Chael Sonnen wonders if Conor McGregor silence sign of renewed focus, Daniel Cormier finds it ‘worrisome’

Conor McGregor is nowhere to be seen weeks away from his return. Will that turn out to be good news or bad news for the UFC star?

On their Good Guy/Bad Guy podcast, Chael Sonnen and Daniel Cormier weighed in on the situation, taking different viewpoints of McGregor cancelling a press conference in Dublin that was scheduled to hype up his UFC 303 main event fight with Michael Chandler on June 29.

Little is known about the reason for the cancellation, but Sonnen offered a more positive take on the situation, suggesting that perhaps McGregor put his media responsibilities aside to focus on preparing for the fight.

“From what I have right now, I kind of don’t agree with the speculation,” Sonnen said. “I think perhaps Conor McGregor for the first time ever is starting to focus. People love to use that word, they talk about focus, I don’t know if people know what that means. It means you say ‘no’ a lot more than you used to. You’re looking at one thing and you’re telling people ‘no’ when you’re getting these call.

“Don’t forget, as we’re looking at the clues, there’s one more big one, which is Conor did not just cancel the Ireland press conference, he canceled all media that’s already been agreed to leading up to this contest, which makes me think, quite possibly, our Irish star is starting to focus.”

Should McGregor make it to fight night, it will be his first in-cage appearance since suffering a broken leg in a loss to Dustin Poirier at UFC 264 in July 2021. While McGregor has primarily been sidelined due to injury recovery and rehabilitation, his erratic behavior outside of the cage has led to speculation that he’s not in ideal condition to return to action.

Cormier can’t help but be concerned about the possibility that the cancelled press conference is a sign of greater problems.

“Let me be your friend and tell you, start to brace yourself a little bit for disappointment,” Cormier said. “I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news, but let me tell you something about the UFC. Now, Dana White will argue and scream at the media. Dana White will give the media a hard time. Dana White has no problem letting the media down. You know who Dana White doesn’t like letting down? The fans. Doesn’t like letting the fans down. And when the press conference was canceled, you saw people on Twitter, people on Instagram, speaking of having their travel, being prepared to go and watch, flying over to Dublin to watch a presser. That’s disappointment.

“Dana White also doesn’t like letting them down and he tries to over-deliver for fans. So, to me, it feels like this is a big deal. Look, I have reached out to many in the organization to try and find out what happened, and when everybody is tight-lipped as they are right now, to me that tells me it’s a little worrisome.”

Sonnen took the speculation one step further, positing that McGregor’s absence could be related to a fresh round of contract negotiations for the former two-division champion. Even given a significant drop in activity over the past few years, McGregor remains the biggest box office draw in MMA by a large margin.

Could the recent drama indirectly be providing the public with insight on behind-the-scenes talks?

“When they announced that they were going to Ireland to do the press conference, that was on the heels of a two-day prior announcement by Conor McGregor that said, ‘I have two fights left on my contract and we are now renegotiating,’” Sonnen said. “The reason that was interesting is generally that’s done when there’s one fight left. Conor’s had several renegotiations in his own career, he always did it when there was one fight left. But two days later, it’s announced they’re going to Ireland, which would be every fighter’s dream. A sold-out press conference, you get all the fun, all the excitement, all the attention, oh by the way, you don’t have to throw any punches. It would have just been a really great time.

“So was that good faith by Dana White to let Conor know, ‘I am still in the business of promoting you. I’m still going to make you big and you’re going to have great experiences?’ Or did they more likely have almost a verbal type of agreement where things were really coming together, and I say that to you because when this did get canceled, what does it mean more long term?”

Cormier doubled down on the idea that McGregor’s behavior could be a bad sign for his competitive future, using his own career as an example. In his prime, Cormier was also a two-division champion, having won belts at heavyweight and light heavyweight, with his time in MMA following a highly successful run in amateur wrestling.

When Cormier was young and hungry, he would do anything to make it to his fights; at the peak of his success though, he admits that he didn’t hesitate to use what leverage he had to compete under ideal circumstances. Specifically, he recalled withdrawing from a fight with Anthony Johnson at UFC 206 due to an injury, and he thinks McGregor might also be done taking unnecessary risks with his body.

“You know who doesn’t need the Conor McGregor fight? Conor McGregor,” Cormier said. “He’s the only one in this whole equation who does not need it. And when you do not need it, at times, the motivations will shift. … Again, I’m just giving you thoughts from a fighter’s perspective, audience. I just don’t know what it is that’s playing into this because I know that when I fought, those fights prior to becoming ‘the man,’ I would do anything to get there. But when I was the man and I didn’t really need it as much, I got the door, the one time I got it, and I took it, and I waited another five months. I’m happier to fight this fight in April than in November and so I took that as an option.

“Conor’s not the champ, but when we talk about Conor McGregor, he operates on an entire different planet than everyone else. From the money to the fame to the expectation. The belt, to Conor McGregor, doesn’t matter. Wins and losses, when it comes to Conor McGregor, doesn’t matter. So we’re talking about a level of not needing something much greater than anything we’ve ever seen before.”

Later in their show, Cormier and Sonnen reacted live to McGregor releasing a statement apologizing for the cancellation. McGregor did not specify why he could not attend the press conference (he wrote, “today’s press conference was cancelled due to a series of obstacles outside of our control”), so Sonnen is still convinced that any explanation is possible at this point.

“Listen, something is going on here,” Sonnen said. “You’re dealing with one of the great magicians ever, one of the great entertainers. You’re always looking at this hand, so you don’t see what this hand is doing. I don’t know what Conor’s up to and, frankly, maybe it’s not that devious. Maybe just something came and he said, ‘Look, we’ve got to start doing this.’

“But I am curious and I do think whatever it is, he’s going to turn it into a show, he’s going to turn it into a spectacle, I think it’s going to end up being a lot of fun.”

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