TORRANCE (AP) — Conor McGregor has turned fight promotion into an art during his ferocious rise to the top of the UFC. In Nate Diaz, McGregor has an opponent with an abrasive personality to match his — and the brawling tendencies to turn their UFC 196 showdown into something worth talking about.
When the UFC put two of its most prodigious trash-talkers on a podium Wednesday to discuss their hastily arranged bout, the resulting display of verbal fireworks didn’t disappoint the hundreds of fans who waited in a line stretching around a gym in suburban Los Angeles.
“With his soft body and his lack of preparation, he will not be able to handle the ferocity,” McGregor said. “By the end of the first (round), I feel he will be put away. There’s a respect there between us, but it’s business in there, and he will be KO’d inside the first round.”
Even with less than two weeks to promote their March 5 bout in Las Vegas, McGregor’s promotional sparring with Diaz might make the new main event bigger than McGregor’s original matchup with lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, who pulled out Tuesday with a foot injury.
“(Not getting to fight for) the belt stung for a little bit, the fact I wouldn’t,” McGregor said. “But really it doesn’t matter what weight divisions or what belt is on the line, because I should create my own belt, because I am my own belt. It’s the McGregor belt.”
While Dos Anjos has few fans outside his native Brazil, Diaz is a popular veteran from a California fighting family. Diaz also embraces the antagonistic nature of promoting a fight with the boastful McGregor (192), who has joined Ronda Rousey as one of the UFC’s biggest stars.
“I’m just going to kill or be killed,” Diaz said. “That’s what I’m coming with.”
Even Diaz (18-10) seemed a bit overwhelmed by McGregor’s verbal gymnastics in their first joint appearance, mostly keeping his comments short after infuriating the champ by repeatedly asserting McGregor is using steroids.
“How does it feel to be a millionaire now? It’s nice, right?” McGregor asked Diaz. “Congratulations. You’re rich now.”
McGregor then asserted Diaz is an unskilled brawler and made fun of the bout’s 170-pound weight limit requested by Diaz. McGregor won the 145-pound belt in December, and he has been training for a 155-pound fight with Dos Anjos.
“The only weight I care about is the weight of them checks, and my checks are always super heavyweight,” McGregor said.
McGregor is the UFC’s featherweight champion, and the loquacious Irishman had hoped to win the lightweight belt simultaneously at the MGM Grand Garden Arena before Dos Anjos pulled out, predictably drawing the champion’s scorn.
“Did you see (the injury)? It’s a bruise!” McGregor said. “Ice! Ibuprofen! If I jumped under an X-ray (with that injury), the doctor would slap me and say, ‘What are you doing, kid? Get out of here!’”
McGregor also took time to rip the other candidates for the fight, criticizing former champion Frankie Edgar and former lightweight champion Jose Aldo, who was knocked out in 13 seconds by McGregor in December.
“At least Nate was engaging in the conversation,” McGregor said, even while criticizing Diaz for asking for a higher weight limit. “Everybody else went flat-out running.”
Diaz and his older brother, Nick, a former Strikeforce welterweight champion, have earned several high-profile fights in recent years for their combination of fighting skills and outlaw personae.
The Stockton-based brothers have become archetypal in MMA circles for their pugnacious style, unapologetic marijuana use and aggressively anti-social style: For instance, the brothers often make obscene gestures across the octagon at their opponents before rounds.
While getting in plenty of shots on Diaz, McGregor also acknowledged respect for Diaz and his brother, using creative language to approve of their willingness to take almost any fight.
“I honestly like Nick’s little brother,” McGregor said. “He’s like a little ... gangster from the ‘hood, but at the same time he coaches kids’ jiu-jitsu on a Sunday morning and goes on bike rides with the elderly. He makes gang signs with the right hand and animal balloons with the left hand.”