Conor McGregor’s Reverse Psychology

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

Could it be that we need to start preparing ourselves for a kinder and more humble Conor McGregor? Is a bit of the external bravado wiping away to reveal a more human core?

With the UFC set to return to McGregor’s hometown of Dublin, Ireland in a few weeks, the interim featherweight champion is back in the news (did he ever really leave, honestly?), voicing his claim on the European market’s newest national player, rightfully requesting dollars and pounds for selling out a card that he’s not even fighting on.

Yes, McGregor-mania and MMA is so big across the pond, so hot right now, that Conor doesn’t even need to compete to sell out the O2 Arena, leaving a pair of former foes—Joseph Duffy and Dustin Poirier—with a prime opportunity to perform in front of thousands of rabid fans.

And while McGregor’s wish, for SBG teammate, flyweight Paddy Holohan, to headline the card has fallen on deaf ears, the interim champ has commenced a new brand of calmer and more inviting trash talk in regards to his own fights. He’s no longer going on the offensive to berate upcoming UFC 194 opponent Jose Aldo, the featherweight champion. Rather, McGregor is using a new method to get inside Aldo’s head, akin to a reverse psychology.

Back in March, when McGregor and Aldo flew around the world, jet-setting for press conferences in Rio, New York, Boston, Toronto, London, and Dublin while promoting UFC 189, what was to be their first bout, the Irishman was loud and proud. McGregor seized the opportunity to get inside Aldo’s head with crude Portuguese and antics and histrionics galore.

The tipping point came in Dublin, where McGregor stole Aldo’s belt from the dais, hoisting it in the air in front of his countrymen. And the fallout from the world tour, along with a fractured rib, forced Aldo to pull out of the bout.

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

In retrospect, McGregor may have gone too far during the buildup. At least that’s how he sees it, claiming on more than one occasion that he scared Aldo so badly that he took the wind out of the champion’s sails, adding that Aldo was always looking for a way out of the fight. However, this time around, McGregor just wants to see Aldo make it to the MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 12.

Beginning with his current appearance on The Ultimate Fighter, coupled with some high-profile press obligations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, McGregor has been forthright about his desire to unify the belts in a bout with Aldo. He has refrained from his tried and true verbal tirades, in hopes of not scaring Aldo away from their second booking. But make no mistake; this lighter and softer McGregor still does not accept the injury that forced Aldo from their original July 11 date.

As recently as Monday on The MMA Hour, McGregor opened up about a knee injury that prevented him from wrestling, and, at times, walking or even standing up straight, before UFC 189. He electively chose to elaborate on the knee, comparing it to the questionability of Aldo’s rib injury, to boost his own legend. But from there, McGregor refrained from the coarse language and braggadocio for which he has become known.

Rather, this new McGregor is taking a softer approach, wooing and cooing Aldo all the way to the weigh-in scale.

Clearly and blatantly by design, McGregor’s mind games have reached a new high in terms of sophistication. He no longer needs volume and vocabulary to ice opponents. He no longer needs to tower over shorter competitors in the staredown, looking deep into the whites of their eyes. This time, Conor is attempting to get what he wants with the whole “honey over vinegar” approach.

But will it work?

It was more than telling a few weeks back, when Aldo prematurely left the UFC’s quarterly mass press conference, entitled Go Big, to catch a flight back to Brazil. When dealing with a multi-national, billion-dollar event-based business like the UFC, where planning and details are precise and of the utmost importance, it’s unlikely that there was no other option for Aldo to return home. Aldo’s actions demonstrated his unwillingness to be near McGregor and tolerate the tirades. So how can anyone guarantee that he’ll make it to Las Vegas in December?

Sure, the UFC is doing their best to implement a failsafe; Frankie Edgar will be on standby, set to fight Chad Mendes the night before. But McGregor is taking it a step further, lightening his tone in regards to the champ, matter-of-factly stating that he does not want to scare Aldo away a second time.

This courting, of sorts, is the exact opposite of the way McGregor behaved during the world tour, and, again, is by design, so that he can at least have a chance to unify the belts. And with two months to go until UFC 194, it's likely that we'll continue to hear this more complimentary and inviting McGregor in the buildup to the fight. But beyond that, it's anyone’s guess on just how far McGregor’s mind games will go to get what he wants.

Now about red-panty night in dos Anjos household …


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