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McGregor tops UFC’s Dublin card

The only previous time the Ultimate Fighting Championship had a card in Dublin, a brash 20-year-old attended the event with his coach and guaranteed he would be the headliner if the organization returned.

Today, featherweight Conor McGregor will fulfill that promise.

“I wasn’t wrong,” McGregor said this week as he prepares to fight Diego Brandao in the main event of a Fight Night card. “I have a habit of predicting the future. Everything I say seems to happen. When I feel like these things are going to happen, I don’t doubt them. I just let them roll.”

His vision was accurate as he watched UFC 93 on Jan. 17, 2009. McGregor, a 26-year-old Dublin native who has become one of the most popular figures in the UFC after just two fights, isn’t going to stop making predictions now.

“I have a clear vision of the belt being wrapped around my waist by the end of the year, and it’s clear as day. I’m not going to doubt it. It just feels right,” he said. “I’m not sure how because (of featherweight champion Jose Aldo’s injury), so I don’t know how it will pan out. All I know is the world title will be wrapped around my waist by the end of the year.”

McGregor is never afraid to boast. He says whatever he wants whenever he wants and does it all with an Irish accent so thick it’s almost cartoonish. He also possesses a diverse and powerful striking game that makes for exciting fights.

All of that has helped make him an instantaneous fan favorite.

McGregor debuted with a 67-second knockout of Marcus Brimage in April 2013. He was then treated as almost a secondary main event on a card in August 2013 in Boston, where there is a large Irish-American population, despite being well down on the preliminary card.

McGregor didn’t disappoint, battering Max Holloway for three rounds on his way to a unanimous decision.

A torn anterior cruciate ligament in that fight has kept McGregor out of the cage for nearly a year, but the inactivity has done little to dampen the immense hype around him. He has remained constantly in the headlines because of verbal spats with just about every fighter in the division.

McGregor scoffs at the notion there was a grand plan to keep his name in the news, saying, “All that stuff kind of happens naturally from being myself. I don’t care about staying relevant. I’m just being myself.”

He thinks that might be why fans have embraced him so quickly.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I just say what I feel about my competitors, and I come to fight, so I guess that might be two of the reasons right there.”

For now, McGregor is just glad to be fighting again.

“It’s phenomenal to be back in the midst of the circus,” he said.

He will be the unquestioned star of today’s event, which streams exclusively on the UFC’s online Fight Pass platform.

Entering the cage to compete in a UFC main event is something McGregor has been dreaming about for years.

“I’ve thought about that walk since I’m 14 or 15. I’ve definitely visualized it over and over in my head,” he said, brushing off the notion that increased expectations from the crowd could have a negative effect on his performance.

“I never felt pressure in my debut. I didn’t feel it in Boston. I don’t feel pressure right now, and I don’t think I’m going to feel it on Saturday. The only pressure will be on Diego Brandao as soon as that bell rings when he’s on his back foot until he’s forced to crumble, and he will crumble.”

Unbeaten welterweight prospect Gunnar Nelson is also in action against Zak Cummings. Flyweight contender Ian McCall will fight Brad Pickett.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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