LOS ANGELES – For once, Conor McGregor is willing to admit that it might not be all about him.
The bombastic Irish featherweight contender and self-promoter extraordinaire will step into the Octagon on Sept. 27 in Las Vegas.
But unlike his recent appearances, this time around, the cocky Dubliner is willing to admit UFC 178 is more than just the latest edition of The Conor McGregor Show. In this case, he is generous with the spotlight, willing to share it with the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighter, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
“I don’t feel pressure to steal the show, but I will steal the show,” McGregor told Yahoo Sports while backstage at Club Nokia before a recent question-and-answer session with UFC fans. “I believe it’s myself and Jon’s card here. Nobody else.”
Well, Daniel Cormier might have something to say about that. Jones’ light heavyweight title opponent – in a bout that is on track to be the UFC’s biggest of 2014 – can hold his own in the promotional department. Another who may take exception is Dustin Poirier, McGregor’s foe in what hasn’t yet officially been named the evening’s co-feature bout. The fight, though, has developed an interest that has dwarfed all other recent non-main event bouts.
But if McGregor comes off like he has a big head, can you really blame him? The fighter, who is 15-2, is coming off an event unmatched in recent UFC history. With only two UFC fights against unranked opponents under his belt, he headlined a card that sold out in three minutes in his hometown of Dublin on July 19, scoring a first-round TKO of Diego Brandao in front of a raucous crowd. No wonder he feels he deserves co-billing with the champ.
“It just makes sense to come in here and do this,” McGregor said. “Las Vegas, the biggest card of the year, let’s put the Irish poster boy on. It makes sense. So I’m happy.”
After several months in the doldrums, the UFC is finally showing clear signs it is beginning to move past the void left by Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva (who is scheduled to return and face Nick Diaz in February) and embrace a new crop of stars. The Jones-Cormier winner will be pretty much set for stardom. Undefeated middleweight champ Chris Weidman is breaking through. Women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey attracts attention like no other.
And McGregor knows he has an opportunity to break through. Thus far, everything has seemed to fall into place as his star has risen. And while there’s still plenty of room for this hype train to derail, a victory over a respected, ranked foe in Poirier, in front of the year’s biggest audience, would make for a quantum leap forward.
That said, McGregor hasn’t quite mastered the art of talking up his opponent to make himself look good. From the outset of the fan event, McGregor went right after Poirier, trashing everything from the Louisiana native’s upbringing to what McGregor terms his weak chin.
“His weakness is obviously his chin,” McGregor told the crowd. “Don’t get me wrong, I like the kid. He’s a quiet little hillbilly. I have nothing against the guy. I’m sure he grew up in a circus or a fair, he’s a nice little kid. His cousin’s probably named Cletus or something. He’s a nice kid. His chin is going to be cracked and it’s going to be cracked early.”
Poirier, understandably, took exception to McGregor’s characterizations, and it’s not hard to understand why. The fighter nicknamed “The Diamond” found early success in the sport, but a couple years back, he seemed on the verge of being typecast as a guy who puts on exciting fights, but can be goaded into suffering sloppy losses.
Since then, though, Poirier left his small gym in his hometown and hooked up with South Florida’s American Top Team, which has found success with reclamation projects, the highest-profile of whom has been resurgent welterweight “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler.
Poirier, who got the bout in large part because he called McGregor out on Twitter and kept at it until McGregor responded, has won four of his past five fights and three in a row, earning Fight of the Night honors in an April 16 TKO win over Akira Corassani.
"I'm not the same fighter I used to be," said Poirier. "I was training at a small gym back then. Now I'm with the American Top Team, I'm a better fighter, I'm a more patient fighter, I've improved in every aspect. That guy has been talking so much trash, someone's got to shut him up. He's going to talk and talk and that's OK, he won't be talking after Sept. 27."
It remains to be seen what will happen, but McGregor remains as confident as ever.
“Ultimately, one by one, I will get every single one of them, one at a time,” McGregor said regarding his opponents. “[Poirier] talked when the [Brandao] fight was going on, sending out those little [expletive] tweets. You’ve got to be careful what you wish for. Now, it’s upon him. Now, it’s a different pail of fish. Now I’m going to rip his head off. It’s on now.”
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @davedoylemma