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Love him or hate him, but Conor McGregor rolls with the punches better than anyone

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Give this to Conor McGregor — he’s not above seeing the amusement in the ever-shifting scenes that breeze by his windowpanes. Instead of Rafael dos Anjos and a case for MMA history, on Wednesday McGregor found himself exchanging verbal volleys with Nate Diaz, who agreed to step in and fight him at 170 pounds on ten day’s notice after RDA fell out. No dual titles for McGregor this time through.

Yet the Irishman laughed just as merrily as you please at the UFC 196 press conference, talking about his generosity in letting others decide the competitive weight, belt or no belt, and ribbing Diaz lightly even as Nate slung words at him like "steroids" and "midgets" and "fuuuuuuck you."

Ultimately, McGregor is in his domain so long as the mics are hot and there’s money to be made. His affinity for Diaz actually shown through the brilliant one-liners and ripostes — "I like Nick’s little bro," he said at one point, "he’s like a little cholo 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 gun signs with the right hand and animal balloons with the left hand" — yet he’s always serious about the task at hand.

McGregor never forgets his job is to hurt a man. That’s the basic idea that he operates with as he pulls up residence in their heads. He makes people second-guess their own tendencies, and third-guess their second-guessing, which is as good as seizing the puppet strings before they ever touch gloves.

And the truth is, he loves his work, which was in evidence again out there in Torrance. Though the foe doesn’t seem to truly matter, clearly he appreciates a genuine fighter like Diaz, who steps up in spots such as these and resists authority at all costs. He couldn’t have been more delighted each time Diaz got his dander up, flashing a big wide smile when Diaz barked out any essential Diazism. He gets it; he knows how it looks. The closer Diaz could get to that center of heat, the giddier he got.

You wouldn’t have realized that McGregor was the one with far less experience between the two had Diaz not pointed it out a couple of times. Diaz is a fighter through and through. But McGregor is the one who’s tapped into the very essence of the fight game — from its oldest lessons to the latest gimmicks, from its primal scream to its bank vaults — and it’s always satisfying to hear him communicate it. 

For instance, somebody asked the moonlighting featherweight champion about his motivation heading in to March 5, since it’s McGregor who is once again accommodating last-minute change when he doesn’t have to. McGregor —who’s been charmingly materialistic since getting his first tailored suit — casually embarked on a prizefighter’s credo.

"I’m motivated by movement and money, and the movement of money," he said. Because of course he is. Conor McGregor is not deluding himself so hard that it almost makes everybody else come off as delusional. If he shares anything with the great talkers of old (like Muhammad Ali), it’s that he turns long-standing fibs into source material. Hype is the game, and he loves the beautiful arrangement of lies.

Anyway, soon Mystic Mac was talking about the resplendent pleasures of Rodeo Drive and the how nice the ladies back home treat him at the bank. Nothing was going to bother Conor McGregor on a sunny day in California just ten days out of his fight. Not the switch in opponent, not the loss of the title stakes, not the fact that he has to go up a second weight class to accommodate everybody’s needs.

Nothing.

In a game that is based all around revision — revised fight cards, revised opponents, revisionist history — McGregor is man who literally rolls with the punches. So long as there’s a purse in play and a soul to break, he’s never far from home. These things, clear as they are, can’t help but go into his appeal.