Conor McGregor comes face-to-face with perfect match before destiny date with Nate Diaz

Jean-Baptiste Seckler is from France, a country that until September had never hosted a commissioned mixed martial arts event. The Ultimate Fighting Championship has yet to brought bring its all-swinging, all-dancing, seemingly all-conquering circus to French shores.

Conor McGregor comes face-to-face with perfect match before destiny date with Nate Diaz

Yet, for almost three months in his studio in Paris, Seckler has spent hundreds of hours sculpting and painstakingly perfecting pores and wrinkles, strands of facial hair and every minute detail of a tattoo of a gorilla wearing a crown and eating a heart. The end result is a remarkable bust of a man who the visual artist considers equally remarkable.

Seckler delicately carried the work through the endless rows of slot machines and blackjack tables at the MGM Grand casino on Wednesday. He had come all the way to Las Vegas to present the sculpture to its subject - the UFC’s fighter in chief.

“I’m just a huge fan of Conor McGregor,” he told us as he proudly showed off the work which captured McGregor at his most manic, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, screaming. “I spent two and a half, almost three months on this...he’s an amazing champion.”

Seckler didn’t elaborate on whether he had given the piece a name. ‘A Portrait of the Mixed Martial Artist as a Young Man’ might have fit.

We don’t know if McGregor is a fan of Joyce. We do know that he has at the very least a mild interest in Vincent Van Gogh, having compared himself to the Dutch master in the build-up to December’s defining night when he downed Jose Aldo Jr in 13 seconds to become a UFC world champion.

With Seckler watching on from the other side of the room among a sea of supporters who turned up to watch his public workout on Wednesday here, McGregor was asked to again explain his assertion that “like Van Gogh” he’d “lost his mind” to his art.

“Yeah you know, we work so, so hard. We dive so deep,” began the Notorious one, sweat dripping from his chin after a particularly vigorous workout. “When I’m around normal society now I feel like I can’t function in that society. I’m off somewhere else. And there’s no going back. I’m happy with that.”

That answer might well go some way to explaining why McGregor finds particular favour on this side of the Atlantic. While he remains something of a polarising figure in some corners of his homeland, the 27-year-old finds more universal appeal here. He’d never dare agree, of course, but at times it even seems as if he’s more at home here.

That makes sense. After all, this week’s America was nothing like a normal society. McGregor has a much better chance of functioning here in a country that is ever more rapidly tearing itself at the seams. Each passing day Stateside there’s a new normal, none of which are even the first cousin of normality.

McGregor had rolled into Las Vegas from his final pre-fight training base in Los Angeles late on Tuesday night. It had been a truly Super Tuesday for Donald Trump, who hadn’t been even slightly derailed by the ringing endorsement he’d received from the Ku Klux Klan. Trump’s rubbery, Fanta features beamed off the screens peppered around the MGM Grand as UFC 196 fight week struggled to get itself going.

So late in the day had the main event been turned upside down that the fight venue itself had struggled to catch up. One hoarding listed the headline bout as McGregor against Nate Diaz. Correct. But another just around the corner had Rafael Dos Anjos down as the opponent. Not so correct. Eleven days out from what was to be a superfight, the Brazilian had succumbed to a broken left foot.

That turbulence had undoubtedly played its part in this fight week taking its time to warm up. Yet fast forward 48 hours and all had changed utterly. Things had got hot and heavy in the desert. McGregor and Diaz went toe-to-toe in the final pre-fight press conference on Thursday afternoon and all but come to blows.

Sin City is a sporting hotbed this weekend. NASCAR, the sport that had followed the KKK and en masse endorsed Trump on Monday, is in town. There’s upwards of 116,000 petrolheads expected at the Las Vegas Speedway on Sunday. Meanwhile 90,000 are predicted to make it along to the US leg of the world rugby Sevens series.

Yet Thursday’s nightly sports news here was led off by McGregor, a man competing at an event still struggling to sell out its 16,000 seats. Why? It had something to do with the on-stage skirmish with Diaz...and a lot to do with the fact that McGregor is himself nothing close to normal.

On the eve of what shapes to be another million-plus pay-per-view night for the Notorious, the prospect of such a prolifically profitable UFC champion temporarily quitting the octagon to chase a retired boxing champion would in normal circumstances seem so outlandish that it wouldn’t be given even faint credence.

Yet thus far on his journey, the rules have so rarely applied to much of what McGregor has done. Logic, tradition, precedent. All have equally fallen in his trail. So much so that the frankly bizarre concept of him meeting Floyd Mayweather is treated as a real, live issue. In Las Vegas, a magical kingdom of make-believe for adults, anything can seem possible.

“I like Vegas, when I come here I do really, really enjoy Vegas,” McGregor said in an answer that began with a pot-shot at Mayweather but finished with another at Diaz. “I’ve buried three bodies clean out here. On Saturday there will be a fourth. The dirt is clean, you can scoop it up easy and bury bodies in there. I will continue to do that.”

The crowd cheered the answer to the rafters. The fighters then came toe to toe and utter chaos ensued. When it all died down, and in spite of a glut of security, a visual artist from France had somehow worked his way backstage and got his wish. Seckler presented the mixed martial artist, the young man, with his portrait. Normal rules...well they must not have applied.

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