LAS VEGAS — He was wearing a suit, but that was the only thing about Conor McGregor on Thursday that was the same as it was in Abu Dhabi.
In January before UFC 257, McGregor was low key — by his standards, anyway — and respectful toward his opponent, Dustin Poirier.
On Thursday, after showing up more than a half-hour late for his news conference to promote Saturday’s rubber match with Poirier in the main event of UFC 264, McGregor stomped onto the stage, picked up two bottles of the hot sauce that Poirier sells which were sitting on the dais, and slammed them to the ground.
Things went downhill from there.
He referred to Poirier as a “silly hillbilly” and used a vulgar and offensive slang term for the female genitals to describe Poirier. He vowed repeatedly to bounce Poirier’s head off the canvas and knock him out.
Asked if he felt like he’d gotten into Poirier’s head like Poirier admitted he had done prior to their meeting at UFC 178 on Sept. 27, 2014, McGregor had a ready response.
“I’m going to go through his head and blow a hole in it and then knock it off of his shoulders,” McGregor said in one of his few PG comments of the news conference.
This was Conor McGregor circa 2016: Brash, bold, overflowing with emotions and quick with the cutting one liners.
That’s also when McGregor was at his peak. He took the UFC by storm after signing in 2013 and became the biggest draw in the sport’s history. He did it by using his wit to slice up his opponents verbally, and then would finish them violently in the cage after the bell sounded.
Along the way, he collected enormous amounts of wealth, and said at the news conference Thursday he expects to be a billionaire within three years.
He showed little respect for Poirier, whose kicks in the rematch in January limited McGregor’s mobility and led to Poirier stopping McGregor in the second round to even the series at a win apiece.
In January, McGregor repeatedly complimented Poirier, not only for his vast charitable works, but also for his fighting skills. There was none of that this time around.
“It was a fluke win,” McGregor said, “and I’m going to correct it on Saturday.”
It was a wild scene in front of a good-sized crowd at T-Mobile Arena that heavily favored McGregor. And as usual, things got out of hand.
McGregor, the +105 underdog at BetMGM, stomped around the stage after he was introduced, clearly worrying UFC president Dana White. White said the pay-per-view is tracking to produce an enormous number, and it could easily exceed 1.75 million.
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The last thing White wanted was for one of the fighters to get injured in a shoving match at a news conference in which no one is getting paid. So he was antsy jumping around trying to keep McGregor from getting too close to Poirier.
At one point, a reporter asked White a question and a distracted White didn’t get it.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m too worried about these guys getting up and moving [toward each other].”
The tension was high throughout, but Poirier mostly laughed off McGregor’s taunts and insults. He said he learned through experience not to pay attention to it.
But that didn’t stop McGregor from doing his level-best to call him every name in the book and threaten him with all sorts of physical harm.
McGregor, though, is at something of a crossroads in his career. He’s 1-2 in his last three UFC fights, 1-3 if we consider the boxing match he did in 2017 with Floyd Mayweather. And though he was knocked out in the 10th round of that fight, it was a win nonetheless for McGregor as he made about $100 million in the night.
For all the nonsense, though, he looked in top form. We’ll see if it translates, but it appears he’s put the work in to be at his best.
“I’m better than that man, you know what I mean?” McGregor said. “I have evolved and I feel I’ve come full circle. I look forward to showing it on Saturday night.
“That was the single greatest performance in UFC history, widely regarded, the night I won the second title [in 2016] in Madison Square Garden. This performance on Saturday night, I’m going to top it.”
He certainly topped his last performance — his last news conference performance — with his effort Thursday. The fight? Well, bettors are playing Poirier, who is a -125 favorite at BetMGM, though the McGregor action should start soon. We’ll see what happens when the bell rings.
Know this, though: It should be good. Very good.
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