week, a simple question that was fundamental to watching sport: Who did he want to win? It had happened before at the World Cup and the Tour de France and watching tennis tournaments and athletics meets, but rarely when an Irishman was involved. And you could say a lot about Conor McGregor.





But he was definitely Irish.

It was almost time now. The great and the good — Leonardo DiCaprio and Mike Tyson and William H Macy and Puff Daddy and LeBron James and Bruce Willis and Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael Irvin — had been waltzed across the red carpet and escorted to their seats.

He looked up and the giant screen over the ring was projecting a radiant Jennifer Lopez and her beau, Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez, and he thought of what John Kavanagh had told him about her party last year and the way she had greeted him: “Oh Conor McGregor! Thank you for coming. Let’s dance.”

She was here for him.

Then the Arena erupted as the camera cut to the dressing room where McGregor was being fitted with gloves. Seven fights had concluded and a world title had just changed hands but none had elicited such a thunderous response from the crowd.

They were here for him.

But the reporter was conflicted.

Why am I here?

He thought of a piece he had read once about the race to the White House in 1988 and the probable head-to-head between the favourite George Bush and Gary Hart, the dashing young Democrat from Colorado. The writer was trawling for opinions and had asked a woman at a Republican convention how she intended to vote: “My heart says Bush but my bush says Hart,” she replied.

Maybe that was the key; maybe the truth is how you feel. But it was still grating on him.

Who am I rooting for?

Walking to the arena, on the pedestrian bridge linking the Excalibur hotel to ‘New York New York’, he had passed a small crowd engrossed in a game of Find the Pea — the timeless swindle designed to separate suckers from their cash. The reporter hated being suckered. He had made his name spotting the pea and had called the fight on radio the moment it was announced: “The joke is on us.”

It wasn’t rocket science. Floyd Mayweather, a 49-times undefeated multiple world boxing champion in five weight classes, was taking on a 29-year-old mixed martial artist who had never boxed professionally before. “Come on folks,” he’d scoffed. “Do the math.” And yet here he was, two months later at the T-Mobile Arena in Vegas, Section 1, Row 7, Seat 6, being suckered by the buzz.

The crowd were humming now. Jimmy Lennon Jr had joined the swarm in the ring and was about to do his thing. “LAY-DEES AND GEN- TEL- MEN,” he boomed. “Before we bring out our main-event fighters, we ask at this time to please rise for the singing of the national anthems. We begin first with the national anthem of Ireland; please welcome to the microphone EEE-MEL-DA MAAAY.”

The reporter liked Imelda May — especially since she had cut that ridiculous quiff from her hair — and her rendition of Amhran na bhFiann really moved him. It was starting now. He could feel it. The emotion was flooding his logic and drawing him to McGregor. And why not? His story was incredible. 

Jimmy had picked up the mic again: “The time for talk is over,” he announced. “Live from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, IT’S SHOW-TIME!”

McGregor was in the tunnel now, staring impassively at the camera beaming his face around the world. You couldn’t tell he was taking on a superstar; you couldn’t tell he had never boxed before; you couldn’t tell that just five years ago he was a nobody drawing the dole. He strode towards the ring with complete and utter conviction.

The reporter reached for his notebook and began scribbling frantically.

Wow! What a moment! McGregor has some balls!

And in that moment, he could not have admired him more.

Monday, August 21

Indecent Proposal

The reporter receives a last-moment (possible) accreditation for Mayweather/McGregor, spends the price of a small car on a flight to Las Vegas and discovers Sin City hasn’t changed.

Some truths are painful but should not be ignored: I’ve had my ass kicked on this story. On July 3, when Wright Thompson — the best sports feature writer in the US — was making plans to shadow McGregor from Dublin to his training camp in Nevada, I was still trying to pretend this story didn’t matter.

On July 12, when Greg Bishop from Sports Illustrated was sitting on a private jet with McGregor and travelling from a promotional stop in Toronto (“That wasn’t a press conference,” McGregor says, swallowing unsalted almonds and cashews. “That was a f***ing rock concert.”) to a promotional stop in Brooklyn, I was still trying to pretend that this fight was just a laugh.

