You can throw Las Vegas in with time and tide. The place waits for no man either.
Over two years have passed since Conor McGregor last headlined an Ultimate Fighting Championship night in the desert but while his employers have desperately counted down the days to his return, the city hasn’t stood still.
The Dubliner made his first public appearance of UFC 229 fight week along with fellow headliner Khabib Nurmagomedov yesterday evening with an open workout under the watching gaze of early
The event took place at Park MGM, a location that didn’t even exist the last time McGregor fought here in 2016.
Back then it was the Monte Carlo, a particularly frayed-at-the-edges part of the MGM stable of mega-resort casinos on the southern section of the Strip. Next door to the
T-Mobile Arena, the venue for Saturday night’s showdown, Park MGM is “inspired by urban parks and gardens” as well as “timeless European style”. It eschews the faux glitz and tack of its more established neighbour and
instead swirls shades of cream and green.
The paint barely dried in spots, it was almost peaceful yesterday morning. But that was never going to last. The timeless European style was met with a very different trans-Atlantic approach as the Notorious one checked in. While Las Vegas may change, the chaos of the Conor McGregor caravan does not.
His 23-month hiatus from the sport has only served to turn up the noise. And it’s music to the UFC’s ears.
The organisation’s ever-visible chief Dana White revealed on Tuesday that McGregor’s lightweight title meeting with Nurmagomedov is trending to not just break the UFC’s pay-per-view records but potentially eviscerate them with upwards of three million buys at $65 (€56). No PPV fight in the company’s history has surpassed two million.
While the UFC recently signed a huge TV deal with ESPN that will bring in upwards of $1.5 billion (€1.3bn) over the next five years, all is far from rosy.
In McGregor’s absence, some of the organisation’s other leading lights have dimmed or been extinguished entirely. Ronda Rousey has left the sport behind, icon Georges St Pierre returning but only briefly, Jon Jones hit with a lengthy ban for steroid use. Pay-per-view cards have been blighted with late injuries and mishaps to headliners. The UFC’s heart and head have only grown fonder for McGregor in his absence.
“Conor works very well with us. We’ve worked very well with him,” White said recently.
“There are obviously certain things you have to deal with, with a Conor McGregor. But he’s worth it.”
McGregor returns to the octagon more mature in age and life. He and girlfriend Dee Devlin are expecting a second child before year’s end. That maturity doesn’t however extend to his showmanship, last month’s press conference goading of Nurmagomedov and his family all the evidence needed that the trash talk is unlikely to be tempered any time soon.
The rivals will come face to face again today for a final media appearance and the very genuine animosity between the pair will likely flow freely once more.
The UFC’s current broadcast partner, Fox Sports, routinely put together a hyped preview show for major cards that they call Bad Blood. For once, it doesn’t strike as hyperbole.
Blood has already been spilled between the pair with McGregor’s immediately infamous smashing of a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and other fighters in Brooklyn back in April, the attack the culmination of years of bitter goading between the rivals and their swelled entourages.
McGregor’s verbal attacks on the Russian have been particularly pointed and that has always been his way — get in an opponent’s head before getting at their head. But it strikes that he is pouring it on because he knows that out of the octagon, he has a clear advantage over the current lightweight champion.
Once the cage door closes on Saturday night, however, the advantage is much less clear. Perhaps murkier than any fight McGregor has faced before. Two years is more than enough time to gather rust, the 10-round circus duel with Floyd Mayweather last year counting for all but nothing.
But even before the Notorious one walked away from the UFC in late 2016, Nurmagomedov — unbeaten in his professional life — shaped as the most daunting opponent on McGregor’s radar.
A smothering grappler and wrestler who revels in squeezing the life out of opponents, Nurmagomedov has promised to ‘not just win — smash. Smash everything. Submit, beat — heart, mind, everywhere.”
Even in a changed Las Vegas, the smart thinking is the same as it has been for more than a couple of years now — that McGregor will have to keep the fight upright enough for long enough to have any true chance of inflicting a first career defeat on his fellow 30-year-old.
“I see him as a dead man walking,” McGregor said this week. “I’m going to go in, smack him hard, bobble his head and raise that gold once again.”