Thanks to the roaring mouth of Conor McGregor, there was nearly a brawl Thursday at the final news conference before Saturday’s UFC 196.
McGregor launched another verbal assault on his opponent, Nate Diaz, fueling tension for a stare-down that closed with McGregor swiping Diaz’s hand away from him as security men rushed to calm matters.
Ireland’s McGregor, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s featherweight belt-holder, will move up 25 pounds to fight late substitute Diaz in a non-title welterweight main event at MGM Grand.
It’s a substantial test, and McGregor (19-2) wanted Stockton’s Diaz (19-10) completely aware of who was carrying the show.
McGregor generated a $10.1-million live gate at his last fight in December, and is now positioned to contend in three different weight classes after lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos withdrew last week because of a foot injury.
“I really enjoy Vegas, I’ve buried three bodies clean here and Saturday night will be a fourth body,” McGregor said. “The dirt is soft. You can stuff bodies cleanly. [Diaz is] very, very predictable, he has a soft, flabby body.”
McGregor, who took the featherweight belt by ending the 10-year unbeaten run of Brazil’s Jose Aldo with a 13-second knockout in December, added he’s comfortable not having to cut weight.
McGregor is so angered by Dos Anjos’ withdrawal, he’s said that if he performs impressively Saturday he’ll pursue a welterweight title shot at Robbie Lawler in July, leaving Dos Anjos with a lesser purse fighting someone else.
“I’m open to whatever he’s considering doing,” UFC President Dana White said. “If he wants to fight Robbie Lawler, Conor is tough to deny these days. Conor does step up and fight anyone, anywhere, anytime, and this is what makes you love the fight business.”
Against Diaz, a former lightweight title contender who is skilled in boxing and jujitsu, McGregor is likely to rely upon his speed, elusiveness and kicking ability.
Diaz spewed back some expletives, and complained about the UFC’s preferential treatment of McGregor, and telling him, “We’re going to fight and find out. … You knocked out midgets. Look at my lineup, my fights, compared to [yours]. I’ve been hustling, [doing] real work.”
White then brought the fighters together for the faceoff. McGregor took the swing toward Diaz, and Diaz’s entourage, including two former welterweight title contenders, his brother Nick Diaz and Jake Shields, leaped on stage.
“I had my friend’s back. [McGregor] wasn’t going to cheap-shot my friend. I think [McGregor’s] scared,” Shields said afterward.
McGregor’s verbal blows at Diaz included a reference to the difference in their pay. McGregor claimed Diaz fought for a $20,000 purse and $20,000 victory bonus in December.
“Don’t talk about money, you’re broke,” McGregor said. “I could easily send you back to that 20/20. Dance for me, Nate, dance for me! And don’t look me in the eyes!”
Co-main event fighter Miesha Tate said the back-and-forth has made for a “lighthearted” event as she has watched McGregor and Diaz swap taunts. Meanwhile, Tate and unbeaten women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm are effectively “making friendship bracelets,” for each other, Tate said.
“I was open to the rematch with Rousey, I just didn’t want to wait until June or November,” Holm (10-0) said. “I’m here because I’m passionate about fighting. I said if it’s not the rematch, let’s do something else.”
McGregor, meanwhile, admitted he knows how to “play the game” of marketing his fights.
“People who don’t take risks can’t make that climb,” he said. “People pay a lot of money for these fights. I appreciate the fans’ support and I love putting on a show. I love to fight.”
He told Britain’s Daily Telegraph on Wednesday he’d like to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr., and said at the news conference that MGM Grand should consider replacing the Mayweather sign hanging outside, given McGregor’s popularity.
“I may go up there and rip it down myself, and what’s [Mayweather] going to do about it?” McGregor said. “I know the people at the MGM are seeing [profits]. Take out that lion statue and put up an Irish lion.”
Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter: @latimespugmire