The UFC 263 Press Conference: A Compendium Of Thoughts

Some reflections on coolness, screaming matches and an unlikely friendship

UFC 263 takes place this Saturday in Arizona and the UFC held a press conference ahead of it. Champions Israel Adesanya and Deiveson Figueiredo were there, as well as respective title challengers Marvin Vettori and Brandon Moreno. Nate Diaz isn’t a champion and nor is he fighting for a title, but that doesn’t matter, because we all know what’s up. He was there, too, as well as his opponent, welterweight contender Leon Edwards.

Things happened. Here are some thoughts on them.

The Nate Diaz effect

I don’t know what it is exactly about Nate Diaz that has us all in such a trance. “Charisma” is one way of calling it, I guess; the ability one has to simply capture people’s attention not by deliberate actions but by their mere state of being.

Still, I’m not sure if that’s the exact word. Maybe it’s a combination of things; the mix of that intangible brand of untransferable personal magnetism and a concrete history of always fighting like he does and always being the person he told us he was. Maybe it’s the honesty of it all. Diaz’s whole thing while doing public appearances is making it clear that he doesn’t want to be there, that he has better things to do than waste his time hanging out with us nerds, but honestly it could be worse.

He could be showing up as a character, as someone he thinks we would like — or hate — to see, but instead he shows up as the real Nate Diaz, or what we’ve come to think of as the real Nate Diaz, which at this point is irrelevant because the effect is the same. There are no three-piece suits, no throat tattoos, no snarky comebacks that may or may not have been previously rehearsed in front of a mirror. Nate Diaz is the only human person who can do Nate Diaz things, and the lack of reciprocity does not take away from the experience.

In fact, I would argue it only adds to it. Not because of our high-school tendencies to want to hang out with people who seem too cool to hang out with us, though there is probably some of that, but because there’s something relatable in it, too. For a lot of us, the thought of standing in front of mics and cameras isn’t as aspirational as it is terrifying, and there’s something about watching someone else’s discomfort with it. The fact that Nate Diaz doesn’t seem to care about being a star makes it even cooler that he is one. I mean, don’t get us wrong: We’ll take a catchphrase if we can get it. But it’s not a requirement. If Nate Diaz just wants to be very late and smoke weed and look uninterested in a corner, we’ll take it, too. Just as long as he means it.

The meeting of minds we all need and deserve

 

At first sight, it’s an odd pairing.

Shared Mexican heritage aside, Nate Diaz’s aggressively nonchalant energy does seem like a stark contrast to Brandon Moreno’s infinitely warm, friendly, rainbows-and-sunshine kind of vibe. Upon further inspection, though, it does make quite a lot of sense. While different in nature, Moreno also has that magnetic quality to him. Yes, he smiles a lot, and yes, he’s very into legos and funko pops, and yes, he does look a lot like teenager McLovin’, but that doesn’t make Moreno any less cool.

In fact, it all just makes him that much cooler. Moreno showed up for his first UFC press conference like he seems to show up for anything: Excited, attentive, ready to put his best foot forward. He seemed to listen to the questions, and legitimately want to answer them. He asked UFC president Dana White if he was a star. He fist-bumped Diaz. Not even Marvin Vettori, committed to the kind of personality that his high-end attire and indoor sunglasses required, stayed impervious to Moreno’s energy. Champion Deiveson Figueiredo’s attempt at verbal toughness kind of fell flat in light of Moreno’s chill-ness. And if there were any doubts that Moreno really is on another level of zen, they were quickly erased when Figueiredo decided to go full contentious during their face-off.

Neither the violent shove nor the intense abduction by the bodyguard were enough to faze Moreno, who looked more disappointed than anything else. The whole situation was followed by a classy, yet ice-cold Instagram post that very much defines the idea of killing one with kindness.

