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Rising Irish star Conor McGregor ready to take Las Vegas at UFC 178

09/22/2014 11:55 EDT | Updated 11/22/2014 05:59 EST
(The Notorious) Conor McGregor had just one UFC fight under his belt in July 2013 but he was already living up to his nickname.

Enough that he got a nighttime tour of the Las Vegas Strip in UFC boss Dana White's Ferrari convertible.

"It's the king of Las Vegas, Dana White, with the king of Dublin, the Notorious Conor McGregor," the Irish featherweight giggled in a video selfie during the ride.

A cackling McGregor then focuses his camera on the famous Ferrari logo on the steering wheel. "Get that fellow in there. The little horsey."

"What speed can this go?," McGregor asks.

"It'll go fast," White replies. "We'll open it up on the freeway a little bit."

Two fights later, McGregor (15-2) is back in Sin City. This time to test his talents and trash talk against Dustin (The Diamond) Poirier on Saturday at UFC 178. Most bookies have the Irish mixed martial arts star as more than a 2-1 favourite to win despite the fact that Poirier is a significant step up in class.

So what does it mean to be back in Las Vegas, this time to fight?

"It means I'm about to get my own Ferrari, that's what it means," McGregor said with a laugh.

For many fight fans, the McGregor-Poirier bout is the talk of a MGM Grand Garden Arena card that originally featured a juicy main event between light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones and Daniel Cormier. Then Jones got injured and flyweight title-holder Demetrious (Mighty Mouse) Johnson was moved into the showcase fight against Chris (Kamikaze) Cariaso.

Many are looking at McGregor-Poirier as the main event.

"I would be too," said the Irishman, who is looking to stretch his win streak to 12.

The card may have changed but the charismatic McGregor has not stopped talking, focusing his razor-sharp tongue on Louisiana's Poirier.

McGregor is predicting a first-round KO.

"Don't get me wrong. I like the kid," the 26-year-old from Dublin said as Poirier looked on from the same stage during UFC 178 Media Day in early August. "He's a quiet little hillbilly from the backass of nowhere. I've nothing against the guy, you know what I mean. I'm sure he grew up in a circus or a fair. He's a nice little kid. His cousin's probably named Cletus.

"He's a nice kid but his chin's going to be cracked and it's going to get cracked early."

Poirier, a 25-year-old native of Lafayette, La., who moved to Florida to train out of American Top Team, has largely resisted the urge to match wits with McGregor.

"I walk the walk. Connor talks the talk," he said by way of summation on the UFC's "Countdown to UFC 178" show.

Poirier (16-3) is 8-2 in the UFC, beaten only by Chan Sung Jung, better known as The Korean Zombie, and Cub Swanson. Ranked No. 5 among 145-pound contenders, he is on a three-fight winning streak that includes a first-round knockout of Diego Brandao.

McGregor also knocked out the Brazilian, winner of Season 14 of "The Ultimate Fighter," when they met in the main event of a Dublin show in July. The crowd was so loud during McGregor's win that it registered 111 decibels, according to White. A rock concert measures 110.

"It actually got so loud that it wasn't sound any more," McGregor recalled afterwards. "It was like a buzzing. It went past sound. It was phenomenal."

That kind of fighter appeal catches the UFC's attention. MMA is a sport where sizzle sells, especially when there is substance behind it.

McGregor's UFC resume is short, with three wins in as many fights, but sweet. It's a measure of his success that he has climbed the ladder so fast despite being sidelined by knee surgery in September 2013 after his second UFC outing.

The Irish fighter turned to Montreal's Georges St-Pierre for rehab advice. McGregor says the two have more than anterior cruciate ligament injuries in common. Like GSP, McGregor says he will quit when he's ahead.

"He went out on top. That takes intelligence. That's a smart man right there," McGregor said of the former UFC welterweight champion. "Not a lot of people can walk away from this sport. And one thing I know. I won't stay in this game longer than I should. I'm going to clean out the division, clean out both (featherweight and lightweight) divisions, make my money and then I'm gone."

