Ewan MacKenna: Latest Conor McGregor drama a cross between Fair City and WWE

2012 Irish Sports journalist of the year gives his take on the reaction to UFC200 news

Conor McGregor, UFC, UFC200

Conor McGregor (AP Photo/John Locher)

By now, it's boring. It's monotonous to read about his antics, it's mundane to listen to his vitriol, it's tiresome to view his desperation for attention.

Of course these are words and sentiments Conor McGregor Inc. never aimed to inspire when creating the false persona that has overtaken him, but in reinventing himself he forgot one key factor. When everything is outrageous, shocking and scandalous then, inversely, nothing is because they become the norm, expected and presumed.

It is only three years since the great story began about a kid leaving a dole queue in Crumlin, heading for a windowless bunker of a gym at the back of an industrial estate on the Long Mile Road, and following his dreams all the way to the UFC. But despite that incredible ambition and rise, many have already had enough and this latest ordeal is the perfect example of why. Sold as sporting drama, again it was little more than a cross between Fair City and the WWE.

Consider it this way. Last Wednesday, had you left work early, gone for a meal, stayed out late and slept in on Thursday, everything about McGregor would have been just as you left it. But still, his publicity-stunt retirement that lasted just over 24 hours turned into the sort of farcical circus we're made endure as there's simply no avoiding it.

Indeed, before he came out of his fake retirement, the website of one national newspaper devoted so much coverage to him that it's main sports page looked similar to what you'd expect from the Daily Express after the death of a royal.

 

 Conor McGregor, left, fights Jose Aldo during a featherweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 194, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Las Vegas(AP Photo/John Locher)

None of this is to say McGregor doesn't have skill, but our inability to separate that from his antics is frustrating and is damaging to his sporting legacy. Sure, he's hugely talented, but that talent hasn't yet done enough to earn the sort of acclaim we've lavished on him too quickly.

And it's the media here that are largely to blame, for while he might produce an obvious and cheesy product out of the octagon, we still buy in bulk. That's because it suited the industry to create a superstar. In essence, new-age media cover him, he gets bigger, they get more hits and it happens all over again.

He has become a hashtag movement dressed as a legend, clickbait masked as an idol.

All in all, his relationship with the media is mutually beneficial although it was little surprise to hear him suggest it was a one way-street all about him. But that was just another example of what's seen his career come off the rails, namely the same ego that saw him jump weights to the point his power was nullified and the same ego that has seen him challenge the UFC. The former was an instance of him thinking he was better than the sport, the latter an instance of him thinking he was bigger than the sport. Twice in succession he's been proven wrong yet still we fawn.

What we don't do often enough with McGregor though is look past the hype to the facts. Against the very highest calibre of opponent, he's had 13 seconds of success. The last time out, he bit off more than he could handle and was shown up by a late replacement that two weeks prior was in Mexico suffering from food poisoning and never had a training camp. But how much of either fight has been analysed? How much of his once-promised rematch with Nate Diaz has been analysed?

Very little, because McGregor is to a section of Irish males what the Kardashians are to American teenage girls; famous for being famous, he's an issue of Shout magazine hidden inside a Playboy.

Still, those same supporters crouch behind a catchphrase spouted by McGregor's coach John Kavanagh and use it to the point of parody any time someone dares step away from the forced fanaticism. "Educate yourself," they cry, as if a universal shield to fair analysis, while referring to a sport with a huge amount of specialised technical aspects. But they, and most others, rarely talk about any of those intricacies. Instead it's more about the act than the art.

 

 Conor McGregor with trainer John Kavanagh in between rounds ©INPHO/Emily Harney

Contrast him with another recent world champion we've had in another fight sport. Boxing has its problems, but it's still far more viewed and, crucially, far more practiced, meaning it takes a lot more to get to the top. Yet at the end of 2014, after Andy Lee had floored the then-unbeaten Matt Korobov to become world middleweight champion, what did we hear about him? Where was the analysis of when he'd buy a batch loaf instead of a sliced pan? We all know why there was such a huge discrepancy.

In terms of his talent, Lee probably overachieved, while McGregor may be achieving at his actual level, but this isn't about what they do, it's about what they say. To understand the McGregor phenomenon, you don't actually need to "educate yourself" on the skills and styles of mixed martial arts, you need to give yourself a crash course in the most obvious public relations.

McGregor said before he would fight in Croke Park – but he won't. He said he had retired – and he didn't. He said he would be on the UFC 200 card – and he isn't. But it appears, when it comes to the Dubliner, he can fool us over and over and there's no shame in it.

However there has also been precious little sport, and won't be for some time now given his latest failed stunt. He talked about needing a break in recent days; until he's back actually fighting we could all do with one as well.

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