But the joke is on me this morning as I climb out of bed. I’ve abandoned a holiday in Portugal, booked a last-minute flight from Dublin, and suspect I’m really going to struggle for the week.

Joe Brolly is standing in the queue at US Preclearance.

“Is that a British passport you’re holding?” I smile.

“Aye,” he snorts, unimpressed. “A lot of good you boys down here were to us.”

“Where are you off to?”

“Washington,” he says. “I’m raising funds for a Hospice in Mayo. You?”

“Vegas. I have a ticket for the circus.”

“Nice trip,” he says. “But what are you wasting your time at that for? You’ll see a better fight outside the Castle in Dungiven on a Friday night.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I concur.

Conor McGregor

I would not be travelling at all if it wasn’t for McGregor’s coach, John Kavanagh, and a tweet he posted on July 3, likening McGregor to Rocky Balboa and Mayweather to Apollo Creed in Rocky: “49-0 until he faced a tough southpaw that nobody gave a chance to.” It was an interesting analogy. Did Kavanagh, a seriously bright man, really believe McGregor had a chance? His tweets certainly suggested as much:

July 12: “He (Mayweather) should have stuck to hitting girls and running strip clubs. He’s awoken a dark dark animal that he’s only met in his worst dreams.”

July 13 (a quote from Mark Twain): “Don’t you know, there are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to.”

July 27: “I’ve been with Conor a while. This is the best physical condition I’ve ever seen him in. Unparalleled work ethic.”

August 12: “RD 12 + 250 punches. We’re ready.”

August 15: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

The message being pushed was clear: this wasn’t going to be a boxing match, it was going to be a fight. And McGregor could fight.

But you do a lot of thinking at 30,000 feet and by the time I’d reached Vegas I had been travelling for almost 24 hours and was ready to cash my chips. I took a short walk at midnight from Treasure Island (my hotel) to Caesars Palace to stretch my legs. It was 30 degrees outside and the Strip was hopping. An old boy with a kindly face and a red T-shirt handed me a wad of cards that I mistook as some flyers for food:

$99 for Dora

$99 for a special with Kathy and Pam.

$125 for Wendy with no hidden extras.

Sin City had lost none of its charm.

Tuesday, August 22

No Country for Old Men

The reporter is astounded that Donny and Marie is the top-rated show in Vegas; that Elton John and Rod Stewart have a residency at Caesars; and that Ringo Starr and John Fogarty are still playing gigs. But it’s a diva that really blows his mind.

Thirty-three years ago, during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, a well-connected Paddy with a mansion in Santa Monica threw a party for the Irish team. It was a few days after the cycling events had finished, and being the boring son-of-a-bitch that I was/am, I decided to stay in the Village and prepare for the National Championships a week later in Carrick-on-Suir.

A couple of the boxers went along. It was a long and interesting night with many a twist and turn, and one of them — I’m pretty sure it was Sammy Storey — found himself in the company of one of the most famous singers in the world. He was gobsmacked:

“Are you Chuuur?” he asked.

“Whaaat?” she laughed.

“Are you Cher?” he said, toning down his accent.

She looked at him in wonder: “That’s probably the most interesting question I have ever been asked.”

She has just finished a run at the Monte Carlo Casino and returns to Vegas in November. There’s a billboard promoting the gig opposite the Toshiba Plaza and she’s looking down at us now as we sweat our bags in the 40-degree heat. It’s the first event of fight week — the ‘Grand Arrival’ — and a modest crowd have gathered on the barriers surrounding the stage.

A schedule has been set:

1.0pm: Arrival of the undercard fighters

1.30: Arrival of Conor McGregor

2.0: Arrival of Floyd Mayweather

But they’re running way behind. We’ve had the undercard fighters and some pearls of wisdom from Mayweather but the fans — many of them Irish — are getting restless:

“We want Conor.”

