Let me begin by making clear that I have no dog in this race. We are incredibly lucky too have two Irishmen in Conor McGregor and Michael Conlan to call champions.
McGregor’s performace in Las Vegas last weekend was a special moment in Irish sporting history. The result, a KO after 13 seconds was stunning. What made the victory even more impressive from a spectator’s point of view was that McGregor, in the lead up to the fight, predicted exactly how he saw the fight ending.
“I felt when we stared down I felt his right hand was twitching, which was a subtle tell for me.‘ He is ready to unload that right hand and I feel that could be a downfall for him,” McGregor told Fight Network.
“If he lets that right hand go, I will not be there. I simply enter the way I enter, and that is enough. They either overextend or they shrink away, but either way it is not good for them.
“I will create traps and dead space inside that octagon, and I will walk him into that dead space, but all of a sudden he will be in danger.”
The accuracy of the prediction borders on eerie. However, when trying to determine who deserves to win this award, one must separate the razzmatazz from the results. McGregor’s larger than life personality, should not come into the reckoning here. His achievements are remarkable, but they are also all that matters.
The cult of McGregor existed long before he became a contender. Back in the summer of 2014, McGregor fought Diego Brandao in Dublin as the headline bout on a bill held in the O2. Tickets for the event sold out within hours of going on sale, this despite the fact that McGregor had only three fights behind him. Many of the fans in the O2 that night were new coverts to the UFC. They were attracted to McGregor because of his personality, McGregor’s tagline for the event being:
“We’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over.”
After four fights, McGregor had won the hearts of the Irish public. Last Saturday night he backed up all the hype, and then some. In a normal sporting year McGregor would certainly win Sports Person of the Year award, but this was no normal year.
Last October, Michael Conlan became the first Irishman ever to win a World Championship, when he defeated Murodjon Akhmadalievv in the Bantamweight final. An outstanding achievement when you consider some of the men who never managed to secure the elusive gold at a World’s; Ronnie Delany, Eamonn Coghlan and Michael Carruth.
Conlan fought five times in seven days to secure the world title. In August of this year Conlan won the European Championships at Bantamweight and scooped Boxer of the Tournament. Earlier in the year Conlan also secured qualification for Rio de Janeiro next summer.
The Belfast man’s victory at the World Championships did not receive the media attention it deserved in Ireland. Unfortunately, many media figures, and indeed Irish people in general, do not pay any attention to our boxers unless they are fighting in the Olympics. They fail to take into account how unbelievably difficult it is to win a World Championship, and largely ignore the sport of boxing during the periods between Olympics.
Another reason for the lack of coverage of Conlan’s victory was unfortunate timing. Billy Walsh, the former head coach of the Irish boxing team, the man who oversaw an unprecedented upswing in the success of Irish boxers globally, departed for America only days after Conlan’s stunning success.
The media latched onto this story; largely a tale of IABA incompetence and Walsh’s departure did overshadow Conlan’s success. In fact most of the publicity Conlan received was ancillary in nature, with talking heads writing garble such as: “Only last week Walsh was in Doha preparing the Irish boxers, where Michael Conlan won a gold.”
In an interview with the excellent Second Captains podcast, Conlan revealed some of his frustrations. He told listeners that despite his remarkable achievements he has been unable to secure even one single sponsor. He spoke about the coverage he received after his gold medal.
“I was kind of gutted… Everything (his gold medal) was kind of brushed to the side because of Billy. I was gutted for him but I was guttted as much for the fact that… like I won a world title, first ever and it was kind of brushed under the carpet. It kind of left a sour taste in my mouth.”
Conlan’s achievements deserve proper recognition from the Irish public. I have huge respect for both McGregor and Conlan, but McGregor is essentially a made man, winning the RTÉ Sports Person of the Year is not going to change that.
In fact, last year after being nominated for the same award he embarrassed RTÉ with the following statement:
“I appreciate the curiosity about my absence from these ‘Sport Awards’. Credit with RTÉ however, is not what I seek. It is cash.
“And as Executive Producer of my six-part series ‘NOTORIOUS’, airing January 26th, cash is what they pay.”
But for Conlan, winning RTÉ Sports Person of the year would do wonders for him, surely securing him a sponsor at the very minimum.
In truth you can make a strong case for both men. You need just open your Facebook news feed to see the case for McGregor with every second article proclaiming his greatness. This writer felt it was important to offer an alternative opinion.
Conor O’Mahony, Pundit Arena