There was a time not very long ago when a Conor McGregor press conference was still something engaging. Now, as his popularity has boomed and his face dominates the sides of buildings, he has become a caricature of his worst self: a man seeking attention, devoid of the substance that once made him fun.
During Thursday's press conference for UFC 205, perhaps the biggest fighting show ever, McGregor wore a white fur coat he said was mink, stomped around in red pyjama pants and held a blue folding chair high above his head, threatening to smash it on the skull of his opponent Eddie Alvarez. This follows other fake pre-fight dust-ups including August's plastic bottle-throwing incident with Nate Diaz that earned him a $75,000 fine from the Nevada Athletic Commission
It was a contrived bit straight from the WWE playbook of absurd theatrics and it seemed so below McGregor’s nimble wit. Gone were all the vivid “Mystic Mac” descriptions of an opponent’s failings that led him to predict exactly what would happen in the ring. Replacing them were the childish taunts of a man who appears most motivated to rile the fury of favourable crowds who squeal whenever he uses “f**k” multiple times in a sentence. He’s become less McGregor the clever and more Diaz, the foil of early 2016 who never could match McGregor’s splendid needling and responded in kind with sixth-grade insults.
On Thursday we were left with this exchange between McGregor, Alvarez and UFC president Dana White when a reporter asked what McGregor had intended to do with the chair.
“Not a f**king thing!” Alvarez shouted.
“Pound it on his f**king head,” McGregor retorted.
“Chair shots would be very bad,” White said.
The reporter then asked if the whole thing had been contrived.
Neither fighter responded. White blushed, shook his head slightly and chuckled.
McGregor used to be entertaining on these days. There is no doubting his brilliant mind or his gift for turning words into amazing images. It was only a few months ago that he tore into Diaz before UFC 196 calling Diaz “a scared little boy”.
On that day he ended his assault by telling the flabbergasted Diaz: “You’re like a gazelle, all bunched up together, hoping that you get spared. I’m a lion in there and I’m going to eat you alive. Your little gazelle friends are going to be staring through the cage, looking at you getting your carcass eating alive and they can do nothing All they will do is say: ‘We’re not going to cross this river again.’”
This time he gave his bold prediction for the Alvarez fight.
“I’m going to rearrange his face.” he said.
It was hardly the most imaginative comment, the kind of thing you would expect from almost anyone but McGregor. But it seems the sort of verbal sparring he prefers these days as his name goes up in lights and more commas are tacked upon his payouts. It’s as if he has decided the charming jousts aren’t worth his time and won’t suffice as the kind of red meat his growing fan base craves as they howl for any kind of show, no matter how cheap or low.
“Suck these big Irish balls,” he twice yelled to Alvarez on Thursday.
Back before he fought Diaz the first time, McGregor sensed he was becoming bigger than the UFC. He declared the organisation's glossy pre-fight productions to be "stale" and suggested that Las Vegas has grown old as venue for his fights. Not long after he lost to Diaz in UFC 196, he announced his retirement, refused to promote fights and toyed with a bout against Floyd Mayweather.
While he came back to perform gallantly in a brilliant victory over Diaz in August’s UFC 202, he seems to have lost the adroitness that made him a joy to be around. Replacing it is a bully act that’s too common for a man who has become MMA royalty.
When he was good on Thursday, he was great. There came, in the press conference, a moment when he talked about how he had learned something about himself in the Diaz fights, how he had not properly prepared for UFC 196 and paid the price when Diaz forced him to concede by tapping out. He is doing something momentous by trying to win the lightweight title while also holding onto the featherweight belt after the two welterweight fights against Diaz.
He is the biggest piece of the UFC’s biggest show ever. His presence in their first New York event is a must and the five other featured fighters at Thursday’s press conference had to know the day would be about him. But he continued his old gimmick of showing up late before adding what is becoming too familiar a twist: an overblown vaudeville act. This time it was the exaggerated grabbing of Alvarez’s lightweight belt and placing it beside his own on the dais. This led to Alvarez chasing after McGregor which led to the chair and the whole thing just felt fraudulent.
Surely this isn’t the real Conor McGregor we see now.
Hopefully he comes back soon.