Of course, the verdict is still out on whether St-Pierre makes his hiatus permanent.

For the moment McGregor has no shortage of plans, including winning titles in multiple divisions. White is watching — and scheming.

"I like he's ambitious, he just needs to relax a little but I love the way he is," White said after McGregor's last fight. "I love the things he says. I'm telling you he reminds me of (women's bantamweight champion) Ronda Rousey. Him and his visions remind me of Ronda Rousey. Ronda Rousey has a million visions."

Rousey is also the UFC's reigning rock star, a celebrity fighter who has branched out into film and other ventures while dominating her weight class.

Is McGregor a rock star, White was asked at the Dublin post-fight news conference.

"People like him," White replied.

It's hard not to. McGregor has buckets of charisma and style, delighting in dressing up in a tailored suit. He looks the part of a fighter — slim and elegant. The chest tattoo of the gorilla logo from his Straight Blast Gym is topped with a crown.

McGregor clearly loves his creature comforts.

Until he gets that Ferrari, he will be wheeling around in a Range Rover, having bought his and hers for he and his girlfriend.

McGregor has been relaxing prior to this fight in the presidential suite of the Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa.

"Warm marble feels so good on your feet in the morning," the former apprentice plumber purred during an interview with The Canadian Press. "It's a beautiful thing."

Still he say he never forgets the journey that has got him to that suite.

"Every single day I think about," he said. "I'm grateful for the work I put in. I'm grateful for the circle of people that have stuck by me through everything and believed in me."

His confidence is supreme.

"I don't think about the fight. The fight's a done deal. Dustin will fall and he will fall hard."

In the cage, the ninth-ranked McGregor is a busy, prickly counter-puncher who uses kicks to fend off opponents. He has an effective left hook when the man in front of him gets sloppy.

He has a variety of weapons. He took down Max Holloway on four of five attempts while connecting in 60 per cent of his significant strikes against Marcus Brimage.

Against Brandao, the southpaw pushed the pace until he caught the Brazilian at the fence and beat him down.

Outside the cage, he is a 24-7 buzzsaw in an opponent's brain. He has called Poirier everything from a pea head to an average journeyman fighter.

In contrast, Poirier is a quiet, decent man who is the antithesis of McGregor's flash outside the cage.

While he has largely tried to ignore McGregor's vitriol, he did crank up a response on the "Countdown to UFC 178" show, calling the Irishman an immature fighter about to be knocked off the wave he is riding.

"Conor McGregor seems like a good athlete, he seems like a decent counter-puncher," Poirier said. "But he also seems like a scumbag. He's full of himself and I'm sure he has a lot of people around him telling him how good he is."

One can argue McGregor doesn't seem anyone to tell him how good he is.

"A slick handsome Irish kid that takes no (crap), that uses his brain, and has climbed to the top of the game faster than anyone else has done it," is McGregor's self-assessment on the show.

Poirier previously had largely restricted his criticism to Twitter.

"I bow down to no one but Jesus Christ. September 27th you will get out skilled and out worked."

"Talk is cheap. Get your tickets because September 27th I walk the walk."

Even then, McGregor won the 140-character war.

"I am in Sin City. Armed and dangerous. I am going to school this kid."

"In 3 weeks I raise his decapitated head in glory."

While others may disagree, McGregor denies taking jibes.

"People ask me an opinion on a person. I believe I speak the truth ... These are facts, I believe."

And while he continues on his MMA wave, McGregor is clearly enjoying the ride. Dublin will always be his home but the world is his oyster.

"I will travel and experience this great earth we live on," he says with passion. "Travel the world, meet new people, experience new movements, eat new food. This is what life is about and I'm living it."

Saturday will help show whether the Irish fighter is a pretender or a champion in waiting.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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