The best moments of the "Notorious" Conor McGregor can be seen after the war is over and the dust has settled. The fire in his eyes burn down to coals, his eyelids droop in relaxation, he seems to breathe more freely and his words are refreshingly honest.
Perhaps the truest glimpse of the real McGregor was seen when running the UFC 194 post-fight press conference by himself, offering praise to his vanquished foe whom he'd spent most of the past year slagging off.
Later, on Facebook, the Irishman gave a heartfelt analysis of his great accomplishment:
"To the naked eye it was 13 seconds, but to my team and my family it has been a lifetime of work to get to that 13 seconds," he wrote, before offering a mea culpa to Aldo. "Respect to a great champion in Jose Aldo. The true greats will always overcome adversity. I wish him and his loyal team well on their journey back. Much respect."
If McGregor has been consistent in his pernicious pre-fight ad hominem attacks on his opponents, he has been equally conciliatory in victory. Long before he'd taken the interim featherweight belt he took a few moments following his win at UFC 178 to offer Dustin Poirier praise.
"In the ring he was humble. Dustin is a good kid. I had no ill feelings towards Dustin. It was weird to me that he was like, ‘I've never hated a guy as much as I hate this guy in my life.' To me that's weird. I cannot hate a man that has the same dreams as me. I have no emotion toward them at the end of the day; I'm on my journey," McGregor said. "He's a humble guy, he came to fight. I have nothing but respect for these competitors. Make no mistake, I am cocky in prediction, confident in preparation, but I am always humble in victory or defeat."
What is perhaps most surprising about McGregor is that his words bear the same acerbic wit as his punches, able to verbally spar with his rivals in a manner reminiscent of Muhammad Ali. And yet while it's generally agreed that most trash talkers do so to build themselves up or get under the skin of another, it's unclear whether McGregor is simply talking or whether he actually believes the hyperbolic statements he makes.
If you thought McGregor's ego had grown to the level of Greek mythos prior to UFC 194, we are surely beyond the parable of Icarus and the sun by now. During a recent UFC 197 press conference, McGregor surely claimed himself Apollo, the chariot that rides across the sky.
"Me and Jesus are cool," he said. "I'm cool with all the gods. Gods recognize gods."
Whether McGregor believes his own straight-faced rhetoric is unclear. But it's more apparent his fans are eating up every word. What were once improbable boasts are now accepted at face value by many of his fans. McGregor will not only defeat Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 197, but then go on to knockout Robbie Lawler and likely every other fighter on the roster.
In some respects the arrival of McGregor was fortuitous for UFC, who has mourned the loss of fighters in recent years that brought them legions of pay-per-view buyers. Georges St-Pierre and Chuck Liddell are both gone now, and Anderson Silva has fallen from the lofty heights of GOAT (greatest of all time) status through the latest drug scandal.
UFC needs a champion like McGregor to not only drum up excitement but create buzz in the media. And nobody does that better than a man who makes seemingly absurd boastful claims about being the greatest fighter who has ever lived.
But to borrow a line from The Dark Knight, while McGregor is the champion UFC needs right now, it's not the champion it deserves. Most martial artists competing in the sport come from ancient traditions rooted in a philosophy that has moral codes of conduct.
Martial arts is rooted in Buddhism, teaching students to strengthen the body, mind and spirit, while retaining humility, respect and integrity. Humility comes from controlling feelings of pride and showing respect to your opponents. All of these principles are rooted in the quest for inner calmness and peace with the understanding that the ego, or self-belief in greatness, is the basis for ignorance, greed and hatred.
If all of this sounds a little Kung Fu Panda-ish it's because we've somewhat bastardized the principles of the Eastern religions to fit our own cultural cravings, but the truth is that many fighters still respect and believe the fundamental philosophy behind their training.
The odd thing is that McGregor seems to believe them, too. On his website he states, "I take inspiration from everyone and everything. I'm inspired by current champions, former champions, true competitors, people dedicated to their dream, hard workers, dreamers, believers, achievers."
So who is the real McGregor? The one who claims he will "behead" dos Anjos like some kind of agent of ISIS and drag it through the streets of Brazil? Or the thoughtful and eloquent speaker who reflects positively on his opponents after fights?
There's certainly a maturity gap demonstrated at times, demonstrating a childishly overstated desire for material wealth, admiration for and emulation of a murderous drug dealer and allowing himself to be photographed with a replica machine gun pretending to be a gangster.
I feel that McGregor himself knows the game he's playing, but his fans aren't privy to the inside joke. It will be interesting to see whether he experiences failure in the UFC and what effect that might have on his personality and his pride.
Whatever happens next is anybody's guess. McGregor has proclaimed himself a deity now, and only omniscient beings can know the future.
To quote his legions of adherents, "Conor Bless."