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Conor McGregor has handled himself exceedingly well since first UFC loss

The last time Conor McGregor fought Nate Diaz, the novelty of the pairing couldn’t help but play at the fight game libido. It was wildly imaginative, crossing the stalkton with the Irish feather, and it was equally ridiculous for McGregor to just say "yes" to another opponent switch on 11 day’s notice at a weight that was twice removed from the only weight he’d known in the UFC. Yet he did, he threw reckless dice, and Diaz was only too game to roll along with him. Those were compelling reasons to tune in. Just the many audacities in play. The foolishness of the "why not" spree on both ends. The sudden uselessness of rankings and good sense and all those superficial laws we place over fights. There was a complete deficit of f*cks to be given.

In other words, captivating.

This time it’s a little different. The string orchestra that swelled up is now a subway trio with a tuba. This time it’s a vanity trip with muffled stakes, a thing that has to play out so that we might see what the next thing is.

McGregor wants to duplicate the setting so that he can avenge his only loss without asterisks. If the public has been slow to understand the UFC’s reasoning for allowing one set of matchmaking whims (in a makeshift situation to save an event) grow into a series, McGregor has been patient in explaining it. He did it again at his McGregor-themed gym in Las Vegas on Friday, hosting a workout and Q&A with an assembled media. Bespectacled and chewing his gum in a most thoughtful (and audible) way, McGregor once again used even tones to explain his thinking behind the rematch under the original alignment. Quite simply, he’s pored over the blueprint and is convinced, within a shadow of a doubt, that he knows better how to handle the situation the next time through. He wants to prove it.

It’s really that basic.

He also spoke for nearly 35 minutes like a man who’s come to believe his first loss in the UFC was nothing more than cosmetic, just an unsightly wrinkle on his expensive suit. He’s identified some problems, and made the according changes. The alignment is the same, but it’s vastly different. McGregor has extracted every positive — i.e., that he was laying waste to Diaz before he petered out in the second round — and reloaded it into his celestial way of thinking. He acknowledges Diaz’s chin, but says his face is soft, and he’s going to open it up. He has recalibrated his power punches to stretch for five rounds, but suspects he’ll only need two. Like an obsessive, he has gone over the nine minutes of the first fight and addressed every shortcoming, while promoting each near miss as a harbinger of Diaz’s pending doom.

McGregor demanded the mulligan, and he has mastered that mulligan before it has had a chance to occur.

And you know what? It’s been a telling ride with McGregor, observing his behavior after that loss against Diaz. He has, in short, handled himself like a champion in the true sense of the word. The great Irish firebrand has somehow managed to update the perception that losing in MMA is not only something inevitable, but also an expansion of character. The loss has only served to fill in some blanks on Conor McGregor, who is just as boastful, just as materialistic, and just as outspoken after a loss as he was when he knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds.

It’s inexact, but perhaps his handling of himself stands out more against the backdrop of how women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey handled her first loss. Those two were transcendent stars 1A and 1B during the UFC’s boom era, and both drove the UFC’s ultimate sale price to where it landed at four billion dollars. Rousey, other than some Hollywood obligations, simply disappeared.

Meanwhile McGregor happily rides shotgun with the new owners as they embark on the ride. It’s business as usual. He wants two titles. He starts up his TheMacLife media site, calls the WWE roster a gang of p*ssies, says he has no use for Brock Lesnar or Jon Jones, and sets fire to Floyd Mayweather on every occasion he gets. When people talk to him about the featherweight division he has hijacked while he plays out the Diaz ordeal, about all those fighters there waiting for his return, he says they are "praying" he doesn’t come back. He still forks perception,, and he's lost nothing of his bombast. He iterates and reiterates that he’s a "true champion," and it’s hard to disagree, even if he is enjoying the spoils of his fame at the expense of so many around him.

He referred to Nate Diaz as Homer Simpson. He also said he was grateful for the way things played out with Rafael dos Anjos, who "p*ssied out" of UFC 196, by his estimation, and made way for Diaz. Diaz, who beat him. Diaz, who stole his thunder a bit. Or did he?

The thing is, McGregor seems to have lost nothing more than a fight. Should he lose to Diaz again at UFC 202 on Aug. 20, who knows if that flies. But heading into the rematch, the novelty of simply seeing Diaz versus McGregor doesn’t hold as much intrigue as the evolution of the players.

Particularly McGregor, who has proven there's a lot more to him heading into the second fight.

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