Sunday 25 September 2016

All fight on the night as a new star is born

McGregor versus Mendes, Setanta
Channel 4 News, Channel 4

Published 18/07/2015 | 02:30

A new icon: Conor McGregor after defeating Chad Mendes in Las Vegas
A new icon: Conor McGregor after defeating Chad Mendes in Las Vegas

When I was a kid, there were few things more exciting than a late night boxing bout. This was a land that existed long before the multi-channel paradise we now live in - TV stations stopped around midnight and the national anthem playing on RTE was the sign for the nation to go to bed.

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Even then, I was a bad sleeper (I've always suffered from a form of soft insomnia which means that I've basically spent the last few years feeling constantly knackered) so when a late-night fight came on, and the neighbours came into the house to watch it, there was a real sense of anticipation.

I'd be allowed to stay up until it was over, my parents wouldn't feel guilty because it was a special occasion and everybody was happy. Even better, the later the fight, the more likelihood there was that the BBC would show a blockbuster movie to keep viewers entertained.

Let's put it this way, I doubt I'm the only Irish person who first saw Scarface when it was used as a schedule-filler before one particular fight.

I was thinking about those deliciously decadent nights last Saturday when, for the second time in a few months, I found myself sitting in front of the box at five in the morning waiting for two lads to start battering each other on Setanta.

The previous time was for the disappointing (but not surprising) Mayweather-Pacquiao dust up.

When it comes to sports that involve hitting your opponent, boxing will always remain my first love. But I wonder if there's an entire generation of Irish children who will grow up to love UFC because they remember when they were allowed to stay up to see Conor McGregor take on Chad Mendes in Las Vegas.

It's unlikely that UFC will ever usurp boxing as a global sport, but what was apparent from the moment the coverage started was just what a star McGregor has become.

When he first appeared on Irish screens a few years ago, he looked like a joke. Popping up on the Late Late to explain the mysterious world of ultimate fighting to a bemused host and an even more bemused studio audience, he found the audience to be a more formidable proposition than most of the fighters he had squared up to. For all intents and purposes, it looked as if he was a flash-in-the-pan practitioner of a flash-in-the-pan sport - one which seems to provoke extreme reactions in both its supporters and its detractors.

The Irish are seldom comfortable around people who boast for a living and McGregor's flagrant lack of humility seemed to stray far from mere chutzpah and become something far more unpleasant.

Certainly, the pre-fight build up was all about what a jerk he is and even the host, comedian and fight fan Joe Rogan, was obviously conflicted - like many, he admires McGregor as a fighter, but is less than impressed with his bragging.

Trash talk has always been a mainstay of fighting, but while nobody would ever accuse the Crumlin-native of having a Mohammed Ali-esque way with words, or even charm, you have to give the guy his due.

A working-class kid from Dublin who decided that life should offer more than just a job on a building site, he has gone on to become one of the most bankable Irish sporting stars there is - not that the mainstream will ever give him the credit he deserves.

Let's put it this way, if he was a plucky little Latino from East LA, then people would be more open to his brand of self-promotion.

But anyone who managed to stay awake past Sinead O'Connor's truly terrible rendition of The Foggy Dew (that would be noted fight fan Sinead O'Connor, by the way) would have witnessed the creation of a new icon.

There are times when UFC is a hard sport to defend. The boxing and flying kicks may be impressive to watch, but when it involves both fighters grappling on the ground in their tighty-whiteys, it looks like a bizarrely homoerotic form of extreme chipper wrestling; the kind of tedious rolling around and occasional punch that you're more likely to see at closing time than in an elite athlete's arena.

But when McGregor got going, there was something in his movement, precision and sheer strike power that was enough to stir the blood of even the most ardent pacifist.

The only reason anyone should ever be watching television at five in the morning is when there's a major sporting occasion taking place on the other side of the world - and this was a major sporting occasion.

With this victory, McGregor announced that whether you like him or loathe him, he is now a major Irish sporting figure and he deserves our respect.

Whether he'll get it or not is a different matter.

It's been a tough few months for Krishnan Guru Murthy on Channel 4 News.

He flapped the normally unflappable Robert Downey Junior with some perfectly acceptable questions about the actor's previous drug use and this week he provoked a rather hilarious strop from hardline Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.

As Corbyn takes pole position in the Labour leadership race, he didn't appreciate being asked about the time he described Hamas as his 'friends' and reacted with petulant fury, accusing Guru Murthy of asking 'tabloid questions'.

This was one of those delightful moments when you see the mask slip from a politician's face and it was also one of those moments when the hard-Left's contempt for the people who vote for them was allowed to shine through, unencumbered by the usual PR bullshit they use to hide their real views from the plebs.

The urbane Guru Murthy was well able to handle the peeved politician, but he surely did the British electorate a favour by showing how naked this emperor really is.

For the rest of us, it was just hugely entertaining viewing...

Irish Independent

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