Are McGregor and Fury the trash-talk sons of Ali?
Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30
If motor mouth Conor McGregor drives you mad and trash-talking heavyweight champ Tyson Fury flips you out, blame Muhammad Ali.
In 1965, after he had floored Sonny Liston, Ali stood over the stretched out body of his opponent and, waving his clenched right glove, roared - "Ged up and fight, sucka." A ringside Sports Illustrated photographer captured the iconic moment and gave birth to a phenomenon.
But while Ali started it, the latest generation of confrontational and unsporting sports stars appears to be ruining it.
From the arrogance of José Mourinho and the antagonistic on-field conduct of Chelsea's Diego Costa to the homophobic rants of Tyson Fury and obnoxious diatribes of Conor McGregor, its seems we are increasingly being drawn to confrontational sporting icons who wear their unsportsmanlike behaviour as a badge of honour. "Things are definitely changing," says sport psychologist Canice Kennedy who works with athletes in all sports, such as Gaelic football, basketball, boxing and athletics. "There is an increased Americanisation and brashness creeping in to sport, which is leading to a rise in public trash talk."
However, Kennedy is quick to point out that all trash talk should not be treated equally.
"It is important to separate the combat sports, like boxing and MMA," he says, "because by their very nature there is a large amount of hype to fuel ticket selling. It is used to create a fantasy world to build excitement and sell Sky Box Office and pay-per-view.
"So, it is very false in most cases and mostly just hype for people buy into. The likes of Conor McGregor and Tyson Fury are a promoter's dream."
However, with stars such as McGregor building their brand on demeaning their opponents, it appears this mentality is taking root in many non-combat sports and the more gentlemanly pursuit of tennis.
Even John McEnroe must have blushed when he heard tennis star Nick Kyrgios tell French Open champ Stan Wawrinka during a live televised game in Montreal - "Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend. Sorry to tell you that, mate."
But it would appear those trying to use crude gamesmanship and their words as weapons in the sporting arena could find their strategy backfire.
"We have seen more evidence in the last couple of years of teams using the José Mourinho tactic of creating an 'us against the world' mentality to help build a strong motivational focus and fighting spirit within a group of players," says Kennedy.
"But while this can prove very effective over the short term, there is still a lot of doubt over its effectiveness over the longer term. So, there is a negative side the more you rely on such tactics. And in Ireland we have traditionally preferred our sports stars to be more modest or quietly confident, à la Pádraig Harrington."
And with Mourinho's career in apparent free fall after his sacking this week, it would seem that sometimes unsportsmanlike behaviour, even that of the Special One, is not so special after all when it comes to winning in the long term.