LOS ANGELES » Although Conor McGregor is an undeniably vicious puncher, heavy hands alone didn’t get him a title shot and a headlining pay-per-view spot in just his sixth UFC fight.
And they certainly aren’t the reason he gets a seat on Dana White’s private jet.
McGregor will be in the octagon with Chad Mendes on Saturday night at UFC 189 because he made himself vital to the world’s dominant mixed martial arts promotion with his mouth, even more than his fists.
A promotion in dire need of new, mass-marketable stars has a supernova in this loquacious, pugnacious Irishman. McGregor (17-2) is one fight away from backing up years of gloriously tough talk with a championship belt around his waist.
"I’m here to shoot this man down, break that pay-per-view record and cash them big fat checks, and (forget) everybody that is doubting me," McGregor said.
Listen to McGregor for a few minutes, and you’ll probably arrive at one of two attitudes: You’ll have little doubt McGregor will steamroll any opponent on his path to riches and glory, or you’ll be dying for Mendes — anybody, really — to shut his mouth.
Either way, McGregor knows he wins.
"This is the McGregor Show," he said. "We all know people are showing up to see me. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Jose (Aldo) or Chad."
The most entertaining MMA personality in recent memory has the chance to leave the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas with the interim featherweight title, capping a remarkable rise to prominence for a 26-year-old fighter who left a job as a plumber in his native Dublin in 2008 to immerse himself in the sport.
"I know my growth. I know my work ethic, and I know where I have come in this game," McGregor said. "And now I am in a position where I am invincible."
McGregor’s ascent has been greeted with a combination of skepticism and excitement by his fellow fighters, particularly those in his weight class. They understand the multilayered game he’s playing with his brash public pronouncements and sharp-dressed image, but McGregor is serious enough to spark genuine anger from the targets of his verbal wrath.
"I’ve been preparing for Conor McGregor since the first time I seen this dude fight in the UFC," Mendes said. "What I knew was, he’s going to talk his way up to the top. He beat every person they put in front of him … but this is a guy that I know I can beat, and I’m going to get in there and do that."
McGregor spent much of the past several months promoting a matchup with Aldo as the UFC’s biggest fight of the summer, but the long-reigning, oft-injured champion dropped out with a broken rib 2 1/2 weeks ago.
McGregor says he wasn’t surprised after his numerous public confrontations with the Brazilian champion.
"When you look into a man’s eyes and you look them dead in the eye, you can see straight into his soul there," McGregor said. "And no one else even watching can see it. It’s only between you and him. And I looked into his eyes and I knew (Aldo) doesn’t want to be here. He doesn’t want it the way I want it. So that was that."
Even on short notice, McGregor eagerly agreed to a replacement fight against Mendes (17-2), whose only career losses both came against Aldo. Mendes is a dominant wrestler, and the change in opponents presents an entirely different challenge for McGregor, but he didn’t slow down his training or his mouth.
"I think Chad is the substitute, the B-level," McGregor said. "I think he’s a wrestler with an overhand that gasses. You know what I mean? I think his body weight to his height is in disproportion, and I think that hampers him as a fighter. I think that’s why he gasses and he gets that tiredness."
McGregor said he can "hear a quiver in (Mendes’) voice" that indicates Mendes can’t beat him: "I feel he will break in there."
McGregor has a succinct fight prediction, too: "Four minutes into the first round, he will be unconscious."