“We want Conor.”

“We want Conor.”

McGregor is late. McGregor is always late. He’s taken a lot of flak in the build-up for his salty tongue and ‘Fuck You’ pinstripes, but nothing says ‘Fuck You’ more than his penchant for keeping people waiting. Two years ago, on a damp Monday evening in October, I watched a couple of hundred fans wait for almost two hours at a Q&A session in Swords. There was no apology or explanation. He just turned up and turned on.

Today he’s feeling generous, just an hour behind schedule, but has brought the usual mayhem: a shoving match with the Mayweather camp as they exit the Plaza; an exchange of obscenities with a recent sparring partner, Paulie Malignaggi, the former world welterweight champion; and the usual taunts and boasts about what he’ll do to Mayweather.

“I believe he’ll be unconscious inside one round.”

“I’ve already whopped one of the faces of boxing. I’m going to whop another.” 

“I am calm and cold.”

Conor McGregor and (inset) Mayweather with Paulie Malignaggi

John Kavanagh watches from the fringe. I retreat from the horde and sidle over for a word. 

“Ah, you made it,” he says, surprised.

(I had told him I wasn’t coming.)

“Yeah, but what are you doing here?” I reply.

(He had told me he didn’t do hype.)

“Ah well . . .” he smiles.

The circus ends. I cross the road and study the billboard. Cherilyn Sarkisian is wearing a black leather jacket, skimpy black pants and some matching tights and suspenders — not an easy look to carry when you’re 71 years old. I smile and shake my head: “Are you Cher?”

Wednesday, August 23

Silent Witness

The reporter discovers that while money can buy you pretty much anything in Vegas, there is one thing it cannot guarantee . . .

Las Vegas is, without question, my least favourite city in the world. I can take the fake Trevi Fountain and the fake Eiffel Tower and the fake Statue of Liberty and the fake Arc de Triomphe and the fake Piazza San Marco and the fake Brooklyn Bridge. I can take the poker and the blackjack and the baccarat and the craps and the roulette and the keno and the pai gow and the one-armed bandits and the slot machines.

I can take the Strip and the strip clubs and the magic shows and the cabaret acts and the guys posing as Elvis and the girls posing as Marilyn and the outrageously fat mammas and the outrageously fat pappas and their outrageously fat asses as they waddle up and down in the searing heat with their bits hanging out and the sweat rolling down cracks.

I can take the heat and the traffic and the hookers and the addicts and the huge stretch limos and the massive billboard signs with their constant flashing lights and the gigantic hotels and the goofy gondola rides and the chapels and the weddings and the complete and utter vulgarity of the place. I get all that and okay, it’s not my cup of tea, but I can take it.

What I can’t take is the noise.  


The noise is fucking relentless. And there is no escape. It comes at you 24/7, inside and out. Vegas is the city that never sleeps, and if it could talk it would sound like McGregor.







Which is what made today so interesting.

We have followed the circus to the MGM Grand for the final, final press conference. Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, is at the microphone. The time is 1.40pm. The event is 40 minutes behind schedule. We’ve had a word from the sponsor and a word from the broadcaster and Leonard is irritated: “We are waiting for the arrival of Conor McGregor before we introduce the fighters,” he says.

Five minutes pass. McGregor’s entourage — his girlfriend Dee and son Conor Jnr; his coaches John Kavanagh and Owen Roddy; his doctor Julian Dalby and videographer Colin Byrne; and an assortment of family and friends — arrive and are shepherded to their seats.

A minute later, McGregor enters the stage and expects the usual response as he raises an arm in salute.

But there are no fans present, and there’s no ovation, just a ripple from family and friends, and it’s obvious to pretty much everyone that the quiet disarms him. “I’ve done a lot of these crazy press conferences but this is a lot more subdued, a lot more business-like,” he says. “The way I like it . . . sometimes.”

Mayweather senses it too and comes to the microphone bearing not the thunder, fire and brimstone McGregor thrives on, but peace, tranquillity and love. He thanks God. He thanks his family. He thanks the sponsors. He thanks the media. He throws McGregor a bouquet:

“A stand-up guy.”

