Conor McGregor is back.
The combat sports superstar finally appeared in front of the media Wednesday ahead of his UFC 246 main event battle against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night, with the press conference streamed on YouTube.
The Irishman, Cerrone and UFC President Dana White fielded questions in front of a packed house at the Pearl Theater in the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
McGregor is winless in the UFC since 2016, when he defeated Eddie Alvarez to become the UFC's original "champ champ," but he remains the biggest draw in the sport. Notorious' only MMA action in that time was losing to UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov via fourth-round submission in October 2018. His only other work came during his 2017 megafight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. inside a boxing ring. Mayweather stopped McGregor in the 10th round.
But McGregor is back, and he seems like an entirely new person. His cordial, happy and downright gentlemanly disposition suggested the Irishman has a new lease on life headed into UFC 246.
Heck, McGregor somehow came off being just as likable as Cerrone.
In comparison to his past antics at press conferences, Wednesday's were rather tame.
New Year, New Conor?
While McGregor was absent from the Octagon for the entirety of 2019, he continually made headlines.
In October, the New York Times' Tariq Panja reported the Irishman was facing a second sexual assault allegation in his hometown of Dublin. In March, Panja reported McGregor was under investigation after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in December 2018. McGregor has not been charged in either case and has denied the allegations.
Elsewhere, McGregor was fined €1,000 ($1,115) in November after pleading guilty to punching a man in a Dublin bar in April. TMZ reported McGregor had attempted to buy a round of his whiskey brand for people at the bar, but the man refused.
The two-time UFC champion also settled a civil lawsuit in relation to an incident in Miami, where he was shown on CCTV footage appearing to smash a man's phone. McGregor was initially charged with robbery by sudden snatching and criminal mischief, but Miami police dropped the charges after the alleged victim stopped co-operating.
It seems McGregor is attempting to turn a corner in 2020. At least that's what he told ESPN's Ariel Helwani recently. During the interview, he again denied the sexual assault allegations. A reporter in Wednesday's press conference was shut down by White when attempting to ask McGregor about the situation.
But when asked about his new calm demeanor, McGregor shied away from saying he was a changed man at all.
"You know, I have not changed too much to be honest," McGregor said Wednesday. "I am who I am. I've always been. I don't think I've changed too much. Granted different opponents, different circumstances."
But later, when asked a variation on that question, McGregor said he felt like he had grown wiser over recent months, which was the same thing the fighter told Helwani in the interview that dropped Monday.
"You know, I'm certainly more grown and more experienced, and I've been through certain things that have helped shape me as a man, you know, like us all on this journey of life," he said. "But if you were to ask my family and my people that know me, I am no different."
So judging by what he says, at least most recently, McGregor maybe doesn't think he's all that different than he was before.
But seeing him warmly shake his opponent's hand, constantly offer praise about Cerrone's grand fighting career and McGregor's overall pleasantness through the whole affair were a big departure from his previous antics.
Clear Is Kind: Conor Reads Cowboy
The closest thing to an insult McGregor lobbed at Cerrone during the press conference was when the 31-year-old likened Cerrone's skill set to reading a children's book.
"I can read Donald, you know," McGregor said. "I like him a lot. He's a good guy. But I can read Donald like a children's book, to be honest, you know."
But even that was littered with compliments for Cerrone. It was almost as if McGregor were trying to blend his new way of being with the best parts of his old self. Regardless, McGregor was clear in the communication of his belief that he's a level or two above Cerrone.
"He's a good fighter," McGregor added. "He's got some good tricks up his sleeve, but I know the tricks he has. I know what he's planning, what he hopes to achieve. But we're well prepared."
McGregor Doesn't Dig Kamaru Usman's Style
McGregor was asked about both UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and BMF champion Jorge Masvidal as potential next opponents. McGregor will be competing at welterweight for the third time Saturday night after splitting bouts against Nate Diaz in 2016.
He told Helwani he is in the best shape of his life, "mental and physical." Moreover, he's been consistent in saying he intends to remain at the weight to compete there in some capacity during 2020.
McGregor said he was interested in both fights, saying both fighters appealed to him based on the belts they wear around their waists. But stylistically, he said he would lean toward fighting Masvidal over Usman because Masvidal's style would blend better with his own to produce compelling action.
Well, he said all that but delivered it the McGregor way, which was to blast Usman's tendency toward wrestling.
"The more exciting bout would be me and [Jorge] Masvidal," McGregor said. "Usman has the style of Khabib [Nurmagomedov], the sniff-the-jockstrap style."
Two things stand out about those comments. First, McGregor vs. Masvidal would be huge. Second, McGregor didn't watch Usman's win over Colby Covington at UFC 245, or at least all that closely, because there was nothing about the welterweight champion's performance that night that should make him unappealing.
Zuffa Boxing Deal Could Lead to Pacquiao vs. McGregor
While McGregor couldn't quite get through all 12 rounds against Mayweather in 2017, he said he likes his chances with a few adjustments in the potential rematch. Moreover, he said he wanted to fight Manny Pacquiao, who also lost to Mayweather in 2015.
McGregor said he wanted to become a world titleholder in boxing before he retires, and Pacquiao's WBA welterweight championship, which he won last year against the previously undefeated Keith Thurman, would certainly afford McGregor that chance.
On top of that, Pacquiao is the second-biggest draw in the sport behind Mayweather, who is currently retired.
Most interesting, though, is that McGregor seemed almost certain a fight against Pacquiao could become a reality. He was asked specifically about White's long-rumored Zuffa Boxing venture, and McGregor's eyes seemed to light up at the prospect of fighting Pacquiao under that banner.
That, or it was the inner happiness of knowing something that was probably going to happen but couldn't be revealed just yet.
Ochocinco Gets Betting Advice
Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson got the last word at the press conference, possibly because the retired NFL player was the only person in the media who was also a celebrity. (Johnson was there covering the event for Bleacher Report.)
Or maybe it's just that White knew better than to cut things short before Johnson got to have his say.
Whatever the case, Johnson did something probably every bettor wishes they could do before ponying up their stake behind one fighter over another. He asked McGregor on whom he should bet for Saturday's big fight.
McGregor, of course, told Johnson to back him. New, old or something in between, Notorious is the type who always believes he will win the fight.