There are certain things at which Conor McGregor excels: somehow managing to look alpha in a pair of pants so tight they’re almost inside him; evading supposedly heavy security at large arenas and events; casting imaginative-but-offensive slurs at a rival, a religion or an entire country; selling vast quantities of whiskey named after arguably the least fashionable part of Dublin to people who have no idea what the Long Mile Road is.
All of which are undeniably beguiling parts of the panoply that is the McGregor repertoire. Lately, however, one of the weapons previously among the most powerful in his armoury, his sporting prowess, has looked a little worse for wear. After all, if you include his brief boxing ‘career’, he’s now lost three of his last five fights. It’s not difficult to conclude – whether accurately or not – that McGregor is on a downward trajectory as an athlete.
Yet by all accounts his profile is seemingly higher than ever, even if his actual popularity in his homeland is nosediving by the minute. Still, you don’t have to be loved to be famous, and you certainly don’t have to be loved to earn massive amounts of money. Just ask Piers Morgan.
There was a time not that long ago when McGregor was verging on ‘national treasure’ status in Ireland, when even those to whom MMA meant nothing – ie, pretty much everyone – admired his athletic gifts and found themselves fascinated by his outspoken confidence and showbiz bravura.
Now, things are different. ‘Embarrassing’ has become the adjective most commonly associated with McGregor in Ireland – a cursory glance through the columns of the country’s biggest media outlets proves that. Much of his core fanbase of young working-class men remains steadfastly behind him, and you suspect there are few things McGregor could do to lose them, but gone are the days when his peacocking was met with relative warmth by the wider population.
There has always been a touch of snobbery in some quarters towards McGregor, a certain distaste at his ‘antics’ and the people who adore and identify with him. Such opinions are mostly based on class, and largely as distasteful as some of the behaviour associated with the man himself in recent times.
But those who held them will feel nothing other than justification in light of what’s been going on in Las Vegas and beyond over the past few days and weeks. Meanwhile, others without a dog in the race, but who acknowledged and grudgingly respected his persona and the accompanying detritus as an act calculated to ensure PR hits, have grown tired and moved on.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) October 9, 2018
Ireland is slowly turning its back on the McGregor circus, even if the rest of the world, and particularly America, is embracing it. There are many in the US who lap up Mystic Mac’s brand of whiskey-swigging, pugnacious Irishness – catch a Flogging Molly concert in Boston if you require evidence of that. Paddywhackery is a lucrative business in the States, and chances are that Irish-Americans will be the resource McGregor aims to tap most deeply in future.
So what next for McGregor?
It’ll be increasingly apparent to him that his sporting options are finite. Mixed martial arts fighters can keep going well into their late thirties, so he’s far from finished in terms of his MMA lifespan. In that sense, there’s plenty of life in the not-particularly-old dog yet. You’d describe him as ‘past it’ at your own peril.
But there’s a sense that McGregor is now somehow beyond all this UFC lark. He’s done the sporting thing – MMA? Completed it, mate – and passed into the realm of celebrity. There’s talk of him appearing on ‘I’m A Celebrity’, which seems fitting. Who doesn’t enjoy the prospect of him cooped up in the Australian jungle with a host of third-rate Hollyoaks extras and disgraced game show hosts?
Perhaps a Kevin Pietersen-esque career as a freelance ‘athlete-for-hire’ is what awaits the Dubliner. One week a two-round brawl against a chartered accountant at a Bar Mitzvah in New Jersey, the next week a twelve-round bare-knuckle bout versus a honey badger in front of 60,000 at Wembley.
Or maybe he just calls it quits altogether and focuses full-time on his distilling? You know, really go all in on the Proper Twelve and keep those Diageo lads up at night wondering where it all went wrong.
Whichever direction McGregor goes from here, it’s hard to imagine he’ll fade from the limelight without putting up a fight to remain front and centre.