Saturday 24 February 2018

Comment: Conor McGregor didn't share the spotlight with Michael Conlan, he stole it

Ireland's Conor McGregor, right, and Michael Conlan
Ireland's Conor McGregor, right, and Michael Conlan

Jack O'Toole

Conor McGregor's ascent to the top of MMA has been nothing short of extraordinary, but his foray into the boxing world has been a little murkier.

McGregor is rumoured to fight undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. this summer, in a fight that you may have heard about, and a bout that McGregor reminded everyone of when he berated ESPN boxing reporter Dan Rafael at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

McGrgor was in New York to support Belfast boxer Michael Conlan in his professional debut against Tim Ibarra, and he accompanied the Olympic bronze medalist to the ring in an entrance that certainly played up to the partisan Irish-American crowd, with Conlan littered head to toe in green while the UFC Lightweight champion trailed just behind him in close support.

It's not unusual for notable celebrities to trail fighters to the ring - McGregor's purported opponent Floyd Mayweather has made it something of a tradition to allow a carefully selected entourage to accompany him to the squared circle, with musicians 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and even professional wrestler Triple H all following Mayweather to the ring over the course of his decorated boxing career.

But when in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when asked to trail a fighter to the ring, look the part, don’t steal the part.

McGregor has forged his star on seizing the moment, whether that be dispatching former Featherweight champion Jose Aldo within 13 seconds, or sending Twitter into a frenzy with his ‘thanks for the cheese’ retirement tweet last year, McGregor has always demonstrated an ability to capitalise on his surroundings.

However, on Friday in New York, he pushed his own brand at the expense of Michael Conlan’s, as the only time the Crumlin native was out of the spotlight was seemingly between bells, when Conlan, Tim Ibarra and referee Benjy Esteves where the only three people permitted to be inside the ring.

But even during the fight McGregor was the centre of attention, as he was forced to move from Conlan’s corner to the opposite side of the ring where he was given a folding chair to sit on by arena security, which was akin to giving a child sunscreen in Spain, you can try, but naturally, they’re going to be reluctant at your proposals, even if it’s the best thing for them.

McGregor showed no such reluctancy on Friday night in New York, he was front and centre, literally by the time he shared the ropes with Conlan at the end of the fight.

The presence of McGregor certainly helped Conlan draw some international attention in his first professional fight, to which I’m sure the 25-year-old is grateful for, but as he’s demonstrated throughout his professional career, if the cameras are rolling, there’s always some scope for promotion for the Dubliner.

Like his ‘C.J. Watson’ tweet in January, if there is no target, McGregor creates one, as Dan Rafael found out the hard way on Friday night.

His shadow looms large, Conlan, and the press certainly know that, but if you open the door to the wolf, don’t be surprised when he works his way right into the hen house.

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