New leaf, mind games, PR ploy? Questions abound as Conor McGregor ditches the trash talk ahead of UFC 246

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Silver-tongued Dubliner Conor McGregor ditched his usual style of brash fight promotion late on Wednesday in Las Vegas as he expressed his respect for Donald Cerrone. Does this represent a new direction for the UFC’s biggest star?

The press conference was notably different to the ones that have come before it, particularly the last time that we saw McGregor front and center in an official UFC media engagement a little over 15 months ago when the bad blood ahead of his fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov was tangible in the air. 

This time, there was no such distraction. The first indicator that things would proceed a little more smoothly was that ‘McGregor Time’ had become in sync with the clocks in Las Vegas, as the usually tardy Irishman took to the stage on time and as advertised when he promptly walked to the stage and shook his opponent’s hand.

McGregor has rarely been as available to the media as he has been this week, and throughout all of his press encounters it’s clear that he is enjoying his time back in the spotlight, while also shorn of the type of negative energy which characterized his last fight against Russian nemesis Nurmagomedov.  

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However, as open as McGregor was in discussing the extension of his fight career, he remained tight-lipped at any mention of the allegations he has faced of sexual assault in his native Ireland. One reporter during the press conference was met with a scowl from UFC boss Dana White and a chorus of boos from the audience when he attempted to get a quote from McGregor regarding the rumors. 

Instead, White interjected to say that those topics were covered during McGregor’s wide-ranging interview with ESPN earlier this week.

The lack of comment, coupled with McGregor’s new stoic, respectful character could be seen as a cynical attempt to launder his character and get back in the good graces of fight fans and media alike, following a couple of years of repeated controversy.

Whatever the cause, the result appears to be the most focused and clear-minded Conor McGregor we have seen in years. Word filtering from his fight camp suggests that he is in the best shape of his career thus far, and while this is hardly a revelatory statement in the world of combat sports, it has the feeling of a truism when held up against the Irishman’s demeanour displayed late on Wednesday night.

As for the very public tete-a-tete between the two fighters, this was anything but a roast. Cerrone noted McGregor’s impact on the UFC over the years and declared how much of a thrill it was to face one of the company’s true superstars.

McGregor, meanwhile, paid tribute to Cerrone’s doggedness and veteran status, also finding time to compliment the American’s python-skin jacket – but much like that piece of apparel once had, Cerrone also packs a considerably venomous bite.

Cerrone’s records – most UFC wins, most rounds, most finishes – have been repeated ad nauseam all week, as has the fact that he is the bigger man and has more experience in the welterweight division in which the fight will take place.

These aren’t factors which mean much to McGregor, though, but whether the contrite, gracious iteration of the Irishman who took the stage at the presser on Wednesday also has the same fire within him which propelled him to legendary status in the UFC will remain to be seen. 

We find out the answer to that on Saturday night. 

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