Three months into the UFC schedule’s pandemic era, the promotion held its first formal, in-person pre-fight news conference Thursday, hyping the UFC 252 main event trilogy between heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and former titleholder Daniel Cormier.

No virtual media day this time, with people asking dozens of variations of “How did your fight camp go?” over Zoom. Nope, we’re talking a real, live presser at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, home of Saturday night’s pay-per-view card, with the fighters, UFC president Dana White, company staff, and media in attendance.

What went down for the next 40 minutes seemed to veer between everything seeming normal for a little while, spliced with occasional reminders that we are still in the midst of a strange era.

It immediately felt like old times in one respect: The event started more than 20 minutes late. No word on the reason for the delay, but maybe they just wanted everything to feel familiar.

The festivities finally got rolling. Miocic walked in looking more like your neighborhood accountant than the UFC heavyweight champion, clad in a polo shirt and glasses. Cormier, with a shaved head and full beard, looked like Demetrious Johnson went through a sudden enormous growth spurt.

For a moment, it seemed weird seeing people during the pandemic in an indoor area without masks, but then you remember these guys are all in a tight bubble where they are regularly tested for COVID-19, and that the UFC has successfully pulled off 14 events since restarting.

As the questions started rolling in, you’re hit with the latest in this topsy-turvy “this is kind of normal but not really” realization: There are no fans in attendance. An audience at what is ostensibly a work space can be a double-edged sword. A rowdy crowd can add to the sense that a big fight is a major event. Pick any Conor McGregor or Diaz brothers news conference over the years, and you get the idea.

That’s the plus side. At other times, an audience can serve as a distraction, which defeats the purpose of having a news conference in the first place.

But as Thursday’s presser unfolded with silence between replies, there’s a final realization: This is exactly the dignified atmosphere a news conference for a sporting event of this caliber should have.

This one didn’t need artifice. These are two grown-ass men fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world. A duo who’ve already shed blood, sweat and tears trying to defeat each other, with both competitors succeeding, with Cormier winning Miocic’s belt by first-round knockout at UFC 226 and Miocic snatching it back in the fourth round of their UFC 241 rematch.

A heavyweight title trilogy carries a heft that speaks for itself, with no need to play to hooting and hollering drunks in the peanut gallery, especially when you consider the circumstances going into this one.

Miocic has the belt, but this is Cormier’s last dance, win or lose, the end of a superlative athletic career first on the wrestling mat, which took him all the way to the Olympics, to an MMA career in which he held the UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight belts simultaneously.

So it’s understandable that Cormier, whose personality fills whichever room he’s in to begin with, was the overwhelming focus of the proceedings.

“You miss that rush,” Cormier mused about finally walking away. “People talk about things that you miss when you retire. Walking through that curtain with 20,000 people, this is my 10th UFC title fight in a row. There’s been a lot of yelling, full arenas when I hit the curtain. You miss that. There’s no drug in the world that’s like that.”

This meant Miocic, making the first defense of his second title reign after becoming the only fighter in history with three consecutive heavyweight title defenses the first time around, more or less blended in with the scenery.

But that didn’t seem to faze the unflappable champ.

“He can take it all, man,” Miocic said. “It’s all good. I don’t mind it. Listen, good for him. I’m just going to hang out in the back.”

There was White, who can certainly lay things on thick – remember the time he tried to say Renan Barao was the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, right before he lost eight of his next 10 fights? – so of course the boisterous promoter let the superlatives fly.

“Saturday will determine who is the greatest heavyweight of all time,” White said. “I mean, it’s intriguing. It’s exciting when you have the heavyweight champion and an adversary like these two have. It’s what everybody hopes for in the heavyweight division.

“When you see these guys that are this age still in professional sports and still at the top of their games and in the shape that they’re in right now, I mean, I don’t need to tell anybody in this room or anyone watching what kind of a fight you can expect on Saturday night. These guys are action-packed, lots of punches, try to finish. It’s everything you could possibly want in a heavyweight championship fight.”

This time, no lies detected. The final fight between Miocic and Cormier is everything White says it is.

It’s the two best heavyweights on the planet slugging it out to determine who is the best 265-er of all time. In this strange age, under strange circumstances, this may be the most normalizing sporting event of them all.