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Column: UFC’s Conor McGregor risks his tough guy reputation in Nate Diaz rematch

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor snarls at a news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas.
(Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal / Associated Press)

The risk Conor McGregor is taking by possibly staining his career with a second consecutive loss to Nate Diaz on Saturday in UFC 202 is one thing.

But McGregor’s toned-down interest in promotion is the greater danger for the UFC’s most compelling figure.

Since McGregor’s falling-out with UFC leadership over his refusal to interrupt training to publicize the rematch of his March 5 second-round submission loss to Diaz, the Irishman hasn’t seemed near the lively figure he was in his emergence.

The colorful words and shocking acts McGregor rode to prominence – jumping out of the octagon to confront then-featherweight-champion Jose Aldo after a victory, verbally dicing up both Aldo and Diaz in the buildup to those fights – have dwindled.

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McGregor followed the no-show dispute that got him booted from July’s UFC 200 main event  by arriving 30 minutes late to Wednesday’s news conference for both headliners and wasn’t apologetic.

He said he wasn’t sorry that UFC President Dana White and Diaz started without him, noting, “These … press conferences … they’ve gotten me kicked off [a card] before,” McGregor said in his opening comments. “I’m just happy to be here, ready to fight. Cut all the [baloney]. You know I’m going to give a fight when I’m here. It’s going to be a show.

“So forget all this other [crap], this timekeeping and stuff. I’m here.”

Nate Diaz, left, and UFC President Dana White start the UFC 202 news conference without Conor McGregor.
Nate Diaz, left, and UFC President Dana White start the UFC 202 news conference without Conor McGregor.
(Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal / Associated Press )

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That attitude certainly doesn’t sit well with the UFC, which relished the animated salesmanship McGregor provided when he verbally undressed Diaz before the record-setting UFC 196 pay-per-view bout last spring.

“We’re having a press conference here. If it’s over before he gets here, it’s over,” an aggravated White barked to a reporter before McGregor showed.

McGregor did throw a decent verbal jab at Diaz by defending his preparedness for the fight: “Let me see that full [training] camp [Diaz has touted], I can’t wait to see it. Bring the clinch, bring the jiu-jitsu, bring the whole of … Stockton [Diaz’s hometown]. I’m ready for whatever.”

Seconds later, Diaz took it upon himself to trigger the publicity machine by exiting the news conference with an entourage, throwing plastic bottles and a roll of tape in the direction of McGregor and his supporters, to which the Irishman responded by lobbing back some energy drink cans.

McGregor gave White a shrug as the scene played out, which was either a mutual acknowledgment of Diaz’s unpredictability or a nod that the pay-per-view card at T-Mobile Arena had its selling point.

The most compelling aspect of this fight has been McGregor’s stubbornness, insisting the rematch again be 25 pounds above his weight class as the UFC featherweight champion. This despite the fact that a second straight loss could exact a toll from his swagger.

Using a millennial term, he’s fighting to remain savage.

Conor McGregor is restrained after an altercation broke out at a news conference Wednesday.
Conor McGregor is restrained after an altercation broke out at a news conference Wednesday.
(Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal )
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Instead of staying in his featherweight lane, he dares to repeat a dangerous match-up.

“It’s an era of cherry picking,” McGregor said, mentioning boxers Floyd Mayweather Jr., Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin who have carefully selected safer opponents than they might have. “It’s not like that with me. I’m here to challenge myself.”

That fierce focus on backing up his words has come with the caveat that he’s using less of them this time around.

“The true fight game is a crazy business. There’s many ups, many downs,” McGregor said. “We embrace it, take it all onboard and carry on. That’s what we’re doing.”

A repeat defeat wouldn’t mean a landing without a net. White has already said that McGregor has to next defend his featherweight belt against Aldo – a certain pay-per-view headliner — or the title will be stripped.

Diaz sniped, “They’re trying to make an escape route.”

McGregor explained, “There are a lot of options in the background, and options are good in the fight game. So I’m pretty happy with that, but I’m most happy that I have my shot at redemption.

“Look, I could sit and think about, ‘What if I win? What if I lose?’ and all that, but right now I’m just thinking about this contest. I’m fully prepared. I’m confident going in, and victory is all I’m thinking about.”

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire


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