Monday 19 February 2018

McGregor shot at immortality runs into post-election apathy

Conor McGregor will take on Eddie Alvarez (left) as part of the first UFC event in New York on Saturday night.
Conor McGregor will take on Eddie Alvarez (left) as part of the first UFC event in New York on Saturday night.

Joe Callaghan

The city that never sleeps would rather have pulled the covers back up, thanks.

New Yorkers stumbled from whatever slumber they could find into Wednesday morning, so many of them waking up from their worst nightmare but finding little relief as they were hit with the realisation that now they have to live in that bad dream.

Sport and politics don't regularly mix but after a night that left the world as we knew it feeling all kinds of mixed up, yesterday wasn't any regular day.

Down Eighth Avenue, an army of reporters and onlookers snaked around the outside of the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel.

It was here and not in the more salubrious, glass-ceilinged surrounds of the previous night where Hillary Clinton would make her parting words of the most startling race to the White House.

Directly across the road, reporters and onlookers made their way into another, more iconic Manhattan structure. Metres separated the buildings but they were worlds apart.

The first UFC event in the Empire State was supposed to have been a hallmark night for the sport of mixed martial arts, Conor McGregor headlining a megafight on a stacked card at Madison Square Garden.


After the organisation changed hands for the princely sum of $4 billion over the summer, this Big Apple bow was the most perfect pedestal the new regime could have imaged to lay their marker down.

Pairs of tickets had been snapped up on the secondary market for as much as $15,000 each as the hype machine began to crank up.

Yet given the outcome of the previous night involving the two most prominent residents of this city and its suburbs, UFC 205 is now likely to feel somewhat suffocated in the post-election fallout vacuum. McGregor, far from alone, might just have a Trump problem on his hands.

Yesterday morning's get-together - a public workout on the arena floor of the Garden by the six main and co-main event fighters - was the first major promotional event of fight week. But with the vanquished Clinton drawing all eyes across the street, things felt particularly flat inside the venue. McGregor's rival, lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, was the first man out but his emergence on to the court hardly stirred a crowd who were glued to their phones.

Admittedly it was barely 10am on a midweek morning and things were buzzing significantly more by the time McGregor himself went through his paces a couple of hours later, but it was certainly not on a par with the noise and energy these events usually attract in Las Vegas.

The Notorious one, bidding to become the first fighter in the history of MMA's biggest organisation by holding two titles simultaneously on Saturday night, did his best to get the masses going. "This means the world to me," said the featherweight champion in an interview on court in front of a crowd that may have hit four figures. "That's why I kept pushing on it. I couldn't miss this event no way. I built this event and here I am.

"Saturday night I become immortal. I'm immortalised when I get the second belt and raise it up. It's never been done before. It means absolutely everything to me, it's my life's work. I'm ready, I've done everything, I've come in here prepared. We're ready."

This shot at a historic second crown was supposed to have come McGregor's way much earlier in the year, but then-lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos was forced out of their bout through injury.

While McGregor embarked down a wild two-fight path with Nate Diaz at welterweight, Dos Anjos was ambushed on his return to the octagon by Alvarez. The Philadelphia veteran is adamant his reign will not be short-lived.

"I think I'm going to land big shots," the 32-year-old said. "This guy is worried about a lot of grappling and wrestling. When his mind is on that I'm going to hit him with a big shot and submit him."

The MMA pollsters have insisted that that outcome is highly unlikely. Then again, as the weary citizens of this city would readily tell you, it's not been a good week for predictions.

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