The God of Verbal Warfare: Conor McGregor Continues to Hit All the Right Notes

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterJanuary 21, 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 20:  UFC featherweight champion and lightweight challenger Conor McGregor of Ireland interacts with the media during the UFC 197 on-sale press conference event inside MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on January 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Before Wednesday's press conference promoting his March 5 fight with UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, I was done with Conor McGregor. Done.

Not as a fighter, of course. As an athlete he's never been more enthralling. His unique rhythm and unquestionable striking power have brought an energy and excitement the featherweight class has never seen before.

After years of living as second-class citizens, of headlining those pay-per-views people would decide weren't even worth the trip to Buffalo Wild Wings, the little guys were finally getting their chance to shine.

That was all McGregor's doing. It's funny how an opponent collapsing unconscious tends to cure fans of their size issues. Whether a man is 145 pounds or 245 pounds, face down on the mat is face down on the mat.

McGregor dropped Aldo with a perfectly timed left.
McGregor dropped Aldo with a perfectly timed left.John Locher/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

While McGregor continued to add wrinkles and nuances to his fight performances, I feared he had peaked as a personality. Even the most electric self-promoters can fall into patterns and routines. So, it seemed, would McGregor.

At a certain point I wanted to shake him back to his senses. We get it. You make a lot of money. We get it. These other guys don't. We get it. You're Irish.

Is that all there is?

It seemed a pertinent question a few months ago. After all, fight fans had seen the original McGregor, Chael Sonnen, eventually run headfirst into a creative brick wall. Sonnen's act was revolutionary, and McGregor borrowed heavily from it.

But when he wasn't calling Anderson Silva and his countrymen "savages," Sonnen seemed lost, eventually settling on a pompous pro wrestling caricature who walked the line between parody and serious promotion before ultimately falling completely into the comedy zone.

Maybe it was because he went through the promotional cycle with former champion Jose Aldo twice in a single year, but McGregor, too, seemed to fall into a rut. On Wednesday, he pulled himself out of it, proving his pattern was just as flexible as his fight game.

For almost an hour, it was the Conor McGregor show. He took shots at his opponent, the UFC's lackluster marketing wing and maybe threatened to bury boxer Floyd Mayweather in the desert. At one point, he even began answering the questions directed at Dos Anjos and UFC president Dana White

Only Jesus Christ himself was spared of McGregor's fearsome wrath. When Dos Anjos called himself a tool in Jesus' hands, McGregor claimed a closer relationship with the Son of God.

"Me and Jesus are cool," he said so casually that you might miss the sacrilege. "I’m cool with all the gods. Gods recognize gods."

Bleacher Report MMA @BR_MMA

Conor McGregor was in top form at the UFC 197 press conference https://t.co/E5uWE4dRQw https://t.co/NTccITij85

It was a one-of-a-kind performance—and he did it all dressed as a B-villain from the 1980s police procedural Miami Vice, citing a recently arrested Mexican drug lord as his sartorial role model.

"I’m speaking Spanish, I’m dressed like El Chapo in his prime," McGregor said. "I’m running this company like half a wise guy and I’m up here verbally destroying this man. I am a multicultured individual. I really can do whatever I want."

Truly, there is only one Conor McGregor.

It would have been easy to recycle his greatest hits from the Aldo campaign. Dos Anjos is a similar fighter with a similar background. He could have fallen back on all of his classic hits about favelas or conquering warlords and spent the remainder of his day buying another luxury car.

Instead, McGregor tailored his talk just for Dos Anjos. Like any good fighter, he searched out weakness, eventually finding it in Dos Anjos' relationship with his children and his home country, calling the champion a "gringo" and lighting an obvious fire in a man not well suited for this kind of verbal warfare.

"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," McGregor said. "I want you to answer why your kids' names are Bob and Donald. Why are you raising American children?"

Are Dos Anjos' kids really named Bob and Donald? Of course not. But the point stands—Dos Anjos has departed his home for a new life in California at Kings MMA. It was clearly a sensitive subject for the Brazilian, who was livid as the two faced off for the first time.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 20:  (L-R) UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos and UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor face off during the UFC 197 on-sale press conference event inside MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on January 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

As McGregor offered a hand, looking to recreate El Chapo's famous photo with actor Sean Penn, Dos Anjos could only seethe. McGregor had him right where he wanted him. And the UFC suddenly had itself a bona fide superfight.

Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.