Conor McGregor arrived roughly 15 minutes early for the start of his pre-fight news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas, where the fiery Irishman is set to face Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone on Saturday in the headline bout of UFC 246.

Such a prompt appearance may have been the first indication this was not going to be the circus atmosphere McGregor (21-4 MMA, 9-2 UFC) so often has courted during his rapid ascent to becoming one of the most recognized figures in mixed martial arts.

The former two-division champion known as much for his verbal sparring as for his decorated combat sports résumé proceeded to heap praise on his opponent, speaking virtually expletive-free. That choice bucked the odds, at least according to some Las Vegas bookmakers, during the half-hour event at the Palms.

“I’m very, very grateful and just very honored and happy to be here on U.S. soil, back on United States soil, back here in Las Vegas,” McGregor said. “I’ve had so many amazing moments here in America, you know, and I’m very grateful for this country, and I’m very honored to be here and to perform for the people.”

Circumstances inside and outside the octagon certainly may have compelled McGregor, 31, to take a far more muted approach heading into his first MMA fight since October 2018, when he lost via submission in the fourth round to Khabib Nurmagomedov in Las Vegas, which preceded a retirement announcement in March 2019.

That humbling result followed what was billed as “The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History,” a boxing match in August 2017 between McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr., the undefeated 11-time, five-division boxing champion. Mayweather won in a stoppage in the 10th round.

McGregor also has faced questions about sexual assault allegations revealed in separate New York Times reports. The most recent report details a complaint by a woman in her 20s who alleges McGregor sexually assaulted her in a vehicle parked outside a Dublin pub.

McGregor has denied the charges, and fans booed when he was asked again to address them during Wednesday’s news conference that was open to the general public in addition to media.

UFC President Dana White, who served as the moderator of the news conference, denied the sexual assault charges would have any impact on the scheduled five-round fight at T-Mobile Arena.

“I’m certainly more grown, I’m more experienced, and I’ve been through certain things that have helped shape me as a man like us all on this journey of life,” an almost stoic McGregor said. “If you were to ask my family, my people who know me, I am no different.

“I’m certainly a bit more focused this camp and a bit more aware.”

Part of that focus includes abstaining from alcohol during this training camp. McGregor revealed his recent sobriety in an interview with ESPN and discussed it further during the subdued news conference in which he and Cerrone came off more as longtime friends than heated combatants.

McGregor, who said he has not had a drink in the past three to four months, admitted to drinking throughout training camp leading to his fight against Nurmagomedov, even to the point where he refused to stop during fight week.

McGregor also repeatedly called the 36-year-old Cerrone (36-13 MMA, 23-10 UFC) a worthy opponent who has earned top billing in the sport after fighting 49 times.

“Although there will be blood spilled on January 18, it will not be bad blood,” said McGregor, who ended the night with a face-to-face standoff with Cerrone, providing the most drama in an otherwise unconventional news conference, at least by McGregor’s standards.

“You’re not going to get your clickbait,” Cerrone said to reporters.

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