Saturday 3 December 2016

Fergus Ryan: Anti-Conor McGregor rants are coming from a starting point of ignorance

Published 19/02/2016 | 19:43

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor

One of my favourite stand-up comedians is Bill Burr. Reading JP O’Malley’s article ‘Conor McGregor: Sporting genius or corporate sellout?’ I was reminded of one of Burr’s funniest bits.

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In his own inimitable style Burr is raging against the idea that some women claim to understand what it is like to be a man. In response to one such article he read Burr says “that’s like me writing a book ‘The Third Trimester and what to expect’… Ladies you’re gonna feel a pressure…” as he gestures towards his phantom pregnant belly.

I know, Burr is a comedian so he’s trying to entertain; but his premise has a lot merit. The idea that a man could write a book on how a woman experiences pregnancy is the same as someone writing an article on an MMA fighter after some cursory research and some time spent on YouTube.

The article is well written but has a clear bias from the beginning. O’Malley does not like Conor McGregor and spends over 2,000 words telling us why we shouldn’t like him either.

The article also lacks any real depth beyond some stats and quotes that demonstrate a keen ability to ‘copy and paste’. Though well written the article is inaccurate and I believe very unfair.

I’ve no issue with anyone who objects to Mixed Martial Arts but it’s got to the point where the sport’s critics are regurgitating the same opinions without backing them up with any real facts or evidence.

MMA is not for everybody. Thankfully, those who don’t like it aren't forced to watch. In truth, unless you have paid subscription to a particular TV sports package, it can be difficult to find MMA events on television.

The most vocal critics of MMA will usually admit they don’t know much about the sport, which O’Malley did on a recent radio interview. I think it’s only fair to suggest that unless you have attended local Irish MMA events or watched entire UFC cards reasonably regularly, you won’t fully appreciate what the sport is all about or be able to accurately pass comment.

If you’re relying on highlight packages and YouTube montages you are only getting to see a small portion of what MMA really is.

At worst, the basis for the article is a personal attack on Conor McGregor. If we give the author the benefit of the doubt we can just assume he was looking for some McGregor time of his own.

McGregor is one of the most Googled sports star in Ireland and the world. Given the lack of knowledge and understanding on MMA, O’Malley couldn’t write anything of real depth on McGregor. So, to get his McGregor time O’Malley went on the attack.

Again, I don’t expect everyone to be a fan of ‘The Notorious’ and that’s fine. O’Malley admitted on the radio interview that he had “watched some his press conferences and some of the fights, I’m no expert on UFC myself.” He went on to say that his issue with McGregor was “the arrogance of the way he comes across and the way the sport the UFC itself embodiment of the neo liberalism of global corporate power”. He felt McGregor was merely a “pawn in a neo liberal game” and there is nothing “at the core of McGregor’s ideology other than neo liberalism of global corporate power”.

I don’t know what ‘neo liberalism of global corporate power’ is so let us look at the claims that he is arrogant.

O’Malley believes “McGregor is an anomaly in the history of Irish sport: he's got a natural rock-star-like poise; he's cocky; has the handsome looks of a Hollywood heart-throb, and talks with a self-confidence and arrogance not seen in the sporting world since Muhammad Ali was in his prime.”

Being arrogant is having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one's own importance or abilities.

O’Malley clearly doesn’t know much about MMA and the UFC and admitted so. If he did he would fully appreciate McGregor’s level of achievement in his sport.

McGregor entered the UFC as a two weight world champion from the Cage Warriors, Europe’s largest MMA promotion. He was only the second fighter in MMA history to hold two world titles consecutively.

His mission was to claim the UFC’s featherweight title and after champion Jose Aldo was forced out due to injury, McGregor won an interim title by beating highly ranked Chad Mendes last July. He followed on by KO’ing Aldo in December to unify the titles.

Prior to his loss Aldo was considered the ‘pound for pound’ best fighter in the world and was undefeated in 10 years.

If McGregor beats lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos on March 5th he will become the first fighter in UFC history to hold two belts consecutively.

I regularly get asked ‘do you think Conor can beat X?’. After I say ‘yes’ the follow up question is ‘why do you think so?’ to which I always reply ‘because he’s that good’.

A lot of people focus on the talking McGregor does and like O’Malley alluded to his belief in the laws of attraction – if you say it enough and it will happen. However, it’s a fallacy to think McGregor’s success is down to his ability to talk.

McGregor has kept winning because he is that good. The attention he has garnered is mostly because he has kept winning in the Octagon. It doesn’t hurt that he is extremely articulate and a master of the soundbite.

