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Ian McCall carries memory of his friend Shane Del Rosario into the cage

Jason da Silva-USA TODAY Sports

With Chris Cariaso having emerged from the woodwork to challenge Demetrious Johnson for a title shot at UFC 177, Saturday’s flyweight fight between Ian McCall and Brad Pickett could produce a Contender 1B. Whoever wins in Dublin on Saturday should/could/maybe be in the wings for the winner of that Aug. 30 fight.

The flyweight division is just sort of that wide open.

And really, other than John Dodson who’s on the shelf until 2015 while he recovers from ACL surgery, McCall carries a certain allure when it comes to challenging "Mighty Mouse" again. The ominous "Uncle Creepy," who wears his mustaches curled at the tips like a maestro from the grainy days of vaudeville, had that bizarre first encounter with Johnson to open the four-man flyweight tournament in Australia. After a judge sheet was miscalculated, the thing ultimately ended in a draw…but the image of McCall in the waning moments screaming and exhorting the crowd as he wailed away on Johnson is a lingering one.

A lot has happened to him since, and most of it pretty lousy. McCall lost the rematch a few months later, and hit the skids when he dropped a decision to Joseph Benavidez at UFC 156. He regained some of that Tachi Palace mystique by defeating Iliarde Santos in August for his first win in the UFC, but three months later he was dealt a serious emotional blow when his best friend Shane Del Rosario passed away suddenly following cardiac arrest.

All told, it’s a lot of baggage he’s carrying with him to Dublin. This for a guy who had to overcome demons to step in the cage in the first place.

"Everyday I’ve got to walk by a walk with Shane’s picture, to the memorial we have of him," McCall says, who trains at Team Oyama in Orange County. "Every time I walk up to the fighter locker room I got to see it. Some days I react differently, because he was my best friend."

McCall was supposed to fight Pickett back in March, but -- to make matters worse for a restless competitor -- he had to drop out of the fight with an injury. Four months later, they will finally come together at the O2 Arena. And he says he has a sense of mission to honor his late friend Del Rosario by carrying on, rather than lament his loss.

"Shane wouldn’t want me to mope around about [his death]," he says. "He would want me to keep doing what I’m doing and fight. He was a fighter, so he wants me to go out there and do what it takes to become a champion. But of course, I dedicate as much to him as possible."

The Englishman Pickett is coming off a victory over McCall’s replacement, Neil Seery, on that March card. McCall says he’s had "One Punch" Pickett in his crosshairs for a long time, and that he’s expecting to have the crowd behind him in Eire.

"I have a very Irish name, and I’m fighting an Englishman in Ireland," he says. "With the way the English have treated the Irish for so long, I think I’m the fan favorite. They have the whole second-class citizen, third world country of Ireland that they call it. I have a very Irish name…Ian McCall, you can’t get more Irish than that. My family’s Irish. I’m so excited for this fight because it’ll get me where I need to be."

Where he needs to be, you get the sense, is past where he’s been.

"It’s been way, way too long, and I just want to go out there and perform," he says. "I’ve got to perform and fight and just get my job done."

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