Remember back when Conor McGregor's acerbic tongue and quick wit were the life of the MMA party?
Those were the days, weren't they? Back before all the cars and the yacht and the whiskey and the trouble with the law; back when McGregor was still a hungry young man who had no Euros in the bank but had a noggin full of world-changing, history-making dreams.
He was a salve for a sport that was growing increasingly boring and needed a savior. But it wasn't just his mouth or his penchant for trash talk. We'd seen trash talk before. There isn't anything special about trash talk for the sake of trash talk.
What made McGregor different was the depth of his trash talk. His smarts. He had incredible one-liners, sure, but in the middle of those one-liners, he dropped little nuggets that made you sit back and think: Man, this guy knows his stuff.
And he did. McGregor loved mixed martial arts. He was possessed by it. Before he became a fighter, he was a fan, attending events and taking photos with his favorites. He never lost that passion for the sport, not even as he started becoming a household name. Just in the way he talked, you could tell he knew everything there was to know not just about his opponents, but about everyone else in his division, and about everyone else in every other division.
The lead-up to McGregor's showdown on Saturday night with Khabib Nurmagomedov makes one thing clear: Those days are gone.
It's easy to blame the money. We are all desperate to get our hands on more of it. We all want to be rich. Most of us never come close. The lucky few who obtain life-changing money often find themselves spiraling out of control. They morph from who they once were into something less likable.
And you can't blame him. I shudder to think what would happen to me if I received an influx of $100 million in one day. I'd probably end up alienating everyone who has ever loved me while buying a lot of things I do not need. I do both of these things on occasion, anyway, and I have never made as much money as McGregor.
But it's unfortunate, really, because the McGregor we have now? He's far less interesting than the McGregor we used to have.
He's not as funny, not by a mile. He's kind of a jerk, when you think about it. He's always been offensive, but now there's no humor to his offensiveness, and sometimes there's a bit of racism to go along with it. He has substituted cleverness for loudness, which is not interesting.
Again: You can't blame him. He's a product of his environment. His environment has changed. He has gone from living and dreaming along the streets of Crumlin, shadow-boxing the air and dreaming of fighting for fame and wealth, to having more wealth than he ever imagined.
It's hard to dream when nothing in the world is out of reach.
But the UFC had no choice in bringing him back. They need McGregor, and they need him badly. The 2018 UFC roster is mostly devoid of stars, which is bad timing given they're about to pack up and move over to ESPN. They need people who people pay to see, and not just in regular numbers, but in eye-watering, record-breaking numbers. There's only one man who can provide that.
So they had to bring him back; otherwise, they not only lose out on a ton of money, but they also risk giving him the opening to strike out fully on his own. He might be a handful to deal with, but the idea of McGregor competing against the UFC? It probably sends chills down the spine of Endeavor executives.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't quite a bit more excited about this fight week than your usual, run-of-the-mill fight week. There's something in the air. It's just that, we used to be able to depend on McGregor to waltz into Las Vegas buoyed by the traveling Irish, ready to conquer the city and the country and the world. By the time the press conference ended on Thursday, he'd whipped us all into a frothy mess. He loved the cameras. They loved him. He was everywhere. We couldn't wait for Saturday night.
This time, it's different. He's not doing much in the way of media. There's a press conference this week, but given how cringeworthy his press conference act has become since that terrible world tour for the Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight, I'd say it's not worth looking forward to.
He'll curse a lot. A lot. He'll call Khabib all sorts of names and talk about how he's the king and Khabib is nothing and blah blah blah. He'll blather on about his whiskey and his ridiculously ugly yet expensive line of suits. It's become routine. We know what to expect. There's a lot of yelling and posturing and arrogance, and it's just not that much fun anymore. Red panty night? That was hilarious and fun. What we're seeing now is bluster for the sake of it.
That's the worst part of all of this, I think. McGregor used to keep us on our toes. He watched everything and read every story we wrote and could reference them deftly while cutting his opponents down a few sizes and leaving them wondering what the hell happened.
Nowadays, it's just a lot of noise, with the only differences being the decibel level. He's still the most fascinating person in the sport, but loudness is not a replacement for the kind of intrigue McGregor used to bring to the sport.