LAS VEGAS (AP) — Conor McGregor’s boastful Irish charm and exceptional trash-talking skills have turned him into a UFC star, and his reward is a featherweight title fight with Chad Mendes on Saturday night.
Although McGregor’s put-up-or-shut-up moment is the main event of the UFC’s biggest card of the summer, he isn’t nearly the most accomplished mixed martial artist fighting in UFC 189 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Welterweight champion Robbie Lawler defends his belt against Rory MacDonald in the penultimate bout, a compelling rematch between two tested UFC talents. Both fighters would rather be training than talking, and they’ve both watched McGregor’s one-man promotional blitz with a mixture of awe and bewilderment.
“Conor is good for the sport,” MacDonald said. “He’s making us all more money, not just himself. There’s more attention for this pay-per-view, and it’s good for everyone.”
After telling the world all about his invincibility for the past several years, McGregor (17-2) will have several thousand raucous Irish fans in the Las Vegas stands when he ring-walks to a serenade from Sinead O’Connor.
“I’m going to kill this man across from me,” McGregor said. “He should have kept his mouth shut. I’m going to slap the face off him. ... His facial structure will be rearranged after the fight.”
He’ll be locked in a cage with Mendes (17-2), who took the interim title shot on 2 1/2 weeks’ notice and immediately raised his own trash-talking game.
“You get all that hype out of here, and I’m going to destroy this dude,” Mendes said. “I’ve been a top-level athlete my entire life. I’ve dealt with guys like this my entire life. I have a game plan, and I’m going to get in there and destroy him.”
But another title bout looms right before the fireworks.
Lawler (25-10) will attempt to maintain his mid-career renaissance with a second victory over MacDonald (18-2), who hopes to claim the belt long held by fellow Canadian Georges St. Pierre.
Their first bout was a split decision for Lawler, who was positively grateful to have his next fight on a card that didn’t require him to take the promotional lead.
“It just makes life easier when I concentrate on myself and what I can control,” Lawler said. “And what I can control is how hard I’m working, and staying healthy so I can get to that point July 11.”
Here are some more reasons to watch the pay-per-view show that culminates with McGregor’s moment of truth:
STYLES MAKE FIGHTS: Posturing aside, McGregor’s meeting with Mendes is an intriguing clash in styles. McGregor is a fearsome puncher with unconventional striking tactics. Mendes is an exceptional wrestler who will attempt to keep McGregor on his back, although McGregor insists he will “butcher you from the bottom.”
REMATCH REDUX?: Lawler won his first bout with MacDonald by landing enough big punches to sway the judges, but MacDonald is a gifted all-around fighter who is likely to keep trying to take down the champion.
DESPERATE TIMES: Featherweight contender Dennis Bermudez had won seven straight bouts until getting choked out by Ricardo Lamas late last year. He needs a win to restart his title contention hopes, but Jeremy Stephens is even more in need of a boost after two straight losses. A meeting of two desperate fighters is always a good thing.
NEW NAMES: While many of the undercard fighters aren’t famous to casual fans, most are top talents eager to progress to the brink of title shots at UFC 189. Gunnar Nelson and Brandon Thatch are still among the top welterweight prospects despite recent losses, while unbeaten flyweight Thomas Almeida will attempt to cement himself as a belt contender against veteran Brad Pickett.
NOTHING EXTRA: Even the preliminary bouts at UFC 189 have something to offer, most notably welterweight brawler Matt Brown taking on the entertaining Tim Means in a clash of two exceptional strikers.