Conor McGregor’s participation in the UFC 246 pre-fight press conference screamed with intent that this is a different man than the one who has written more recent headlines for his activities away from the world of mixed martial arts than his feats inside the Octagon.
The former two-weight world champion is returning to the UFC this weekend for the first time in over 15 months, since submitting to Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018. He will face Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at the headline event at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The beard is back and bigger than ever, but Conor was notably far more polite than previous encounters with a courteous professional handshake kicking off proceedings, with promoter and UFC president Dana White probably grateful for having an easier time of it than he was previously used to in standing between McGregor and a target.
Inevitably, the questions came thick and fast for McGregor, who had endured a controversial 2019 in which he was arrested twice with allegations of assault.
“It’s damn good to be back,” was an early but ultimately prevailing message throughout the conference from the Irishman. “I’m certainly more grown and experienced and I’ve been through things that have helped shape me as a man… I’m certainly more focused and a bit more aware.”
The cocksure nature was still simmering below the calm exterior when it was posed that he didn’t necessarily need to come back and fight and ‘deal with the hassle and the headaches’ particularly with the millions in the bank the interviewer had imagined.
“You’d imagine correct,” was the response with a chuckle and a smirk.
Of course, despite his recurring statement of respect for his American opponent, he was inevitably goaded into providing his famous hubristic prognosis for the outcome of the fight.
“And for the Mystic Mac prediction, it’ll be a KO…”
Cerrone had been the first to swagger onto the stage, in a get-up resembling Joey Tribbiani’s cologne-selling rival The Hombre Man. Cowboy was jovial and hyped up the entertainment value of the event, revelling in the fact he was facing a ‘walking money-maker’ in McGregor.
The Denver native holds a 36-13-0 record, and has been suggested to have superior jiu-jitsu skills than his upcoming opponent. Cerrone, seemingly auditioning for Season Three of Westworld, his eyes invisible due to being caked in shadow from his adorned black Stetson, surprisingly provided more of the soundbites, at one point telling a journalist to go and get “f**king real life” as the two men were simply going to get into the Octagon and "fight their asses off".
“I am going five rounds with this dude and I cannot f**king wait until Saturday night.”
We’re gonna to blow the f**king roof off.
He was given gushing credit by McGregor, who was extremely complimentary about Cerrone’s attire. Cowboy was appropriately kitted out in a jacket which McGregor had presupposed was crocodile. Instead it turned out to be python. Easy mistake to make.
It certainly made for a striking scene, the New Man in Black revelling under the cover of his hat, the only suggestion that it was in fact the American bruiser under there was the slightly illuminated beard, making him appear like a sinister Mr Tumnus.
Though previous pre-fight pressers having seen him rocking the Gucci mink and the suit comprised of pinstripes reading ‘F**k You’, the 31-year-old McGregor went for a more refined, less flamboyant presentation appropriate for his new-found humility and the ongoing attempt to re-assert himself as the pre-eminent force in UFC. Kitted in a dark, subtly-chequered suit it was more adult Pip than Pimp.
It may not have provided the fireworks fans have been accustomed to witnessing when following McGregor’s travels, but it’s arguable that this particular pre-fight press conference suggested a more significant talking point.
At one stage Cerrone stated that he and McGregor are the last of the dying breeds of fighters. However the Notorious knows that despite the friendliness, declarations of mutual respect, and assertions that ‘he is the same young kid, still a passionate young man, and still reaching for the stars,’ a loss on Saturday night may well see the death of his reputation.
UFC 246: McGregor versus Cowboy takes place on January 18.
As The Notorious himself declared: “Sit back and enjoy.”