“A tough competitor.”

“A helluva fighter.”

“A great career.”

It’s an absolute masterclass.

McGregor chews hard, trying to compute the words. A minute later he’s unsettled by a question from the floor: “Floyd says he’s made the biggest bet he’s ever made on himself for this fight. Are you going to bet on yourself for this fight?”

“Emmm . . . I’m not . . . maybe . . . I don’t know,” he stutters. “I certainly know I’m going to win. (laughs) I certainly know that.”

But he seems anything but certain.

And it ends and you leave with the strangest of thoughts: ‘The Notorious Conor McGregor was lost for words.’

Thursday, August 24

Hold the Front Page

The journalist spends the day in the press room mourning for old times. The fight is getting close and he is starting to fret.

I’m on a sleeper train heading south towards Italy. The month is June, 1990 and I’m chronicling the progress of 200 Irish fans as they travel by boat and train to the World Cup finals: Dublin to Holyhead to Dover to Calais to Paris to Rome to Civitavecchia to Cagliari. There’s plenty of colour: the culchies feasting on raw black pudding; the floor of the carriage sticky with beer; the sacrifice they’ve made to be here.

The challenge is getting the stories back.

I write them on this huge laptop, print them on a printer that has taken up half my rucksack and beg the nearest hotel to fax the copy to my sports editor. It’s a bit easier now. Everyone is a reporter these days with FaceTime and YouTube and Twitter. Davy Keogh doesn’t need to say hello on his flag anymore. He can post a video or tweet it. But back then you had to be there.

I’m not sure I have to be here. I spent Tuesday making copious notes about the spat between McGregor and Malignaggi, and half the world had watched it on their phone by the time I’d crossed the road to ogle Cher. And some of the best pieces I’ve read about the fight this week have come from writers in different cities: Ewan McKenna in Belo Horizonte, Dave Hannigan in New York, Donald McRae in London, Gavan Casey in Dublin.

All of the doors I’d hoped might open travelling out here have closed. I’ve got no access to the McGregor camp and no access to the Mayweather camp; I spotted Wayne McCullough at the press conference yesterday and jumped out of my seat but hadn’t reached the aisle and he was being interviewed by Vincent Hogan.

This is how it feels to be the last turkey on the shelf at Christmas. But here’s the truth: I don’t want to be any place else. The week has been intriguing. I can’t wait for Saturday night.

Friday, August 25

What happens in Vegas.

The reporter follows a man wearing flip-flops, a sleeveless T-shirt and a pair of shorts hanging down his crack into a Louis Vuitton store and is  surprised to gain entry. (“They test your DNA in Paris.”) He doesn’t get Louis Vuitton, wouldn’t put it on his dog, but discovers that there are uglier things in Vegas.

So here’s the question: We all like to think we would do the right thing but when a woman (black) comes running and wailing down the street and she’s being pursued by three men (white) and another woman (white), what’s the right thing to do?

I wasn’t sure.

I had just left the hotel and was heading to a coffee shop at the top of the Strip for breakfast. It was another boiling hot morning. There were a handful of people out: a young couple taking pictures of the lake in front of the Bellagio; a lone Paddy in an Ireland shirt gazing in wonder at the fake Eiffel; a pencil-thin black woman wearing shorts (jeans) and platform shoes scurrying towards me.

Then she began to run.

She had just passed me when they caught her. The woman (white) got to her first and snatched at her arm: “No! Leave me alone.” Then one of the men grabbed her in a headlock and I thought: ‘Fuck! What do I do?’

It was obvious they had come from a casino.

(Three of the pursuers were wearing uniforms.)

And it was obvious they wanted her back.

(They had released her from the headlock and were ushering her around.)

But it wasn’t obviously about money.

(“You will face what you’ve done!”)

