It's been a good time to hear the sweet sounds of people shouting over each other. It happened last night on CNN, when Marco Rubio and Donald Trump tore into each other about their hypocrisies and frailties, and tried to see who could posture hardest for the conservative base. It happened last week, when Kimbo Slice and Dada 5000—before their fight manifested into its full horror and nearly killed one of them in the process—upbraided each other and threatened to unzip their pants and make testicular bookends for the trio of Royce Gracie, Scott Coker, and Ken Shamrock between them.
And on Wednesday, within a few hours of booking Nate Diaz to fill in opposite Conor McGregor atop UFC 196, the two makeshift welterweights took their seats in front of an Octagon at a UFC gym in Torrance, California, and argued through microphones that were mostly functional. Flanked by security, they held court for half an hour, offering competing versions of how negotiations over weight class and money unfolded and showing the same fondness for f-words and insults. Estimates of the number of people who watched the press conference live range higher than 361,000.
A big part of that viewership owes to the fact that McGregor is the UFC's fighter of the moment, and beyond the knockouts and penchant for designer suits, he's a master of elocution. His voice has its own melody—when he says "this game" over and over, it almost sounds like those two words rhyme. His can give an entire audience a single bro hug without touching them. But the constraints of these press conferences are expressly designed to drum up acrimony, and in such settings, McGregor knows exactly where to put the knife as well as how to twist it in a fresh way. Frankly, that's why he's a joy to write about, and why fighters who review their "put on a show for the fans" and "shock the world" flash cards before an interview are not.
By contrast, it's harder to explain the rhetorical charms of Nate Diaz. He's different in almost every way. He wears a flat affect. He's laconic. His enunciation vaporizes his words. If he says more than five of them, at least one of them is going to be "fuck." For people who would write about him, he can be a nightmare: it's hard to get that much profanity past the standards and practices department. He traffics in honesty, not grandiloquence, or even PG-rated dialogue.
And yet Diaz held his own in the trash-talking pageant in Torrance precisely by being the oratorical opposite of McGregor.
McGregor clearly came with lots of ammunition aimed at his long list of adversaries. He chided lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos for pulling out of their contest with a "bruise on the foot." He cast doubt on whether featherweights Frankie Edgar truly wanted to face him. "They all have sore vaginas lately, it's crazy," he said. "Dos Anjos broke his foot and his vagina in the same damn day, in the same way as Edgar." (It's worth noting that the sore vaginas comments came in response to a question from a reporter who was female.) He veiled his on-point caution about the hazards of coming back too quickly from head trauma underneath insults aimed at his two most recently vanquished opponents, Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes.
For Nate Diaz himself, McGregor had a detailed insult ready. “I honestly like Nick’s little brother," he said. "How can you not like him? He’s like a little cholo from the hood. But at the same time, he coaches kid’s jiu-jitsu on a Sunday morning and goes on bike rides with the elderly. He makes gang signs with the right hand and balloon animals with the left hand. You’re a credit to the community.”
It wasn't a flawless display though. Twice, McGregor offered up variations of the line "my checks are always super heavyweight," a line as corny as it was canned. More notably, he came unglued when Diaz alleged that he was getting chemical help.
Diaz: “Everybody’s on steroids. The whole UFC. Everybody.”
McGregor: “Your teammate Gil and Jake were two caught on steroids! Not me.”
Diaz: “And you.”
McGregor: “Not me!”
Diaz: “And dos Anjos, and Pettis…”
McGregor: “Me! What are you talking about, me? I’m not on no steroids! What the fuck you talking about? Your two teammates were on steroids. Your boys, the Scrap Pack. Remember that? Did you know they were taking that stuff? Did you know they were taking that stuff? Did you?”
Diaz: “You’re on steroids.”
It's not a perfect comparison and for a lot of reasons, but this exchange brings to mind Cam'ron on The O'Reilly Factor. McGregor sputtered with indignation. Nate shrugged it off. He might as well have said "You maa-aad."
There were other fun moments, like this one abbreviated here:
McGregor: “I’ve got world titles and multi millions of dollars, you got 20 thousand to show at your last fight—”
Diaz: “In a little man weight division…I fight grown-ups. I’ve been fighting grown-ups for 10 years.”
So childish. So funny. Just like this meme adapted from another presser exchange.
In a lot of ways, McGregor and Diaz each transposed his opponent's fighting style for their rhetorical battle: McGregor's tirades relied on volume, while Diaz sat at a distance and waited to land simple, hard shots. Maybe that's a sign of the semblance of respect beneath this veneer of antagonism. McGregor said exactly that before offering a first-round knockout prediction: "There are a lot of pussies in this game, and he is not one of them. Don't get me wrong. There's a respect there between us, but it's business in there."
Diaz, in response to a question about McGregor's ability to sell fights, offered about as much praise as you could expect him to muster. "He's doing his thing," he said, "but I bring the fuckin' show too. Don't forget about that."
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