Sunday 4 December 2016

'He is without question our most famous sportsman': Paul Kimmage on the Conor McGregor phenomenon

Published 14/11/2016 | 18:56

An interesting debate on the merits of various Irish sportspeople was sparked by rugby star Jamie Heaslip over the weekend.

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The Ireland and Leinster stalwart took to social media to pose the question of whether Conor McGregor is now the country's greatest ever sportsperson after the Dubliner became the first UFC fighter to hold belts in two weight classes at the same time after his win against Eddie Alvarez on Saturday night.

Read more: Paul Kimmage: Contempt or compassion - why do we treat Cathal McCarron so differently to Paul McGrath?

McGregor is polarising at the best of times but Heaslip's statement after the weekend's fight elicited strong opinions from people.

The topic of McGregor's place in the Irish sporting pantheon was discussed on the Last Word this evening, with Paul Kimmage placing the fighter's worldwide fame ahead of any other competitor from this country.

"He is without question our most famous sportsman," Kimmage told Matt Cooper.

"Him or [Rory] McIlroy? I would give it to McIlroy but I won't deny his popularity.

Read more: Paul Kimmage meets Cathal McCarron: 'Until I go to the grave, I will be battling this disease'

"I've always found McGregor to be a really interesting person. It is easy to dismiss him as a braggart and a mouth. The first sense I had that this guy was special was in New York two years ago. I was there at Christmas with my son and he was on a Times Squares billboard. It is not easy to do that."

Kimmage revealed that although he is still 'repulsed' by MMA, he is more open to the sport after spending time with McGregor's coach, John Kavanagh, for a Sunday Independent interview.

Read more: Paul Kimmage meets John Kavanagh: My friendship with Conor, battling McGeeney and how we blagged our way into J-Lo's party

After talking with the MMA trainer, Kimmage looked to attend McGregor's fight at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden last Saturday to the sport up close for himself.

However, despite applying for a press pass, Kimmage was turned down by the UFC.

"After finishing the interview with John Kavanagh, the first thing I did was apply to go and see the fight," Kimmage said.

"I was refused accreditation. It was a right slap to my ego!"

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