I followed them up the street to the Cosmopolitan. Two security men were waiting at the door and escorted her through the slot machines to a small crowd gathered around a woman holding a bloodied towel to her face. She had been cut around the eye with a glass or something mean and started screaming when she saw us coming: “You fucking bitch! Look what you did to my face!”

“You took money from my purse,” her assailant replies.

It’s an ugly start to the day.

Three hours later we’re at the Arena for the official weigh-in. It takes less than 30 seconds to jump on and off a scales but the promoters have transformed it into a three-hour event. I’m scanned, given a ticket and ushered to a seat, Section 6 Row Q Seat 4, that will probably sell for about six grand tomorrow night, if it’s not already sold.

Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. (L) and UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor face off during their official weigh-in at T-Mobile Arena on August 25, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The two will meet in a super welterweight boxing match at T-Mobile Arena on August 26. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

A rapper called Cardi B (“Are you Cardi B?”) has just taken the stage: blonde hair, big ass, high heels and not a note in her head. She is followed by YG — pencil ’tache, red scarf, gold watch and a very itchy crotch from the way he keeps rubbing it. And the lyrics aren’t great.

“Who do you luv?”

“Who do you luv?”

“Who do you luv?”

Well, not you mate. I can feel a migraine coming on and my eyes are burning from the strobe lights.

What’s wrong with Dancing Queen?

The biggest act is the thousands of Irish fans who have swarmed the arena, draped in tricolours and green jerseys.

“O-lay O-lay O-lay O-lay”

“O-lay O-lay”

“O-lay O-lay O-lay O-lay”

“O-lay O-lay”

“O-lay O-lay O-lay O-lay”

“O-lay O-lay”

Sound familiar? Good, because there was plenty more where that came from.

Or how about this?

“Loooooooow-Lyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy the fields of Athenry,

Where once we watched the smallfree birds fly

Our love was on the wing

We had dreams and songs to sing.

It’s so lonely around the fields of Athenry”

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

They had, to be fair, brought a new anthem. In fact, almost everywhere you looked there was a young, patriotic Paddy in an Ireland shirt, chanting it to a reporter or waving it on a flag.

“Fuck the Mayweathers.”

“Fuck the Mayweathers.”

“Fuck the Mayweathers.”

What’s happened to us? What have we become? The only vulgarians at Italia 90 were wearing England shirts. Is this the new generation? Generation McGregor? Are we all ‘notorious’ now? And maybe that’s just me pining for the good old days again but sorry, I’m not having it: “Fuck the Mayweathers” does not honour our flag or our country.

Saturday, August 26

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The journalist discovers that after 10 weeks of noise since the fight was announced, and six days of noise since he arrived in Vegas, there is one sound he is really looking forward to . . .

Some traditions in boxing never grow old: the long walk from the dressing room; the fighters and their elaborate robes; pretty girls holding up the round cards; old champions sitting ringside in their finest clothes; the talk from the ref; the touching of the gloves, the cornermen with their grease and spit-buckets. And the bell.

Nothing says boxing like the sound of the bell. It may even be the greatest sound in sport. It was certainly my favourite sound in Vegas last week.


The barking was over. It was time to bite.

Sunday, August 27

The Hangover

The journalist wakes up on the morning after the fight and discovers he has not spent the night with a hooker. There’s no tiger in the bathroom or baby in the closet. The room has not been trashed; his wallet has not been rifled and he’s not missing a tooth . . . it just feels that way.

The best twists in movies are always the ones you don’t see coming. The Sixth Sense is the standard bearer for me. A child psychologist (Bruce Willis) is shot by a deranged former patient in the opening scene. He survives and a year later begins working with a new patient, a nine-year-old boy.

This kid is really troubled but can’t tell anyone what’s troubling him. Eventually he tells Bruce: “I see dead people.” Bruce gives him some therapy, the kid confronts his demons and together they right some wrongs. And that’s it. We are served a happy ending until the final scene (the wedding-ring shot) when the twist kicks you in the nuts.

Bruce is dead! He’s been dead from the opening scene. And you play it back and realise the director hasn’t cheated you. It was all there. He presented you with all of the facts.

