Tuesday 18 September 2018

Comment: Latest Conor McGregor fiasco proves yet again he's a superb self-promoter, not a world-class athlete

The easiest way to get Conor McGregor wrong is to take him seriously. Photo: Matt Crossick/PA
The easiest way to get Conor McGregor wrong is to take him seriously. Photo: Matt Crossick/PA

Eamonn Sweeney

As Conor McGregor and his fearsome posse broke windows and brought the city of New York to its knees I couldn't help being reminded strongly of some similar incident.

But what? Muhammad Ali being arrested for his opposition to the Vietnam War? Some really tough scene from Scarface or Goodfellas? Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables fleeing the oppressive forces of the law and tearfully trilling 'Bring Him Home' as he does so?

Maybe the last one. Nah. Not quite. What the whole escapade brought to mind was one of those occasions when some teenage Shamrock Rovers fans break a few windows in a rural town centre, get nicked and are hauled up to the district court. That was about the level of it.

The easiest way to get Conor McGregor wrong is to take him seriously. Critics and admirers alike are prone to this mistake. His detractors will instance the Brooklyn bus bashing as the latest proof that the man is a menace to civilisation, a pied piper of bad behaviour leading the young people of Ireland astray.

But most of McGregor's fans don't take his shenanigans seriously. Unlike the finger waggers and head shakers, they're in on the joke. McGregor's influence on the young people of Ireland has probably been confined to popularising a certain style of beard. And waistcoats. The lad has done wonders for the waistcoat industry.

There's also not much point engaging in serious discussion about McGregor's position in the sporting pantheon. He doesn't have one. Comparing him with Sonia O'Sullivan or Sean Kelly or Barry McGuigan isn't like comparing apples and oranges. It's like comparing bananas with bungalows. The game he's involved in has little in common with what we usually recognise as sport. Its standards and imperatives are entirely different.

If an actual sportsman had broken the windows of an opposing team's bus, it would be a big deal and constitute a lasting stain on their reputation. But in McGregor's case it seems pretty likely that he was actually engaging in some promotional work for his next big fight.

The New York contretemps was merely his version of those press conferences where Dublin footballers pay a heartfelt tribute to the county's new official nutrition bar partners. The probability is that Dana White, having appeared to be outraged for a bit, is pleased to see MMA's top attraction still showing such willingness to play the game.

A tweet doing the rounds last week pointed out that, "Yeah Conor McGregor fucked up. But let's not forget that Undertaker kidnapped Stephanie McMahon and attempted to marry her against her will." It's funny but it also situates the New York caper within a tradition of similar stunts. The McGregor incident dovetails perfectly with Ronda Rousey's move to World Wrestling Entertainment.

It's not long since we were told that Rousey deserved not just to be taken seriously as an athlete but was in fact one of the world's leading female athletes. Yet now that she's moved to the scripted world of Wrestlemania it seems the most natural thing in the world. The aforementioned Ms McMahon, currently WWE head honcho, has spoken about how she sees McGregor as a perfect fit for the world of pro wrestling.

It's hard to argue with her. In a few years the idea that McGregor was an actual world-class athlete will look as odd as the idea that Rousey was one. He will, if he's lucky, have drifted into that strange world, once inhabited by Bruce Lee, Hulk Hogan and Dwayne Johnson, where celebrity, showbiz and combat sports combine.

We will wonder, like the people who thought the aliens were really invading when Orson Welles broadcast War of the Worlds on the radio, why we ever took the thing so seriously in the first place.

Innocence had something to do with that. Grifting in this country doesn't rise much above the level of guys working the three-card trick at a table outside at a race meeting. But in America the Long Con has a venerable and a lucrative history. It's hardly surprising we got codded.

The bottom line about the Conor McGregor story is the bottom line. Like the Playboy Mansion or Las Vegas it's lent a spurious air of seriousness by the amount of money involved. In reality there's a lot less to it than meets the eye. If you like real sport you should probably look away.

But if it's light entertainment and cheap thrills you want, who can deny that the Conor McGregor story gives good value?

Expect another thrilling instalment soon.

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