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Inside the Irish Invasion

 Part I: A View Into The McMansion

Nestled at the back of a tranquil gated community in Henderson, Nev., Conor McGregor and his SBG (Straight Blast Gym) Ireland team are preparing for the biggest fight in Irish history.

His love of Ireland and celebrating his surroundings are undoubtedly important to McGregor. However, the fact that 60,000 of his countrymen applied for tickets to the UFC 189 World Tour leg in Dublin will give you an impression of how difficult preparing for a world championship bout on the Emerald Isle would have been for “The Notorious.”

> Order UFC 189: Mendes vs. McGregor

Despite the new, luxurious surroundings, the same familiar faces surround McGregor. John Kavanagh, Tom Egan, Owen Roddy and chief sparring partner Artem Lobov arrived at the beginning of the “MacMansion” camp, with Gunnar Nelson and Cathal Pendred joining the motely crew further down the line.

In 2006, Kavanagh’s was the first MMA gym that McGregor had ever stepped into, Egan drove him to the Dublin facility that day and Roddy was the first MMA fighter he had ever met on his arrival. 

“You see a lot of different people chopping and changing, but we’ve had the same group for the last 10 years,” Kavanagh tells me in the Henderson abode. “We all started from the same spot, now we’re sitting in a four million dollar mansion and we’re about to shock the world.”

> Watch UFC 189 Embedded: Episode 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Everyday shipments of Reebok apparel or training gear arrive at the Irishman’s base. It might be striking pads for his frantic sessions with Roddy or heavy bags to be hung in the basement where the fighters have already laid down mats for impromptu grappling sessions. The house itself has become a gym in many ways.

The outspoken Irish featherweight is usually the last to rise in the afternoon, usually around 2 p.m., in an effort to peak at the right time when the action goes down on July 11. As soon as he surfaces he begins his day of training. By the pool McGregor stretches his body into various poses, taking small sips of water in between contortions and every so often a combination explodes out from his body and into the heavy Nevada air.

Although the big session won’t come until later in the day when the team makes its daily visit to The Ultimate Fighter training center in nearby Las Vegas, the open pan living area in the household is a hive of activity.

Numerous foam rollers are being utilized as different pairings go through the intricacies of different techniques. The team eats together, travels together, trains together and socializes among one another – it’s a close-knit group.

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The assembled gathering of fighters has no doubt that McGregor will see his hand raised. Roddy explains that regardless of the opponent, it is his training partner’s unrivaled sophistication in the striking department that separates him from anyone in the game.

“He hits like a middleweight,” Roddy says. “He’ll lets his opponents feel his power and then he stands right in front of them in the pocket. It’s uncomfortable. They don’t know whether they should throw a punch, block or just run away.

“When Conor starts striking, he puts something extra on his punches that makes them land a split second later than his opponent is expecting them to. The impact doesn’t come when they anticipate it, and that’s when the lights go out.”

From his first utterance of the day McGregor is geared towards greatness. His counterpart is rarely mentioned, but the Irishman’s conversation is generally fixed on being “number one” or the “world champ”. He looks the part, too, with a diamond-encrusted gold chain hanging around his neck. Having people like Arnold Schwarzenegger pop by to say hello doesn’t hurt his superstar stock, either.

After another draining session at the TUF gym -- some last up to five hours -- McGregor returns to his Henderson home before he goes to bed in the early hours of the morning. From the balcony outside his room he can see the Las Vegas strip. When night falls, the MGM Grand stands out with its vivid emerald green glow, as if it’s directing the traveling Irish contingent towards its desired location.

McGregor knows that they have come a long way to see him raise a world title, and irrespective of Jose Aldo and now Chad Mendes, he has every intention of giving his people what they want.

Peter Carroll is a longtime MMA journalist who writes for the Irish Mirror, FIGHTLAND and Follow him on Twitter at @PetesyCarroll