McGregor-Diaz feels like a WWE feud

Nate Diaz, left, and Conor McGregor will square off in UFC 202 in a rematch of their bout at UFC 196, which Diaz won by submission. AP Photo/John Locher, File

LAS VEGAS -- The lines were blurred long before Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz turned their news conference into a water-bottle-throwing contest.

The responses on social media after both fighters transformed the David Copperfield Theater at MGM Grand into a high school cafeteria only confirmed what many in attendance were thinking at the time.

Is this the UFC, or the WWE?

Everyone knew something would happen when McGregor and Diaz took the stage Wednesday for their final news conference before UFC 202 on Saturday, but what unfolded seemingly veered into the realm of scripted television and felt more forced than natural and organic. The news conference began ominously without McGregor, and White left to answer questions about his absence.

"We're starting without him," he said. "He has to start respecting people's times, man. Yours, theirs, mine, David Copperfield's, everybody's."

Of course, like in all good scripted dramas, McGregor's absence tied back to a major plot in this rivalry. McGregor and Diaz were slated to headline UFC 200 last month, but that was scraped when McGregor failed to show for a promotional news conference and subsequently "retired" on Twitter.

It was hard not to think about that as McGregor's UFC featherweight championship belt sat alone in front of his nameplate on the stage with White and Diaz visibly upset by his absence.

"I don't care," Diaz said when asked about McGregor. "It's rude."

McGregor eventually arrived about 30 minutes late and didn't waste any time going in on Diaz and his team before Diaz got up and left the stage. As Diaz walked to the back of the theater to join his team, he shouted at McGregor, "Hey, f--- your whole team, how about that?"

"F--- your whole team," McGregor yelled back. "You'll do nothing. Shut your f---ing mouth. You'll do nothing. You'll do f---ing nothing. Not one of you will do nothing. Get the f--- out of here."

That's when water bottles started flying and the media seated in the middle of the action, dodging flying objects, felt like they were at a Gallagher show with the mess that was being made around them.

Moments after the incident, the UFC's Instagram account posted a video splicing up film of McGregor and Diaz throwing water bottles at each other with the viral #WaterBottleChallenge hashtag. Later that night, White tweeted out the latest episode of "UFC 202: Embedded." The all-access show captured McGregor watching the press conference on his iPhone while being driven to the MGM Grand. It also showed multiple angles of the water-bottle-throwing incident from both fighters flipping each other off to White saying, "That's a wrap. Get them out of here... Sorry guys, see you Saturday."

It was the perfect promotional video for a fight that, coming into Wednesday, hadn't attracted the buzz most expected it would. More than 2,700 seats remained unsold for the fight before the news conference according to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell, and many secondary-market ticket-distribution companies were beginning to sell tickets at below face value.

Fighters and promoters trying to hype a fight is nothing new, but there's a flair for the dramatic whenever McGregor is involved. His penchant for pontificating and promoting is more WWE than UFC. It's no accident that shorty after sending out his retirement tweet, he started following WWE executives Stephanie McMahon, Shane McMahon and Paul "Triple H" Levesque.

In fact, leading up to his fight with Diaz he has probably spent more time trash-talking WWE wrestlers than his opponent on Saturday.

"For the most part, those WWE guys are p-----s, to be honest," McGregor said in a conference call leading up to UFC 202 when asked about the WWE. "They're messed up p-----s, if you ask me. Fair play to Brock [Lesnar], he got in and fought, but at the end of the day he was juiced up to the f---ing eyeballs, so how can I respect that?"

McGregor later took to Twitter to clarify or perhaps double down on his comments about the WWE, and many WWE superstars responded to McGregor, who had successfully cross-promoted himself and his fight on Saturday to wrestling fans.

"It sounds to me like Conor is trying to take a page out of our game and trying to sell a couple more pay-per-views before Saturday," former WWE champion Seth Rollins said on SportsCenter. "It's just Conor being Conor. He's doing his thing. If he's serious about it, the guy is 5-6, 145 or whatever he walks around at, I don't know. I'm a full size human being so if he wants to come around and try to slap the face off me or whatever insult he's got for the day by all means come and step into our ring and see what you got."

Lesnar, who was a co-main event for UFC 200 and later tested positive for a banned substance, will now be a co-main event for WWE SummerSlam on Sunday in Brooklyn. He is the biggest name on a growing list of athletes trying their hands in both WWE and UFC. Former WWE champion C.M. Punk will make his UFC debut next month at UFC 203. Ronda Rousey is an avid WWE fan and made an in-ring appearance at WrestleMania in 2015. The WWE has expressed interest in the UFC's Paige VanZant.

Outside of the Las Vegas Fight Shop, nestled inside of the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, there is a cardboard cutout of McGregor on one side of the door and one of John Cena on the other. Inside, UFC merchandise ranging from shirts and dolls to posters and replica belts, are sold next to WWE merchandise -- also ranging from shirts and dolls to posters and replica belts. The store first opened as a kiosk selling MMA merchandise a decade ago, but has since grown in scale and stature -- adding pro-wrestling merchandise, which now accounts for about a third of the store's sales.

"I think there is a blending of the fan bases, and it's a wonderful thing," said Irv Culpepper, a 48-year-old fight fan who works at the store. "We cater to fans of combat sports, whether it's professional wrestling or mixed martial arts. Most fans loved that press conference. It's all about promoting, promoting, promoting and when you're done, promoting some more. Without that, without the fans, we don't exist as a shop."

McGregor and Diaz's performance at the news conference felt like a page out of the WWE in-ring, contract-signing script playing out in the "real" world, which shouldn't come as a surprise. When it comes to promoting their fights, the UFC and the WWE are both working off the same script -- and often times trying to attract the same fans.

No one wants to watch a fight, whether it's in the WWE or UFC, that's devoid of any conflict, so you have to give the fans what they want. For every fan that that compared the McGregor-Diaz press conference to a WWE show or said it was staged, there were at least 10 times as many that became more interested in the fight as a result of what happened. The promotional comparisons, however, end when both fighters step into the Octagon on Saturday.

"This ain't no gimmick," McGregor said. "This is the real s---. I've gotta get in and fight a man for real with no script, with no nothing."

After Saturday, however, maybe McGregor can do something about the feud he has started with WWE wrestlers and further blur the lines between both companies.

"This is the real s--- over here," McGregor said. "You want to come over, we can fight, no problem. A few of them are talking about the street and all. If they want to do that, come at me and see what happens."

There he goes again. With McGregor, the promoting never stops.