LAS VEGAS — If you thought Conor McGregor used up his well of material during the 11-month odyssey that was his rivalry with Jose Aldo, you would be mistaken.
That much was clear during a Wednesday press conference at the MGM Grand to promote McGregor's March 5 bout against lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Women's bantamweight champion Holly Holm, fresh off her knockout of Ronda Rousey last fall, was also on stage to promote her title defense against Miesha Tate. But McGregor quickly became the focus of the day, as he almost always does.
The buildup to the Aldo fight, delayed by an injury to the former champion last summer, was long. By the time the fight came around, McGregor had exhausted his arsenal of one-liners. We laughed at them for a while, but by December, we were just ready to see the fight. McGregor and Aldo were visibly subdued. They, too, were done with the talking.
On Wednesday, after showing up 25 minutes late to the press conference wearing a garish and no doubt expensive shirt that that he would later describe (accurately) as making him look like "El Chapo in his prime," McGregor immediately began the job of selling his fight. This was much to the detriment of Dos Anjos, who began the day subdued and ended it looking as though he wanted to be anywhere but sitting across the stage from McGregor.
McGregor explained that he had multiple opponents offered for his next fight but chose Dos Anjos because of one thing: the championship belt sitting on the table in front of him. It was the start of an extensive and one-sided verbal battering, and it left us wondering what would be worse: actually fighting McGregor, or engaging him in a verbal debate?
Conor McGregor "I'm speaking spanish, I'm dressed like El Chapo in his prime" https://t.co/a2hexpVlnA1/20/2016, 8:05:28 PM
"This man across from me has a title. He has nothing else but that," he said. "He is a free-TV fighter. He has nothing else to offer me but that gold belt. That was a simple decision. Frankie (Edgar) has a bit of desperation about him, so I'm going to let him sit for awhile. Nate (Diaz), I like the way he came into his last fight. But before that, he came into his fight sloppy and out of shape, whining and complaining about everything. He came into his last fight in shape, and he played the game a little bit more. So I can give respect to that. We'll see where it goes. I will go through every single one of them, make no mistake about it. Rafael is next. More gold belts."
Whenever Dos Anjos was asked a question, McGregor never let him finish a full answer, interjecting with insults. Dos Anjos tried to keep a straight face at first, but by the third or fourth time, the frustration was etched across his face.
"My next question you can ask for him," Dos Anjos said. "Because he answers for me, so you can ask him."
"I set it all up and I knock it out of the park. That's what I do. That's why you're sitting there," McGregor responded. "That's why you're flying to Brazil to do that media run. I want to send you to our Brazilian TV partner and have you answer why you have to book a hotel in your own home country. I want you to answer why your kids' names are Bob and Donald. Why are you raising American children?"
This is not true, by the way; Dos Anjos did not name his children Bob and Donald. But when it comes to promoting a fight, McGregor's relationship with the truth has always been tenuous at best. And it allowed him to keep hammering on the angle that Dos Anjos, unlike Aldo, is not a real Brazilian champion.
"This guy, in Brazilian lingo, is a gringo, and that is the truth," McGregor said.
Again, not really.
The thing about McGregor's bravado that you have to remember is that it's about more than just selling a fight. Sure, it helps on that front in a massive way. But the insults and the constant interruptions are designed to get into his opponent's head. It seemed to work against Aldo, right? Long known as a careful and calculated fighter, Aldo rushed in as soon as the bell rang for their UFC 194 bout. He couldn't wait to take McGregor's head off, to finally shut him up after nearly a year of insults. He was lured into a mistake, and he paid the price.
Dos Anjos won't have to endure 11 months of McGregor. But if Wednesday is any indication, he may not be able to keep McGregor from getting in his head. There are only so many times you can be called "a slower Jose Aldo, a bum Jose Aldo" before your insides fill with the kind of anger that makes you want to hurt someone. That's the kind of reaction McGregor is hoping for, and it's something Dos Anjos needs to carefully avoid, if that's even possible.
At the beginning of the press conference, McGregor casually noted that he has aspirations to go after the UFC's welterweight title as well and said it's something he feels he can accomplish in 2016. On the surface, it seems like such a silly notion. McGregor facing off against Robbie Lawler? The Irishman might be able to compete size-wise with lightweights in the UFC, but welterweight? It is hard to imagine McGregor, for all his talent and vision and determination, accomplishing such a thing.
But if there's one thing we've learned about McGregor, it's that we doubt him at our own peril. He has called his shots and then made them a reality, turning doubters into believers along the way. And while 2015 felt like a hallmark year for McGregor, he said the best is yet to come.
"2015 was my year. 2016 is also my year," he said. "Every year is my f---ing year."
Jeremy Botter covers mixed martial arts for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.
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