Last weekend could not have gone better for Ireland’s sportsmen. Martin O’Neill’s men took a vital three points in their World Cup qualifier away to Austria. Joe Schmidt’s charges notched up an expected win against Canada. Then to top it all off Conor McGregor made history by becoming the first fighter in the UFC to be world champion in two separate weight divisions.
However, over that past week it has become apparent that our most prominent media outlets aren’t so impressed with McGregor’s monumental achievements. In fact, several publications have even gone so far as to belittle them. Calling into question the quality of his opponent and even the legitimacy of MMA as a sport.
The Irish Times‘ Dave Hannigan published two pieces the day after McGregor’s fight, November 13th. The first, published at 7.20am straight after the fight, is a pretty straight forward relaying of the fight, calling into question some of McGregor’s behavior slightly but generally praising his performance.
Later that same evening the second piece was published and it was peppered with disdainful, derogatory remarks regarding the Irishman’s historic win. Just 11 hours later Madison Square Garden ‘the mecca of combat sports in America’ had become ‘the self-styled most famous arena in sports’ I’ve heard MSG had personality, I didn’t know it had two.
The price of tickets was ‘gouging’ yet the six hours of fights provided to offer value for money on the night was ‘sapping’. Hannigan also calls into question Alvarez’ credentials, suggesting it was ‘more of a coronation than a real contest’ and his sixth career loss when in fact it was only his fifth. Alvarez’ record speaks for itself 33 fights, 28 wins, and five losses over a 13 year professional career.
Then the relative infancy of MMA as a sport is brought up in an effort to further downplay McGregor’s victory.
“Some perspective is needed. UFC’s lightweight division only started in 2001 and the featherweight belt he owns was awarded for the first time six years ago. This is history alright, of the just-add-water variety.”
Given the gravitas of a publication such as the Irish Times and it’s obligation to produce unbiased, impartial comment perhaps their MMA correspondent should be an enthusiast rather than a detractor.
The Sunday World‘s most brilliantly colourful, outspoken columnist Roy Curtis is even more scathing in his assessment of the two-weight world champion and MMA in general.
“He is ‘sport’s’ – the inverted commas are deliberate – answer to an X Factor contestant whose tragic tear-jerking back-story guarantees ratings, and so they stay in the show even though they have yet to prove they can sing.”
The subject of snobbery around McGregor and MMA was apologetically raised by Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ‘s excellent panel discussion show with mixed reception. Comedian Al Porter was glowing in his praise for McGregor’s achievement suggesting the interest his success has brought to the sport has made it a viable outlet for kids around the country, particularly in working class areas. While Sunday Times and Daily Mail columnist Brenda Power admits while she likes McGregor’s suits she doesn’t think MMA is a sport, wheeling out the old cliched accusations of barbarism and ‘cockfighting’.
Brothers Paul and Gary O’Donovan, good clean-cut country boys any cailín could bring home to mammy, who finished second at the Rio Olympics in rowing were lauded by the media and rightly so. An elite Irish athlete makes history in his field with a chestful of tattoos and a mouthful of heavily accented expletives and the legitimacy of his sport is questioned.
The stench of begrudging snobbery still hangs thick in the landscape of Ireland’s conservative media in 2016.