Sunday 15 September 2019

Ewan MacKenna: 'Conor McGregor used to represent the common man. Now he looks down on them'

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

Multiple choice time.

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During the week, why was it that Conor McGregor showed up for a 40-minute special on ESPN's SportsCenter, the first occasion he's spoken publicly since last October? Was it...

A) His brand has been hurt by his troubled and out-of-control behaviour and therefore, like any good business, there was a need for damage control and to show him in a positive advertisement on his own terms?

B) He will soon return to the octagon and this is the start of the sale by him and the UFC?

C) Both of the above?

D) He's actually sorry for his acts and actions and desperately wants to turn a corner?

You'll have to forgive the cynicism but Conor McGregor is full of sh*t.

Why that is remains a deeper issue that drags in many stakeholders as well as society's wants and wishes around him. But it doesn't change the fact.

We all know it. Deep down you can be sure someone with his hidden intelligence knows it as well.

It could and should have been fascinating viewing, but instead it was boring and predictable. As a microcosm take a question put to McGregor about whether he punched the man in the Marble Arch Pub back in April. "In respect to the entire situation we'll let it play out," he replied. Take his follow-up to that as he bemoaned the footage coming out a day after his little daughter's christening. Take his view on his MMA career that he himself has largely destroyed when he added that "it's like I've been outlawed by the game".

Ultimately it wasn't worth the watch and those of us who threw away nearly an hour should have known better. Host Ariel Helwani even began by covering the blade in bubble-wrap when describing it as "an interesting year" and then went on to thank McGregor for his time when McGregor needed our time. This is the nature of a sickly business that has long since moved from journalism though, as it's access given in return for soft public relations.

Amidst that nonsense it's the common man that suffers most and while McGregor used to be one, he now looks down on them, making it all about him.

By the end of his appearance, while he never once managed to properly apologise, the narrative had become about feeling sorry for McGregor. Thus it's hard to take such a script seriously. Don't think this was anything apart from pre-planned guff either as you can tell when he's bluffing as his trick is to stop his heart-felt views and replace them with staccato-style sentences. In this case he pushed the idea of redemption and return which was always going to be the next step in the marketing cycle of a cash-cow. The outrageous character has been rung dry, the out-of-control character is no longer the best financial strategy, so this is next. It'll work too as it's the customer that'll buy the rouse and flash the cash.

McGregor will evolve once more as Victor Frankenstein's creation, giving the people what they want. Pay-per-views will shift. Bank balances will rise. And he'll walk away seeing it as yet another victory.

Sadly, he's being used and behind the veil it'll really be one more devastating loss.

* * *

Last October, on the undercard of UFC 229, The Notorious was still in the dressing room while the Las Vegas crowd was boozed up and baying for blood. In the octagon was Jalin Turner, who was in the midst of a beating so bad that it raised questions about the refereeing at best and the entire notion of the sport at worst. He was battered into a loss of consciousness by Vicente Luque, with the last couple of vicious overhand lefts landing after he'd passed out.

Thankfully Turner came around, but his first attempt to stand saw him collapse again.

Those in attendance didn't know whether to laugh or cheer and finally came down somewhere in the middle. For this Turner, later on, was given a cheque for €10,000 by his paymasters.

In the bowels of the T-Mobile Arena, McGregor was getting ready for his own date with such a destiny. But it's hard to comprehend what it's like for an athlete in such seconds. Try to imagine getting into a car knowing it's going to crash. For all the loud-mouth talk it's at moments like those that the words and the abuse no longer work and you've to look deep into your own soul and accept this is your talent. It's a long way from a normal or even a healthy existence.

That's bad enough but consider also that it's in the midst of that noise that McGregor finds his only peace. He needs such a dangerous and violent profession to commit to and bring out his best as it gets him away from the true chaos he endures without his sport. Constantly he's in the eye of the storm and all around him there's a wall of furious anger.

Where do you go? He's never managed to answer that question thus he has remained trapped.

Therefore is it any wonder then that he's fallen off the wagon?

Is it any wonder that the person we demand rage and violence from for our evening's entertainment cannot always press pause on what has come to define and swallow him?

And still we want it every way and this comes back to the mirror, for so much of McGregor's story has been about consumer demand. It was good while it lasted on the way up but that no longer amuses, so it's time to tear down our creation for more gratification.

None of this is to excuse him, but it is to try and understand him, something too few have tried to do. Granted, he also must take some serious responsibility and on ESPN that was again missing. There was no contrition. There were just learned-off phrases that reeked of ego. Back in 2014, after he called German fighter Dennis Siver a Nazi, his snarly apology amounted to a Tweet that read: "Ich bin ein sowwy". This latest effort was about as genuine.

John Kavanagh tells a tale from many years ago when a young McGregor had come into his gym and showed signs of promise. So he put him on a show set for Good Counsel GAA club and sent him off to sell tickets for the event. But Kavanagh "didn't see him and I didn't see the money". McGregor ran, hiding out in his room. It took Kavanagh to go there and forgive him for their amazing journey to begin and for them to go places only they believed were possible.

These days though, McGregor hides out in a similar fashion in view of everyone.

Years ago there were some who doubted if he had the talent to make it yet those who questioned him now seem foolish. As an athlete, he had it all. Maybe too much.

Turns out what he wasn't able for was the fame.

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