LAS VEGAS — Not many UFC opponents have earned Conor McGregor’s respect before a match. But Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone seems to have done that judging from their pre-fight press conference at the Palms on Wednesday.
Unlike past events in which McGregor was notorious for shredding his opponents with his verbal taunts, he had nothing but kind words for Cerrone, who holds the record for most wins and most finishes in UFC history. The two will meet in Saturday’s main event of UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena (10 pm; ESPN+ PPV).
“He’s earned my respect through his activity,” McGregor, 31, said. “It’s hard not to respect Donald. There will be blood spilled on Saturday, but it won’t be bad blood. We’re focusing on the skills here and that’s going to be exciting for the fans. There’s going to be lots of drama in there and we’re eager to get going.”
Cerrone was equally respectful, but the session didn’t lack enthusiasm or fire. McGregor (21-4) hasn’t fought in 15 months and Cerrone (36-13-1) has been searching for a mega-bout like this throughout his long career. Both are eager to get in the Octagon and get at it.
“I’m looking forward to four or five rounds of battling with this dude,” Cerrone, 36, said. “Conor is one of the last of a dying breed of fighters. It’s going to be good to get in there with him. I’m going five rounds with this dude and I can’t f—ing wait.”
Some suggested McGregor appeared to be a changed man after enduring nearly two years of various legal issues for bad behavior. He said his legal slate is clean and he’s ready to focus on fighting.
“I am who I am,” McGregor said. “I don’t think I’ve changed too much throughout, granted different opponents and different circumstances. I’m in a position where I’m very excited to be here and I’m very eager to perform for the fans. I’ve got a solid opponent in front of me; a veteran of the game. I’m just committed and focused and happy to be here.”
The tone was different than it was nearly five years ago at UFC 194 when both were on the same card fighting different opponents. McGregor, then a featherweight, talked about moving up in weight. Cerrone suggested McGregor should keep his “little English a–” at featherweight. McGregor called Cerrone “too slow and too stiff.”
That hostility was gone Wednesday. The level of civility was in sharp contrast to the presser before McGregor’s last fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018 where McGregor took shots at his family and religion. Or his often vulgar world tour in promoting his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. The only time he came close to trash talking Wednesday was when he said he could “read Cerrone like a children’s book.”
“I know the tricks he has and I know what he’s planning,” McGregor went on. “We’ll be well-prepared.”
Cerrone didn’t bite.
“Hopefully, he’s had Hooked On Phonics,” Cerrone said.
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