Thursday 22 March 2018

McGregor aims to make amends in Sin City

Conor McGregor headlines a UFC bill in Las Vegas for the fourth time in just over a year Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Conor McGregor headlines a UFC bill in Las Vegas for the fourth time in just over a year Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Joe Callaghan

Too much of a good thing? No . . . in Sin City, old adages rarely apply. Instead, the world capital of excess keeps on keeping on. They built it and even in searing summer heat people come to the desert . . . so why slow the flow?

On Friday night on the Las Vegas Strip, the Blue Man Group played their 10,000th stage show in the city, the audio-visual spectacular setting a new mark. The local newspaper, the Review Journal, celebrated with an infographic on what it takes to put together this much of a good thing - more than 350,000 marshmallows and 750,000 cubic feet of helium, apparently.

Click here to view full-size graphic
Click here to view full-size graphic

For those of us who haven't been able to escape the suspicion this week that Conor McGregor's fourth headline event here in little over a year ranks as overkill, the Blue Man Group and all their hot air provide a little Las Vegas perspective.

Tomorrow morning (at approximately 5.30am Irish time) at the T-Mobile Arena, McGregor returns to the cage to face Nate Diaz in the main event of UFC 202. It's somewhat fitting that amid the sameness of another McGregor fight week, the gleaming new venue counts as a contrast to what has come before. Because as much as this fight ranks as the 'Notorious' doing it all over again, so much has changed since he last stepped in the octagon tin March.

When the veteran Diaz submitted the Dubliner with a second-round rear-naked choke, he also suffocated a whole lot of hype from the McGregor movement. And the intervening five months haven't seen him get all that much momentum back.

There was the shocking death of Joao Carvalho which cast a dark, searching pall over his team and Irish MMA, the public falling out with UFC chiefs when he refused to fulfil promotional commitments ahead of this rematch, originally scheduled for July. Brief threats to walk away from the sport proved empty and a month later than scheduled, McGregor is back.

While he has been away, the organisation he likes to say he built has been sold for a record-breaking $4billion (€3.5bn) to new owners who are intent on gaining even greater mainstream appeal. In keeping with the sense of era-change, the push for a bona fide fighters' union has also been gaining traction in recent weeks.

But filling the Strip's new sporting cathedral has this time proved beyond the man who is all about numbers. The T-Mobile Arena was still showing high availability in many sections on Ticketmaster as fight week rumbled on, with one report suggesting as many as 3,000 tickets were still unsold as resellers in the city slashed prices.

That is largely down to the lack of any sort of mass invasion materialising from across the Atlantic. Smatterings of Irish fans have been seen at fight week activities but asking them to dip into shallow pockets for a fourth time in the space of 13 months in the same expensive city with a strong dollar - when many had booked for the July fight that never materialised - has proved too great.

There's also the lack of a title on the line. Revenge might be all the motivation McGregor needed to again go toe-to-toe with Diaz two rungs up from featherweight, where he is champion. But the biggest Irish invasions came on the nights silverware was at stake here - against Chad Mendes last July and the stunning knockout of Jose Aldo Jr in December.

In fact, win or lose this second instalment, McGregor is likely to have gone a full year without a title fight whenever he next appears later in 2016. With all that in mind, it would serve him well to right what he sees as a wrong and come out on top in this rematch. Burning a full year of his prime on two meaningless fights is far from ideal - coming away from them without a victory could be altogether more damaging.

McGregor, facing into a UFC fight on the back of a loss for the first time, bristled at suggestions this week that his legacy is on the line.

"My legacy is set in stone," insisted the 28-year-old.

"It was set in stone when Jose crumbled in 13 seconds. This is just something else, outside of it. This is just a straight fight. I'm happy with that because that's what I came here for. I came for a straight fight."

He's likely to get that and more from Diaz. The veteran Californian hardman was summoned from the beach on just two weeks's notice in March before he turned the MMA world upside down.

This time around he's coming into the fight off a full camp and he looked particularly primed at Friday morning's weigh-ins.

Ironically, it is Diaz who has been busy on the promotional circuit in the run-up to UFC 202, hitting the late-night TV circuit that McGregor had become the darling of before his surrender.

For his part, McGregor has insisted he has left no stone unturned this time, spending upwards of $300,000 (€265,000) on an intense pre-fight camp here in the scorching temperatures of the desert.

Whether he and coach John Kavanagh have adapted enough for a different outcome this time remains to be seen. The key parameters - height, reach, strength and experience, look to again be in Diaz's favour.

In five frenetic months the UFC has undoubtedly changed, so too has its biggest name. A major question, however, is whether Conor McGregor has changed enough to get the good times and the good things flowing again? Sin City awaits the answer.

Irish Independent

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