Sunday 8 December 2019

Comment: Conor McGregor's latest grandstanding was tiresome, but achieved its purpose

Rafael Dos Anjos, UFC president Dana White and Conor McGregor pose following the press conference
Rafael Dos Anjos, UFC president Dana White and Conor McGregor pose following the press conference

Tom Rooney

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the UFC 197 press conference in Las Vegas last night was how it maintained the narrative that dominates all of Conor McGregor’s public appearances. Simply put, it was entertaining but predictable.

Not that this will perturb McGregor or his management one iota, nor should it. In the aftermath of the showcase at the MGM Grand, every single headline eagerly scribbled on either side of the Atlantic brandished the Dubliner’s name and or quotes from his latest tangent of braggadocio.

You see what we’re getting at? Completely expected, though, like a car crash, impossible not to gawk at.

But let’s start at the beginning, because these events have a check list. As is his wont, McGregor sauntered in late, with an almost admirable insouciance.

Then, of course, there’s the exceedingly lavish garb. Though even by his own dandy standards, McGregor was pushing out the boat a bit. Sporting a shirt that was near blinding, he claimed it to be a tribute to the recently captured Mexican Kingpin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.

The subtext of which might be that he has designs on monopolising the world of MMA as Guzman did the drugs trade.  The bright white jeans and loafers rounded off a look that was redolent of Miami Vice.

Naturally, as soon as McGregor materialised those fighters he shared the dais with, including lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, who he faces on March 5, were immediately reduced to near irrelevant bit-part roles.

Worryingly for the UFC, so too was company president Dana White. It is now abundantly clear that the featherweight champion sees the promotion as contemporaries and not his paymasters. That he could potentially be the first man ever to simultaneously lord over two divisions can only thicken the plot.

Along with the Crumlin native and Dos Anjos, sat women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm and Miesha Tate; the pair will contest the co-main event at UFC 197, though they had minimal questions directed at them following McGregor’s arrival.

Holm pulled off the biggest upset in the history of the sport when she dethroned Ronda Rousey but she can’t precipitate the salivation of editors. Nor can Tate or Dos Anjos and, even when the trio spoke with great erudition, it somehow seemed oddly generic in comparison to McGregor's solipsistic spiels, tiresome as they are.

The sole reason why any of this is relevant, at least from McGregor’s point of view, now that he’s abundantly solvent, is that it enables him to gauge his opponent’s psychological fortitude. That, too, has played out before our eyes since day dot.

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What’s notable about how he brings about a foe’s emotional capitulation is, like an adolescent bully, once McGregor identifies an appropriate pressure point an unrelenting squeeze is applied.

Dustin Poirier was the ‘pea head’ with a suspect chin; Chad Mendes, referred to simply as ‘mini’, while Jose Aldo was just a man looking for a way out with nothing left to offer. After Aldo pulled out of their initial bout, he was berated at length as a coward.

And, although every third party with even partial control of their faculties could see exactly what was happening, they each took the bait and sealed their fates before setting foot on the canvas.

Evidently, since he joined the UFC in 2013, not one of the seven fighters to have been matched with McGregor has taken heed of his predecessor’s downfall. Why? Who knows, but it’s become so frequent that the novelty has almost worn off.

Conor McGregor

Whenever the camera panned in on Dos Anjos as he answered one of the rare queries sent his way that all too familiar glare of confusion and unblinking rage was nigh on arresting.

The 31-year-old is the third Brazilian to enter McGregor’s stratosphere over the last year and a half and, like all practiced antagonists, he’s committed their ticks to memory.

The 2014 World Cup demonstrated how deeply proud and patriotic the people of Brazil are. Dos Anjos left for California in 2012 to better his career and, to McGregor, superficially in any case, that particular decision was tantamount to treason.

Some of the subsequent abuse has been in poor taste, but it’s also revealed the first glimpses of vulnerability. Dos Anjos is a devout Christian, like many of his compatriots in the UFC, and listening to McGregor make light of Jesus clearly wounded him.

He swore to prolong McGregor’s punishment and ensure he answers for his blasphemy, all the while not realising he’d wandered out of his element.

Like clockwork, McGregor elicited an emotional response and begun the process of unravelling a peer who, in his eyes, amounts to nothing more than a faceless inconvenience to be swatted aside.

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