'It'll go back to where it belongs, the underground'- Kenny Egan on Irish MMA phenomenon
Retired boxer Kenny Egan has claimed mixed martial arts will return to the fringes of Irish sport as soon as Conor McGregor hangs up his gloves.
Egan, who won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, was speaking in Breaffy House, Mayo, at a Sporting Excellence conference hosted by former Mayo football manager James Horan.
The 34-year-old said the burst of interest and support for MMA in Ireland will prove fleeting, and that any chance the sport has of achieving a more mainstream status will swiftly end the moment McGregor calls time on his career.
" It (MMA - after McGregor retires) will go back to where it belongs, underground,” Egan said.
Of course, the pair have been at loggerheads in the past, when Egan took to Twitter to compare MMA to the film Brokeback Mountain in the aftermath of McGregor’s debut win with the UFC in April 2013.
McGregor, unaspiringly, was quick to respond in kind. ‘The Notorious’ was asked about the former light heavyweight boxer last March at the Dublin leg of his world media tour with then featherweight champion Jose Aldo, and dismissed him for his new career in politics - Egan was elected as a Fine Gail councillor in 2014.
And that’s as far as the hostilities have been taken, until now. McGregor, the UFC featherweight champion, lost for the first time since joining the promotion last weekend at UFC 196, where he was submitted by Nate Diaz in a welterweight contest. However, he remains arguably the sport's most prominent face.
It is worth noting that Ireland have five other representatives in the UFC and, based on recent estimations, there are over 150 MMA gyms around the country.
The UFC have visited Dublin on three occasions, the first of which was in 2009, when Conor McGregor was still a teenager.
With just one Irish fighter on the display that night, SBG’s Tom Egan, the event still sold out faster than any other showcase held at then Point Depot that year, apart from Barbara Streisand.
In fact, no UFC show on European soil had sold out faster until that is, they returned to the O2 Arena almost five years later and the bar was moved.
Last October’s event, even with McGregor there as a spectator only, took no more than a couple of hours to sell out, so the evidence suggests MMA is well embedded in Ireland at this juncture.
Furthermore, Ireland has medalled at the two World MMA amateur games in Las Vegas, and SBG coach John Kavanagh has been moulding some of the island's most exciting talents, such as Dylan Tuke and James Gallagher.
While nobody could deny the groundswell of coverage and patronage of MMA by those who were previously uninterested in the sport is down to McGregor’s success and polarizing personality, it would be myopic to suggest that it begins and ends with him.