UFC's Conor McGregor gets chance to show fight skills match his wit

Is Conor McGregor's fighting talent equally as impressive as his verbal skills?

The entertaining Irishman has tapped into the crossover audience that exists between the Ultimate Fighting Championship and WWE by steadily producing outrageously bold comments about his opponents and other topics.

Saturday night at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, McGregor (17-2) faces a test of putting his might where his mouth when the UFC's third-ranked featherweight meets top-ranked Chad Mendes (17-2) of Sacramento for the division's interim championship.

The pay-per-view card also features the UFC's welterweight title fight between champion Robbie Lawler (25-10) in his first title defense against Canadian Rory MacDonald (18-2) in a rematch of a 2013 bout that Lawler won by split decision.

MacDonald is less than a 2-1 betting favorite in the fight, as is McGregor. Even though McGregor's fight slipped from a full-blown title shot versus Brazil's Jose Aldo to the interim bout when Aldo suffered a rib injury in training last month, the Irishman's appeal kept his bout against Mendes as the main event.

"Four minutes into the first round, he will be unconscious," McGregor said of Mendes in a recent UFC conference call with reporters.

Mendes, 30, has fought Aldo twice for the belt, losing most recently by decision in October.

The 26-year-old McGregor, readying for his sixth UFC fight, has drawn attention with three consecutive knockout victories, including a main-event first-round triumph in Dublin last year and a second-round stoppage of 36-year-old Dennis Siver in January.

Siver now has 11 losses, and didn't put up much of a fight in that bout last winter. But McGregor's theatrical leaping over the cage after his victory to confront Aldo at the champion's ringside seat got plenty of attention.

Now that Aldo is hurt, McGregor has predictably pounced.

"The eyes never lie. And every time I looked into that man's eyes, I saw fear. I saw glass," McGregor said of Aldo in the conference call. "When he got his opportunity to pull [out of the fight], he pulled. … I was going to butcher him. Rip him limb from limb."

Adding verbal shots while on the way up the UFC rankings is a practice that's already been executed by former middleweight and light-heavyweight title challenger Chael Sonnen, who's now a mixed martial arts analyst for ESPN.

"He's the ultimate in entertainment for our sport right now," Sonnen said of McGregor. "History is being repeated, followed and honored.

"You get moved forward [in the UFC rankings] by the fans. Conor is one of the very few guys who understands that. He has some incredible skills, but until he fights guys in the top echelon it's very hard to make a claim that he's in the top echelon. This is his first opportunity. So let's find out."

Mendes said he senses a fraud.

"This is a guy I know I can beat," he said in the conference call. "Conor's never faced anyone like me before. I have the athleticism, the strength, the power, the speed and I have wrestling to put him on his back and finish this fight."

McGregor replied, "He gasses too quick. I [predict] exchanges early. I see him gasping for breath…

"His body is going to be screaming for oxygen and I'm going to be … in his face cracking him with everything I have. Every shot. The heel. The knee. The elbow. The fist. … And that will be that."

Sonnen applauds McGregor's wit.

"He does the sport well and is also able to entertain in another way," Sonnen said. "In my career, I got so inundated with media, I was doing more media than being in the practice room.

"My stuff sold well, but it got a little gimmicky and I didn't enjoy it as much as when it came from the heart and off the cuff. Conor will cross that line, too. Your only reward for being great at media is you get to do more media."

As for Lawler-MacDonald, the challenger says he's "a better version of myself."

Lawler said he doesn't mind his title defense being a warm-up act to McGregor.

"I get to go out there and showcase my skills. That's what I concentrate on," he said.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

UFC 189

Who: Conor McGregor (17-2) vs. Chad Mendes (17-2), for UFC interim featherweight title; Robbie Lawler (25-10) vs. Rory MacDonald (18-2) for Lawler's welterweight belt.

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas.

Television: Pay-per-view, $59.95.

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