“I see dead people.”

You just weren’t listening. And now you’re raging:

‘You fool!’




Which is kind of how I feel this morning.

The promoters of Mayweather/McGregor did not deceive us. We were presented with the key facts:

(1) Floyd Mayweather has been boxing all of his life. He is 15-times world champion in five weight divisions. He has fought 49 times professionally. He has never been defeated.

(2) Conor McGregor has been boxing for two months. He does not have a world title in any weight division. He has never had a professional fight.

Andy Lee reminded us of those facts. So did Barry McGuigan and Wayne McCullough and Paulie Malignaggi and pretty much every boxer who has ever laced a glove. And yet there we were rooting for the plumber and riding with him from the bell.

John Kavanagh had planted Rocky in our heads. Dana White had told us it was going to be a fight. McGregor had compared himself to Bruce Lee. And when the talking stopped and it was time for the opening round we expected Enter the Dragon or the opening scene in Gladiator, “On my command unleash hell,” but an hour later it was Floyd standing before us: grin on his face, $200 mill in his pocket, and fresh as the day he was born.

Seriously folks? You expected something else?

The interesting part was the twist. I did not see it coming but it’s there in my notes, hiding in plain sight:

RD 1: Starts well. Catches Mayweather with an uppercut that almost raises the roof.

RD 2: Switches stance a couple of times. Going well but not to war.

Conor McGregor hits Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a super welterweight boxing match

RD 3: Cautioned by the referee, still going okay.

RD 4: Mayweather catches with a couple of good shots. He is looking a bit tired.

He is looking a bit tired.

Consider the pretension of the McGregor FAST Conditioning Programme:

“The Fighter Aerobic/Anaerobic System of Training is a conditioning programme developed by the world’s leading sports doctors and exercise physiologists in conjunction with Conor McGregor to get you in fighting fit shape fast. Originally developed for combat sports, the system has been successfully used by world class athletes from many other sports such as football, tennis and rugby to achieve peak athletic performance. 

“The FAST system combines both high intensity interval type (HIT) training and longer aerobic type workout sessions which are done at specific heart rate zones. Training in your personal heart rate zones gives you the maximum work load without letting you over train so you can recover faster for your next workout session. You will get optimal results for your time and effort.”

Consider this Instagram post on August 2: “Another handy 12 rounds today. We are prepared to destroy Floyd. Pick whatever size gloves you want as well little man. I fight with 4 oz. I don’t give a fuck about the size of the glove. I am coming at you with bricks. Know that. Brittle hands.”

Consider some of his Twitter boasts this month:

“The boxing ring is mine now.”

“Quality work with John Kavanagh and Owen Roddy tonight! We are ready to defy the odds and shock the world. Again.”

“The final rev of the engine on the McGregor FAST conditioning program tonight. What a camp it has been.”

Consider this from Wednesday’s press conference: “I just want to say that I’m very happy with how the camp has gone. Everything has gone absolutely amazing. I want to give a shout-out to my team — Coach Kavanagh, Coach Owen Roddy, my cardiovascular coaches in the McGregor FAST conditioning programme.

“We are prepared for 12 three-minute rounds of non-stop pace. And I will come forward and I will put the pressure on and break this old man, trust me on that. We are more than ready.”

Consider this from Friday’s weigh-in: “He looks like dog-shit. You know that. He looks blown-out, full of water. He’s not going to keep my pace, trust me on that. That’s the worst shape I’ve ever seen him . . . I’m going to breeze through him, trust me on that. I’m in peak physical condition. I’ve put in the work, as everyone can tell. I’m ready.”

Consider how many times he asked us to trust him. Consider how many rounds had passed before it was obvious he was tired. Let’s count them:




It wasn’t a great night for the McGregor FAST Conditioning Programme, but when he arrived at the press conference in a flash suit promoting the virtues of Notorious whiskey you would never have known. But we know the bottom line: McGregor the MMA fighter is still worth a punt: McGregor the boxer is a busted flush.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport