It’s been nearly three years since Conor McGregor was a winner – at least in sporting terms for he better than most demonstrates its narrow meaning in an oft overvalued sphere.
It’s coming up on a year since he was so much as an athlete for just a little while. Indeed it’s been this year that he’s completed his brutal move from the back to the front pages. A hero no more, the mob emerge.
Last week, CCTV footage was released of him from 6 April in the Marble Arch pub in Drimnagh. In it, he doesn’t look like a guy who’s got it all, in fact he acts like a guy with nothing. Offering a patron there his whiskey only to be repeatedly rejected, he hits an elderly man sitting at the counter with a sharp and short left to the face before being pulled away by his handlers. Many fawned shock when the reality is that absolutely no one should be surprised by this.
His spiral has long been inevitable and, while he’s completely to blame, he’s not alone…
It’s grim how attitudes shift 180 degrees, all to self-serve for reasons from righteousness to gossip and entertainment. But we warned you this is exactly how this story would play out.
When the going was good, to call McGregor out for his any and many wrongs was met with bile from fans and his entourage, with the usual retorts being about begrudgery and that shallow, learnt-off phrase of educate yourself on MMA. Only this was never really about MMA, instead it was about giving the hard-working kid with so little so much in the blink of an eye, tolerating his behaviour because of a title, and allowing him to lower the bar and set the new norms via an out-of-control ego and arrogance because it was making him money.
Today, though, try and understand what’s happened to him – and that’s not to accept or forgive him – sees those same people on the attack but riling against their previous stance. Keeping a middle ground through this has been baffling as those to the left suddenly stand on the right and keep on shouting. Regardless of how they contradict their recent selves.
Then again this is what we do. Build people up and when that becomes old, the fun is derived from bringing them down. It’s as if we demanded a driver of a car keep going faster and faster while telling him it’s all good and, when the crash comes, we get to pick through the remains and the wreckage like a hobby.
By now it’s hard not feel sorry for McGregor, with that word meant in the sense of great pity. As Wright Thompson put it, “Crumlin to Crumlin with a fairytale in between”. Sadly it’s getting harder not to believe the very worst rather than the best of him will be his legacy.
What might have been for someone with a great gift. And a tragic flaw preyed upon.
* * *
Conor McGregor hadn’t yet arrived and Dana White was busy making excuses for him.
It was last October in Las Vegas, and the UFC’s main man was supposed to be hosting a press conference involving both the challenger and Khabib Nurmagomedov. With only one present though, he instead had someone backstage press play on the promotional video. The big screens lit up and straight away it cut to footage of McGregor and some mates acting like dangerous thugs as, entering Brooklyn’s Barclays Centre, they infamously proceeded to smash up a bus containing Nurmagomedov and some other athletes.
Many there in Vegas were enthralled by the violence and the hate. But it jarred. Quickly going to Google, it turned out the mind hadn’t been playing tricks. There as a matter of record, in the immediate aftermath of an incident that saw McGregor put behind bars, was White calling it “the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the history of the company”. He also said that he’d never ever do business with Conor McGregor again.
Salespeople lie and usually go for the money rather than the morals, sure. But there’s a side-effect and in this case it was once more addition to McGregor’s sense of entitlement. He was being shown he could do as he wanted with the only repercussion being more notoriety. How was he to know better having been told any and all attention is good attention?
It isn’t just White, for this pandering to his unrealised self-harm has been almost universal.
Take Audie Attar as yet another example. He’s McGregor’s Los Angeles-based agent and has a fascinating back story. Born in Iraq, he played as a linebacker for UCLA and was in a near-campus bar shortly after 9/11 when he bumped into a customer by accident, was met with Islamaphobia, and a punch up broke out that cost him his place in university. “There wasn’t much racial tension toward Arabs until this [9/11] happened,” he explained. “Now I’m afraid the number of people harmed because of this tragedy will escalate. America isn’t about being white. It’s the land of the free where everyone comes together to fulfill dreams.” Yet despite his past and his experiences, even he refused to condemn McGregor’s constant ethnic, racial and religious slurs towards Nurmagomedov, instead saying they showed the “energy and bad blood” before trying to use all of that for pay-per-view sales and profit.
Again McGregor had got a pass. Back here at home it was no different.
Calling a German a Nazi was laughed off by many in Ireland as comedy. Slagging off the shantytowns of Brazil was showmanship. Racial barbs around Floyd Mayweather was merely a misunderstanding. The aggression and vitriol was just gamesmanship.
We loved when he sped away from the speeding hearing in court, having shown up late.
We loved when he jumped the cage at a Bellator event and slapped a commissioner.
We loved when he got off a private jet in New York, smashed up that bus, and took a stand.
Showtime, and never mind a guy in trouble.
The new and confident Irish. No longer here to pander. Instead we were here to take over.
* * *
A microcosm of how Conor McGregor’s world has collapsed.
At his zenith, with every opening and opportunity there was always a call from radio stations to talk about him and an email from newspapers to write about him. He was a one-man industry, generating clicks and listenership and therefore advertising for media. What it meant was there was a reluctance to call wrong just that. This year has been very different.
When the New York Times told a story in March, there was relative silence.
When he was arrested in Florida, there was relative silence.
When the video of punching a pensioner emerged, there was relative silence.
The clicks are no longer there and it’s easy to dismiss him as a scumbag and walk away with noses pointed skywards.
What a pathetic shirking of responsibility.
The truth is McGregor was a piece of putty when he broke into the UFC and he’d be anything we wanted him to be, so long as we paid up for the privilege. Having met him in 2013, he was young and bright and hopeful with a dream created by him and laid out by him. Around that same time he went on the Late Late Show though and wasn’t asked to promote any of those values, rather to become an abusive clown as the crowd laughed and Ryan Tubridy smirked and exploited.
He was being led down the wrong path but he kept giving what was being asked of him, even as it got out of control. Turns out we no longer like our creation though and have moved on.
It leaves him alone and in trouble and even if he needs to take responsibility, how about the mirror for those who helped this along? Two chances.
What next for McGregor used to be a question that involved talk of weight divisions and potential opponents, business ventures and a move to Hollywood and true superstardom. Now such a query provides a shiver as the train is pulling out of the station and he’s rapidly running out of time to get on board. Should he stay on the platform, it’s a grim future.
We hate to say we told you so, especially when it’s someone’s life falling apart. So we won’t.
And while he deserves ire, the rest of us should be better than turning our backs on those that are collapsing. After all the noise we demanded, what about the suffering in silence we played a part in creating?
But that’s not the way of this world. We had our fun, and that’s all that mattered.