LAS VEGAS – Perhaps the surest way to pipe down the raging Irish is to bring in a movement coach and perform new age undulations on stage. Conor McGregor did on Thursday at the UFC 194 open workouts at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. McGregor’s movement coach Ido Portal accompanied him on stage, and together they performed tantric bear crawls to a day-drinking crowd, all of them ready to sing their hero into flight.
Where was his coach John Kavanagh? Somewhere off stage, away from the…what, like, was it an infomercial? There was some mitt-work to be found in the middle between him and Owen Roddy, but for the most part it was one bearded dude (Portal) showing another bearded dude (McGregor) how to change aural colors through hip movement.
That was a first.
And if we’re being honest, McGregor's lead up to UFC 194 has been little strange. With the four participants — Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, Jose Aldo and McGregor — there for showcase purposes only, none was more anticipated than "The Notorious" one. The Irish who made their way to Las Vegas were already in full throat on Thursday, confusing the hell out of the NFR stragglers that stopped in to see what the hubbub was all about. They came out even harder at Friday's weigh-ins, many waving red panties to signify what kind of night it would be.
But those who've made the trek across the pond have encountered the Zen McGregor, the one who starts his sentences with "I feel…"
The bombastic McGregor that was ready to tear Aldo’s head off back in July has become — perhaps deceivingly and maybe tactically — just somebody that we used to know. His face was sunken in considerably on the scale, moreso than usual, and the mania has fled a bit from his eyes. Maybe it returns by fight night, or maybe it doesn’t. But the psychological interplay between him and Aldo is shifting by the minute. Aldo continues to be stone-faced and business-like, completely fed up with the pageant.
McGregor appears to be veering from the rare whiskey to the chilled chardonnay.
And, you’ve got to admit, the Ido Portal stuff — and his demeanor in general — has been a little out there.
McGregor is not yet the undisputed featherweight champion and already he’s having his "Usher" moment. You remember Usher dishing advice to Anderson Silva — the Anderson Silva — back when Silva lost to Chris Weidman at UFC 162, don’t you? That happened at the MGM Grand, too. Leading up to that fight Silva had an entourage that stretched around the corner, and everybody from Sensei Steven Seagal to Ronaldo to Roy Jones Jr. was jumping in his spotlight.
People of other acclaim, in other words, huddling around the greatness of the champion. It feels like McGregor is kind of getting into that space. Although, in his case he recruited Portal. Who is Ido Portal, and why is his name so perfect for the kind of vibe he’s casting?
Too many questions.
But, man, McGregor's come a long way with his original cast. As Blake said, "the eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow." Portal, best I can tell, isn't a crow, he's just a strange presence. He showed up again on Embedded. Fans aren't sure what to think. When Portal brought his staff out at the workouts, and forced McGregor into a version of Remo Williams by thrusting it towards him, things were getting a little eclectic for simple fight game tastes.
All part of the newfound Zen.
Nothing will keep the Irish from letting McGregor know they are behind him, but the question all week has been: What’s up with Conor McGregor? Tonight we'll find out if it's anything, but leading up it's been tough to read his movement.