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Conor McGregor shows signs of maturity before UFC 246 bout

Updated January 17, 2020 - 7:23 pm

One of Conor McGregor’s most memorable lines was when he apologized to “absolutely nobody” after stepping on souls as he climbed the ranks to become the UFC’s first simultaneous two-division champion.

He took a microphone Friday at Park Theater to say sorry to fans for being a few minutes late to the ceremonial weigh-ins in yet another sign that a more subdued McGregor has emerged ahead of his return to competition against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the main event of UFC 246 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

“I apologize I’m a little bit late,” McGregor said. “It’s hard work getting the kids ready and bringing them to the events. So thank you all for your patience.”

While longtime fans might be left doing a double take at such contrition, it fit with the 31-year-old Irishman’s face turn this week in Las Vegas.

McGregor said he has given up alcohol during training camp after drinking through fight week for his last bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018. That could be part of the toned-down demeanor.

There’s also a healthy respect for Cerrone, as a competitor and father. Both have had children since their war of words peaked several years ago.

McGregor, a former two-division champion, doesn’t see the need to manufacture any false drama before what is expected to be an action-packed and competitive fight.

“I just react to the situation, and the situation has been good,” McGregor said Thursday. “It’s been respectful. A welcome change. Happy days.

“This is what I love to do. It’s good to be back. It’s a different vibe, but it’s still a high intensity bout. Make no mistake. I’m coming with all my skills and all my intent to put Donald away.”

McGregor, looking for his first victory since 2016, said he plans to fight several times this year in an attempt to get his career back on track. That plan could help reduce the number of times he makes headlines outside the cage.

McGregor often has alluded this week to his transgressions and legal issues without directly confronting them. He said with more consistent activity will come more structure in his training and life.

“I was sporadic with my work and with my life,” he said. “I’m a lot more centered now and a lot more grounded and focused. With activity, with consistency and with structure, I can do anything, like I have done already.”

His opponent welcomes the new McGregor.

“He has such an awesome platform,” Cerrone said. “Why not be a good role model? Why not be a good person? You can steer this vessel any way you want. It’s good to see him taking the right path.”

Still, McGregor wants to make clear he hasn’t changed. He said it’s part of a natural maturation process that partly has been hastened by fatherhood. McGregor, once a notoriously late arriver for events, now keeps a much tighter schedule for his day. That starts with waking up early, partly in an effort to maintain structure and partly because Conor Jr. and Croia wake him up early every day to play.

“I’m certainly more grown and more experienced,” he said. “I’ve been through certain things that have helped shape me as a man, like us all on this journey. But if you ask my family and those around me, I am no different. I’m certainly more focused and a bit more aware. I followed what I said I should do this camp, and it’s helped me leaps and bounds. But I’m still the same passionate young man I’ve always been, reaching for the stars and aspiring to do things that have never been done before.”

That starts with Cerrone. McGregor has several options for his next fight, particularly if he wins Saturday. A leading candidate would be breakout welterweight star Jorge Masvidal. There’s also potential for a third fight with rival Nate Diaz or the winner of the lightweight title bout between Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson.

McGregor also said he will box again this year. He mentioned Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao as a possible opponent, adding that he would love to have the fight at Allegiant Stadium.

Beyond that, who knows? McGregor talked about how fame isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

“I understand people have real problems, and this is not a real problem,” he said. “I rolled up in a Rolls Royce truck. My family is back home, and my son is playing in a pool in our Vegas home, so I’m very, very blessed. The upside certainly outweighs it, but you know what the bad is that comes with this life. It sometimes feels like a witch hunt. It’s not so much me. I’m cool with it. I understand it. It’s the people around me, my family.

“It gets a bit heavy at times.”

The bout headlines a pay-per-view main card that starts at 7 p.m. The preliminary card begins at 4.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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