Tuesday 20 February 2018

UFC hope marriage made in Vegas can stay off the rocks

Conor McGregor will be aiming to back up his words with action when he takes on Chad Mendes in Las Vegas
Conor McGregor will be aiming to back up his words with action when he takes on Chad Mendes in Las Vegas

Joe Callaghan

They're worried here, very worried. A sacred staple of Sin City is in grave danger. So Wednesday was a day for action.

The Clark County Marriage License Bureau, the office that oversees every wedding in the city, announced that from the end of the month the cost of the tying the knot would be raised from $60 to $77.

All those extra 17 bucks will be used to fund a new promotional campaign for prospective Vegas brides and grooms. The number of people getting hitched here annually has plummeted by almost 40 per cent in the past decade.


"We've worked for years to establish the brand of Las Vegas as the wedding capital of the world," lamented the bureau's lovelorn clerk Lynn Goya. "To let that go just makes no sense."

'Wedding capital of the world' may be stretching things but Lynn is in a delicate place right now so we'll let it slide. There is no doubt, however, that Vegas is the home of the quickie wedding. It also happens to be the home of the Ultimate Fighting Championships.

That strikes us as no mere coincidence. The UFC is in the midst of an intoxicating love affair and it seems ready, willing and at times even desperate to try and make things a little more permanent.

Conor McGregor is the apple of their eye and the fastest-growing sporting organisation in the world don't want things to slow down any time soon.

Right now things are good. So good. Tonight at the MGM Grand, McGregor's presence at the top of the bill of UFC 189 will ensure a record gate in excess of $7million for the organisation.

Despite the fact that the Dubliner's original opponent, the featherweight champion Jose Aldo, pulled out of the fight through injury and ensured a crown wouldn't be on the line, pay-per-view TV sales and public interest have continued to sky-rocket.

You take the champion and the title out of the picture, but the challenger still draws the masses. Such is the stratospheric popularity of McGregor.

His shtick, his strut, most of all his trash talk have turned off many (including plenty in the homeland he continually says he represents). Of that there is no doubt. But it's a routine that has turned on many more. Especially the UFC. There's no wonder they want this to last forever.

Up until now there has been no sign of things faltering. McGregor's mouth works overtime, but once it's shut the rest of his body backs up the fighting words. Since he exploded on to the scene just two years ago, the 26-year-old has fought five times, winning them all. Only one opponent made it past the second round.


"This is the McGregor show, make no mistakes about that," said the man himself this week. "I am happy to be giving the UFC this $7.1million gate because it is me who has brought all of that. Breaking records every time."

Tonight shapes to be much more significant a challenge however. Chad Mendes may have only had two weeks to prepare for the fight but the Californian insists that has been no hindrance whatsoever.

Mendes is older, smaller and has a vastly shorter reach than McGregor. But he is still ranked No 1 in the weight division, three spots ahead of his opponent. He will look to exploit the weaknesses that many seasoned mixed martial arts observers see in McGregor, most glaringly, his wrestling skills.

Mendes couldn't make for a more stark contrast to the man who calls himself Notorious. Calm, cool, even conscientious, he is a university graduate who majored in kinesiology.

Those studies in the science of human movement might well come in handy as he bids to wedge himself in as the third party in this love story.

"I've been a top-level competitor my entire life so I've dealt with guys like that all the time," he said this week as he largely refused to respond to the barbs.

"I've seen it in the past, I get in there and that's where I deal with it. I beat them up. I get to come in here on two weeks' notice, whoop his ass and take a belt."

The interim title that the UFC put on the line tonight was seen by many as a move to appease McGregor, who had sold so much of the show by himself.

It also feels like it's high time that a fighter who is the bona fide poster boy of the organisation had something physical to show for it. First of all he has to go claim it.

"I'll kick him upside his head quicker than he can blink," insisted McGregor. "He's coming in here that height (disadvantage). He is in a lot of trouble and he will know that from the off. I will KO him. Too much power. Too much precision. One round will be enough."

Vegas is indeed the home of the quickie wedding - but also the quickie divorce. They'd never admit it, but the UFC will be desperate for their love affair to stay off the rocks tonight.

Mendes v McGregor, live, BT Sports 2, 3.0am (Sun)

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