To dismiss him as arrogant is wholly unfair. So far McGregor hasn’t exaggerated on anything he’s achieved. He’s pretty much narrated his own career since his days in Cage Warriors and so far it’s all been accurate.

To assess his whole character on the soundbites from press conferences is also wholly unfair. McGregor is a consummate professional. Never misses weight. Always shows up to fight. Never uses injuries as an excuse or a way out. And though he may have some time keeping issues he generally meets all his media obligations. This is his job and he is probably the best in the world, regardless of weight class, at it.

What McGregor says at press conferences is part of the fight game. These media events are an opportunity for the fighter to tell the fans why they should watch. Put another way, why they should pay the subscription or buy the pay-per-view to watch. Without promotion the product will suffer. The press conference is a form of advertising. If you have good advertising and a product that ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’, as McGregor has, you stand a decent chance at making money.

Having watched a few press conferences O’Malley has come to the conclusion that – “McGregor continually makes references to barbaric acts of violence, such as skull-smashing and face-butchering; he regularly makes death threats to his opponents; he refuses to engage in any form of sporting fair play before fights, seeing such conduct as idiotic; and he can often be found telling his audience, the media, and fellow fighters - with infantile-like-arrogance - to "f**k off".

I’ve been at some and certainly seen or heard most of McGregor’s press conferences… I must have missed a lot of the death threats and f**k offs.

If you are upset and some of the things you hear, turn it off. It you don’t understand the context of the conversation find out before you pass judgement.

Another gripe in O’Malley’s article is that “His one true loyalty is to money and material wealth.”

If you compare MMA fighters in general to other athletes and their pay they are very much in the minor leagues. McGregor has managed to rise above this and make himself a lot of money. There are only a handful of fighters in the UFC that make a similar amount.

If you consider what fighters are asked to do to earn a crust; why wouldn’t you expect them to maximise their earning opportunities?

While much of his article talks about the talking and the money, not once does O’Malley mention how hard McGregor works. 100% of McGregor’s success is down to his commitment to training and learning.

In theory the laws of attraction are fine. But saying you want to win the lottery is one thing; going and buying the winning ticket is another thing altogether. If you just watch all the talking in isolation you’ll form a particular type of opinion.

But if you’ve watched McGregor’s career down through the years and witnessed the evolution and progress of his fighting abilities. Then you couple that with his tremendous worth ethic and dedication to his sport not to mention his outstanding achievements, now you understand his narrative a little more clearly.

O’Malley accuses McGregor as being “devoid of any kind of moral compass; a trait one usually expects from a successful global athlete of his stature” and goes on to wonder “if McGregor has the even the most basic intellectual faculties required to think before he speaks, given just how outrageous some of his comments have been.”

Being a ‘successful global athlete’ does not mandate you to being of the highest moral standing. Sport is rife with bad boys. Away from the arena, athletes are just people. Why do we expect them to develop a moral compass because they run, jump, kick, hit better than Joe Public.

O’Malley has never met McGregor and has only watched a few press conferences so in truth he doesn’t know much about The Notorious’ moral compass.

Having met McGregor myself I’ve found him to be a complete gentleman. I’ve never seen him refuse to take a picture or sign something for a fan. He contributes to charities and as far back as his Cage Warriors days went to visit sick children in hospital with his belt.

He is always very respectful of opponents after his fights but O’Malley doesn’t seem to have caught any of the post-fight press conferences where has happened.

At this point (if it hasn’t happened already) I’ll be dismissed by the critics as a fan boy with a touch of the Mandy Rice-Davis – ‘he would say that wouldn’t he’. However, if you talk to any of Conor’s team-mates in SBG you won’t find a bad word said against him. I’d wager that most people who have met The Notorious in person find him to be a decent guy.

In fact once he signed with the UFC he made it his mission to ensure some of his team-mates were given an opportunity to grace the biggest MMA stage in the world. This was exemplified recently by Artem Lobov defying the odds and getting a UFC contract in no small part down to Conor.

Fellow Irish MMA fighter Neil Seery from another Dublin club, Team Ryano recalls how Conor came to see him before and after his own UFC debut to offer support. Seery and McGregor had come up through the ranks of the local Irish MMA scene and clearly McGregor hadn’t forgotten about his travelling companion from the early days.

In a conversation on Twitter O’Malley defended his article as it is an opinion piece and therefore it can’t be wrong, as such. It is however very ill-informed and inaccurate in places . Whether it was a personal attack or an attempt to capture some McGregor time for himself it smacks of begrudgery.

I get that MMA is not for everyone and McGregor is a polarising individual but a lot of the criticism directed at both comes from a starting point of ignorance. This makes it hard to take seriously.

Now ladies, about that pressure…

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