Truly, a terrifyingly adorable man.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Brandon Moreno (@theassassinbaby)

Speaking of which

We’ve established on several separate occasions that Deiveson Figueiredo is an extremely interesting, multi-layered man. He’s tamed water buffalos. He can make a mean sushi. Rumor has it he’s a blow-drying assassin. He fights like violence is about to be outlawed and he needs to get it out of his system. He can really carry an outfit. He put on an all-time classic with Moreno on their first encounter six months ago. We’ve all come to know and love Figueiredo, which just makes the final events of the press conference all the more unnecessary.

See, the thing is, this is not just some tough-guy act. We’ve seen recently, after Drakkar Klose was left unable to compete following a violent shove by Jeremy Stephens, what  kind of damage this attitude can really do. A sanctioned cage fight consists of two adults who consented to whatever kind of physical contact is about to ensue and are prepared for it. A face-off does not.

And last but not least

Here’s the thing: I’m not going to come here and say I expect every press conference to be a civilized affair with only budding friendships, thoughtful answers and witty banter — not when I’ve spent the past two weeks of my life lamenting in multiple pieces of writing that “The Ultimate Fighter” hasn’t had a single broken door and/or window yet. We come to these things expecting chaos and mischief, we crave hijinx and shenanigans, we want hilarity to ensue.

But sometimes it just doesn’t… Land, does it?

I mean, maybe it’s me. I have, after all, reached that age where I need explanations about the newest denim fashions and think long and hard whether I really need an item before going through the trouble of picking it up off the floor. Maybe I am simply too old to properly enjoy a press-conference screaming match, and therefore I shouldn’t be going around throwing judgment on said press-conference screaming matches. That’s absolutely a possibility.

Another possibility, though, and I ask that you bear with me here, is that sometimes we’re more inclined to pay attention to things when they’re not being violently shoved in our faces at extremely loud volumes?

Back in 2019, I wrote a piece for The Athletic discussing the allure of the Nate Diaz vs. Jorge Masvidal “BMF” title fight. A few things have changed since — namely, Masvidal’s descent into MAGA-land — but I will stand by my point then, which was that, after years of Conor McGregor’s carefully-crafted reign of well-tailored aggression, we were craving something different.

Diaz and Masvidal, albeit in wildly distinct ways, both presented themselves as originals. We were invested in that fight because it was stylistically promising, but also because it was between two people who seemed more interested in being themselves than in fitting whatever mold for success McGregor had established. Again, things have changed a bit when it comes to that particular chain of events, but it did seem to kind of symbolize a shift in what a “marketable” fighter really was. While we collectively remained in the McGregor business, where I’d argue we still are, we seemed less inclined to buy into the McGregor-adjacent business, if that makes any sense.

Cut to all these months later, and there’s just something a little anachronistic about seeing Vettori show up, indoor sunglasses and beautifully tailored suit and all, fiercely determined to turn the volume up. I don’t know Vettori, and therefore I can’t speak on the authenticity of both his persona and his contempt toward Adesanya, but I can speak on the impression that I got, and that was of someone who was trying really hard to get a reaction. That’s by no means a crime, particularly in a business where attention is required to get opportunities, but once again I go back to Diaz and his effortless connection with people. I’m guessing there’s some kind of complex psychological explanation for this phenomenon, but the best way I can put it is: When it comes to the intangibles of human connection, the more you look like you’re really trying to prove something to us, the less we are inclined to believe it.

The situation was made worse by the fact he was squaring off against an opponent who didn’t seem all that inclined to believe him, either. I know I’ve talked way too much about natural coolness already, so I will spare you the digression, but I will say that Adesanya also has it. Even if he’s not an unanimously beloved character — then again, who other than Will Smith is — he is an undeniably charismatic one. And while the champ did engage and did throw in some uninspired, middle-school-level insults of his own, ultimately he seemed more like a passenger in Vettori’s rage-fueled ride than an active protagonist. Whether that counts as a win or not is really up to personal discretion, but at least we now can insult people in multiple languages?

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