Tonight marks what just about everyone associated with the Ultimate Fighting Championship hopes will be the official beginning of the Conor McGregor era.
The 26-year-old Irishman is an exciting fighter with a dynamic personality who possesses all the tools to make him the organization’s next great superstar.
His success is potentially great for business, and the organization appears to be all in. UFC executives have made no secret of their affinity for McGregor, who was the focus of the UFC 178 commercial despite his fight not being one of the top two on the bill for tonight’s event at the MGM Grand.
McGregor’s fourth fight in the organization will be his pay-per-view debut, and he’s confident the results will show just how popular he is among fans.
“Numbers never lie,” he said. “I believe this pay per view is going to surprise people and do huge numbers, and there’s no doubt who the star of the show is.”
It’s that type of bravado that combines with his skills to provide such enthusiasm about his future.
Not everyone is on board.
Dustin Poirier expressed his irritation with all the hype shortly after McGregor’s win over Diego Brandao on July 19 in Dublin. It was enough to get Poirier the fight against McGregor tonight.
“I’m just tired of hearing the same stuff over and over about this guy,” Poirier said Thursday. “It’s like a broken record.”
The two have exchanged barbs through the media and on social media, and the tension boiled over during a photo opportunity at Thursday’s media day.
No punches were thrown, but Poirier was clearly agitated with McGregor’s boasting and some of the things that have been said in the promotion.
McGregor said he’s just being himself.
“I believe I’m in his head,” McGregor said. “I’m just speaking fact in my mind and saying how I feel. When someone asks me something, I answer, and that’s that.
Poirier is no steppingstone. He’s ranked No. 5 in the UFC’s featherweight rankings, four spots ahead of McGregor. The 25-year-old has won eight of his first 10 fights in the UFC, including three straight.
His skill set and talent are well-respected in the MMA community, but he has never had near the attention as McGregor. Poirier knows a win would not only derail the McGregor hype train but also take some of it on for himself.
“That’s exactly why I wanted this,” Poirier said. “I knew he had a lot of hype around him, and it was a big opportunity to get a highly anticipated fight like this that would get a lot of attention. That’s what you want as a fighter. You want people to want to see you fight. I knew it would be big for the fans and get me a big spot on a big card. Besides, I get to humble a guy that needs it. A guy that’s been running his mouth, and nobody’s made him pay for it.
“It’s time to punish him.”
Poirier probably would be best served to not let that emotion take over once he steps into the cage. He conceded that there have been times when he has gotten angry in fights and lost technique.
“It’s a gift and a curse,” Poirier said. “Sometimes I get in there and let it overtake me, and I get in there and just start throwing bombs and black out almost like, ‘What happened?’ Sometimes those land, and sometimes you get put in bad positions. Every fight I get better and better. That could prove costly against a dynamic striker like McGregor, and McGregor knows it.
“Hey, those are his words,” Poirier said with a smile. “I don’t hit like these other 145-pounders he’s fought, either. I hit stiff, sharp. It leaves them cold. Sends an electric shock through their whole body. It’s not going to be good for him. For him to come at me emotionally like that, one shot is all it will take. I honestly envision a stiffened body and my hand raised.”
McGregor isn’t shy when talking about himself and what he’s going to do in the sport. That’s a major part of his appeal. It also could lead to a big fall should he suffer a setback.
Poirier is convinced he’s the one to make that happen.
“If he truly starts believing he’s invincible and starts believing the hype, and everything people are saying about him, it’s going to be a weakness for him,” Poirier said. “Everybody’s different mentally. I don’t know if he’s taking it and getting pressured or is it fueling him? We don’t know. I have a lot of experience in the UFC and in dogfights at this level, so I think I have a little more grit. My ground is better, my wrestling is better, and I think I’m going to show my boxing is, too. Everybody’s talking about how good his striking his. Well, mine’s good, too, and you’ll see.”
The fight is part of a card headlined by a flyweight title bout between Chris Cariaso and champion Demetrious Johnson. The pay-per-view card, which also features a lightweight bout between Eddie Alvarez and Donald Cerrone, begins at 7 p.m.
The televised preliminary card, including the return of former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz against Takeya Mizugaki after a three-year layoff, begins at 5 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (Cable 329).
Two fights will stream live on the UFC’s online platform, Fight Pass, at 4 p.m.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.