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Mayweather and McGregor fight: Mind games and megabucks

He's brash, he's loud, but - win, lose or draw against Floyd Mayweather - UFC star Conor McGregor looks set to make $100m this weekend. John Meagher asks how the 29-year-old Dubliner has come so far

It was one of the publishing sensations of the decade. In 2006, it was impossible to escape talk of the self-help manual, The Secret. Penned by former Australian TV journalist Rhonda Byrne, sales rocketed thanks to the endorsement of Oprah Winfrey.

Byrne's message of positive visualisation - that if you want something badly enough, you will get it - was lapped up by millions around the globe. Others were keen to dismiss the book as an especially trite example of pop psychology.

But several years after it was first published, Conor McGregor's oldest sister, Erin, thrust a copy into his hands. She had found it invaluable when pursuing her own bodybuilding dreams and reckoned it would help steel his mind in his then fledgling mixed martial arts career.

McGregor was said to be dismissive at first, but soon became enraptured by Byrne's persuasive arguments and her oft-quoted line from the Bible: "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."

The "ask, believe, receive" mantra became a constant in his life as he sought to leave the dole queue behind and seek a fortune thanks to his gift for fighting.

In the early hours of tomorrow morning, our time, he will make his professional boxing debut in Las Vegas against a man thought by many fight experts to be the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of all time. Irrespective of what happens against Floyd Mayweather Jnr, it's thought McGregor will pocket at least $100m for his troubles.

This weekend's fight has been billed as the greatest contest in combat sports history. It's a marketing line that conveniently ignores Muhammad Ali's legendary fights of the mid-1970s, when heavyweight boxing transcended sport, and some have branded Mayweather-McGregor as nothing more than a freak show.

The consensus among boxing aficionados is clear: McGregor has little hope of beating a man with an unblemished record of 49 wins in 49 fights. And yet, few would argue that McGregor, himself, believes he will win.

Born in July 1988, McGregor was the third of Tony and Margaret's three children. He was small in stature, but excellent at sport - particularly football. Like many boys from Crumlin, Co Dublin, he gravitated towards the boxing club.

And, yet, McGregor has often spoken about the hard knocks that pockmarked his teen years, of being bullied occasionally and having to fend for himself in street fights.

A turning point came when he met Tom Egan, an MMA fighter from Kildare, who was trying to make his name in the-then modest world of UFC in the late-2000s. Egan helped reignite a passion in McGregor for combat sports and he was soon training in the Straight Blast Gym, founded by John Kavanagh, who has been his coach for many years.

In Kavanagh, McGregor found a figure who truly believed in his abilities and the pair have been inseparable since, although there's a remarkable gulf in temperament between the cool, considered and soft-spoken coach and the hot-headed, ranting, foul-mouthed McGregor.

Since his earliest days in UFC, McGregor has divided opinion, but the for and against camps have become even more polarised in the run-up to this fight.

McGregor was roundly criticised for his behaviour at four Press conferences to promote the Mayweather bout.

It's not the first time he has been criticised for the manner with which he has verbally abused opponents.

This is a fighter who referred to the German challenger Dennis Siver as a 'Nazi' and who goaded Brazilian fighter Jose Aldo in his home country. "I own this town, I own Rio de Janeiro, so for him to say that he is the king and I am the joker, if this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback and would kill anyone who wasn't fit to work, but we're in a new time, so I'll whoop his ass instead."

It's that sort of talk that has made McGregor an unsavoury figure for many - including some of those who reside in Crumlin.

"I think he's a terrible role model for young boys," says one lady on St Agnes Road. "His language is disgraceful and you'd think he'd watch his mouth now that he has a baby of his own."

Her friend is of similar mind. "There's a lot of hardship in this part of Dublin and in (neighbouring) Drimnagh and Walkinstown, but has he done anything with all his money to help the young people here? He's quick to come in with fancy cars and an entourage, but someone in his position should be doing more - not just showing off how much money he has."

But it's that same, extravagant lifestyle - private jets, supercars, jewel-encrusted watches, all documented gleefully on his Instagram account - that appeals to a clutch of teenage boys playing football in the small park close to Our Lady's Children's Hospital.

"He's right to spend it any way he likes," says one. "He's worked hard for it and he believed in himself when no one else would. I think he's going to knock Mayweather out. He says he's going to win it and I believe him."

It's not known how many fans here will shell out the £19.95 for the pay-per-view rights for the bout, but it's thought that up to $600m will be generated globally. A further $70m will go into the coffers from tickets sold for the 21,000-capacity MGM Arena.

And, yet, on Wednesday, more than 7,000 tickets had remained unsold - not surprising, perhaps, when one considers that the cheapest face-value ticket is $500. The most expensive is a scarcely credible $107,000.

It's huge money and McGregor has been aware from his early days in UFC that there was a killing to be made, especially in the US, where he's one of the most visible of sports stars.

He's shown an impressive business acumen, too, having established a website The Mac Life which is part news feed, part lifestyle brand. It allows him to get his message out to the world - without having to engage with the Press in a way that most of his peers have to - and it demonstrates a determination to enhance the Conor McGregor brand outside of the octagon/ring. It's thought this most dapper of dressers will launch his own clothing line in the next year.

Despite the stadium-sized attitude, McGregor is said to have kept his feet on the ground thanks to the support of a small group of people. Girlfriend Dee Devlin has been by his side for the past decade and the couple have a three-month-old son, Conor Jnr.

There has been controversy about friendships with members of one of Dublin's most notorious criminal gangs. 'Kinahan cartel thugs enjoy high life with champ McGregor', read a Sunday newspaper headline last year and featured a photo of the fighter and an unidentified gangland figure standing proudly on the bonnets of a pair of expensive cars.

The same paper also reported earlier this year that his sister, Aoife, married Mark Elliott, an ex-convict who was imprisoned for three years after being caught in possession of a huge cannabis stash for sale and supply.

There is no suggestion, however, that Conor McGregor - or any member of his family - has been engaged in criminal activity.

If the past five years have felt like a whirlwind to the Dubliner and all who know him, it's impossible to say what the next five have in store. But Dana White, the all-powerful UFC president, believes McGregor's potential is as boundless as his confidence.

"If you look at this thing and you look at how big this fight is and you look at how big these athletes are that are involved in this fight, if Conor does knock Floyd Mayweather out, he's the biggest athlete on earth," he says.

And Rhonda Byrne - and her much-maligned, but enormously popular book - will have played their part.

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