You watch a mixed martial arts fight -- or any sporting event, really -- in hopes of being consumed by the sumptuous experience of witnessing a clash of peak performances amid a tingling crowd frenzy. In a less transcendent sense, though, you also watch to have your questions answered.
Saturday’s UFC Fight Night event in Dublin -- otherwise known as 'The Conor McGregor Show' -- was a dizzying, deafening ride. If you watched on the promotion’s digital streaming service, Fight Pass, you no doubt wished you were in festive O2 Arena (although your audiologist likely would sign off on that only if you had your earplugs in).
And if you had made the trip across the pond, you’d have surely wanted to get there by Friday so you could be part of the post-weigh-in swarm of fans who, according to Dana White, ran up a 7,000 Euro drink tab on the UFC’s credit card at Murrays Bar and Grill on Upper O’Donnell Street. This whole event, from hype-festering public workouts during the week to fight night fisticuffs, was one big party.
The life of the party, of course, was McGregor. The UFC built the event around the 26-year-old Dubliner and his runaway hype train, and the building’s 9,500 seats sold out in mere minutes. Though this was only his third go for the sport’s biggest promotion, McGregor has hit the ground running … with his mouth. The question has been whether he’s all talk or the talk of the town.
As loud as the fans were -- and they were mighty loud -- the performance by McGregor was indeed louder. He was as elusive as he was explosive, fully in control of distance and danger, and the instinct for demolition. And when he wounded his prey with a straight left hand late in Round 1, he swooped right in to finish the kill at 4:48. All good, but the masterful showing came against an opponent not in position to test his limits.
Diego Brandão is no pushover, but the 27-year-old Brazilian, season 14 winner of The Ultimate Fighter, is nowhere to be found in the SI.com featherweight Top 10 or even the UFC’s media-voted Top 15. The Brazilian had no answer for the footwork and ferocity of the Irishman. The visitor landed a few punches, led the way briefly in one clinch, but mostly was on the receiving end of what was dished out.
So what did it mean in the big picture, really? McGregor doesn’t appear in SI.com’s tally of 145-pounders, either, and notwithstanding his visions of grandeur, he stands no taller than No. 12 in the promotion’s official rankings. He’s impatient to move up in the jostling for title contention, though. And to do so, he needs a step up in competition.
He should get that now. McGregor (15-2) has been chirping for months with Dustin Poirier, who at No. 7 in the SI.com rankings is a legitimate contender. Poirier’s teammate, Cole Miller, was McGregor’s original Dublin opponent until he was injured in training. And even after Brandão (18-10) was swapped in, Poirier and McGregor continued to circle each other like sworn adversaries.
Then, on fight night, no sooner had “The Notorious” laid waste to his Brazilian dance partner along the cage when Poirier took to Twitter, first with a dismissive “I’m not impressed” but then with a dutiful message addressed to White, CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and matchmaker Sean Shelby: “I’m ready when you are.”
It was suggested to both fighters -- Poirier on Twitter, McGregor at the postfight press conference -- that UFC 178 would be a good rendezvous spot. The Sept. 27 event in Las Vegas is headlined by the rematch between light heavyweight champ Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, and the support card briefly was to have a firecracker of a lightweight fight between Donald Cerrone and Khabib Nurmagomedov. But shortly after the fighters signed on, Nurmagomedov blew out a knee in training. McGregor against Poirier could keep the excitement building.
White wouldn’t commit to anything during the press conference, other than to say that McGregor’s next bout likely will be in Vegas. There are no UFC events in the Nevada desert before 178, and the next one afterward is UFC 181 in December. McGregor has expressed an interest in fighting before then. He’s in a rush to get to the top of the mountain.
McGregor seems determined to take all of Irish MMA with him, too. All five Irishmen on Saturday’s card were victorious, and his teammate from Iceland, welterweight Gunnar Nelson, had an efficiently dominant submission win, too.
“We’re not here to take part,” said McGregor. “We’re here to take over.”
Vegas travel plans aside, the loquacious Irishman also said during his post-fight interview in the cage that his immediate plan following the fight was to “go backstage, sit down with Mr. Lorenzo Fertitto, drink some fine-ass whiskey and talk about football stadiums.” He’d love to headline a UFC show at Dublin’s 82,000-seat Croke Park.
The UFC isn’t likely to schedule an outdoor event in Ireland’s climate, though, and indoor facilities may no longer be suitable to contain McGregor’s star power. He’s not yet a featherweight contender, no matter what he tells us, but he’s an athlete with the “it” factor largely missing on the UFC’s 500-fighter roster.
So Conor McGregor surely is in the forefront of the minds of UFC's matchmakers. They’ll set his next challenge in front of him as soon as they can make it happen … and reap the benefits from it.
If it turns out to be Poirier (16-3) -- who isn’t exactly on the verge of a title shot himself, but has shared the cage with top contenders and has the all-around game to test McGregor wherever the fight goes -- a win by the Irishman would make believers out of those who’ve not yet been talked onto the bandwagon.