‘I seen myself as the champ from day one, before I even started training I always saw myself as the champ’ (March, 2013).
This could be the stereotypical Irish MMA fanboy post about Conor McGregor and in a way, it is. Before the summer evening when we all bustled into the Mac Dubhghaill twins’ sitting room to watch him put away Diego Brandao on a groundbreaking evening for Irish mixed martial arts (It was shown live(?!) on 3e and all), I had only heard of him through his appearance on The Late Late Show. To me, and I think a lot of other Irish people, McGregor was bound to be a flash in the pan and definitely not one of the memorable Irish sporting heroes. Initially, I put him with the likes of Annalise Murphy and the Irish cricket team, a temporary success story, now he’s going toe-to-toe with the Roy Keanes, Bernard Dunnes and Pádraig Harringtons of this world. Not only is he the talk of a country but a worldwide sensation, like he said himself in his latest Instagram post ‘Just a young kid from Ireland running the game’. It’s ridiculous that a young man from Crumlin, who quit a plumbing apprenticeship with nothing but a dream, is now heralded as ‘the greatest’ and ‘the truth’ in his chosen trade.
What drew me in, like most fans of The Notorious, was his fiery mouth and mesmerizing confidence. I didn’t find him particularly inspirational or revolutionary but instead, captivating. He has made the sport of Mixed Martial Arts go from an afterthought to a headline not only in a conservative country like Ireland but also in the bright lights of the US. His journey to ultimate stardom began in Sweden, continued through two trips to Boston, separated by a stop in Dublin, all the way to a press conference podium spot at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas after a number of devastating and captivating knockouts in front of record breaking sets of bewildered eyes.
His analytical and chillingly prophetic remarks in pre and post fight interviews are incredibly unique but also a mark of the work he has put in. He knows he can back up the talk because of his own work ethic and his own self-assurance. He has shown a nation that is really still recovering from a historical economic crisis that anything, is actually achievable when it’s coupled with desire, courage, belief and hard-work. He’s 27 at the moment. When he was in the midst of his development to become the pro he is today he would’ve been 20/21/22. That was 2008/09/10, the height of the collapse, when there was mass emigration, no jobs, a stagnant building industry and little or no confidence in the banking sector. Although the rags to riches story is an oft-told one in terms of professional fighting, McGregor’s is touchingly relatable for his Irish fan base. Imagine yourself telling your friends that you want to be a pro-fighter while the rest of the country is at a stand-still and there isn’t a spare euro floating around for anyone. The courage exhibited in McGregor’s ascension to the top of the MMA pantheon is a uniquely Irish one and something that hasn’t really been shown on such a grand scale to date. I’m not going to stereotype ‘Irish’ traits and things but McGregor has inspired a nation that was adept with depression, doubt and regret. He has given us all a challenge to better his own achievements, a blueprint to success and a belief in what we are all capable of, no matter what profession. Left-hooks, movement training sessions with sensei Portal, knockouts of the night and designer suits aside, Conor McGregor isn’t someone we’re all unfamiliar with. No one in Ireland was terribly surprised with his demeanor or attitude, they were more so surprised with how he wasn’t afraid to publicly promote himself as what he believed himself to be. My Dad would’ve called him a chancer if he knew him before the success. Anyone I know would think he was a cocky asshole that was only one punch away from reality. Of course, he has changed these would-been doubters into believers and investors in The Notorious hypetrain. All this Irish skepticism, however, stems from a jealousy deep within us all towards people with true self-confidence and belief to back it up. We all have incredible confidence as a nation but we suppress it and look to avoid the self-promotional aspect of going from nothing to something.
I’m not saying at all that Conor McGregor isn’t the pride of Ireland at the moment. I’m saying that we’ve all known people who ‘could’ve played county if they wanted’ or ‘got trials for United’. This is the only day-to-day experience we usually have of ‘self-confidence’ when really all it is is an expression of insecurity and laziness. Of course it’s worked for local DJs and parish heroes but it’s rare we see someone from the Emerald Isle take the stage and talk assuredly of their own ability without a hint of bullshit about it. He has never said anything that was false or that he hasn’t proven. He has earned his opportunity to talk smack because he is ‘Mystic Mac’, he knows what he’s talking about because he truly is an expert in his particular field.
Of course there have been other Irish sporting greats as well on international levels. Kenneth Egan, Katie Taylor, Robbie Keane, Brian O’Driscoll but none of them have truly done what McGregor has. Not to take away from their untouchable statuses and achievements, but from an island of 5 million people with a quiet voice in terms of media (On a global scale), you need to scream, shout, kick and punch to be heard by grab attention in MMA and the UFC, and that’s exactly what he’s done. Not only has he become the top name in his particular sport, he has done so in a sport that had one Irish pro before him (Tom Egan, appeared at UFC 93, is currently Conor’s teammate and former classmate). In a sport and business that focuses mainly on promotion, hype and reputation, how does a fighter from Dublin on social welfare compare to the dazzling heights of Anderson ‘Spider’ Silva and Jon ‘Bones’ Jones? Obviously, he can fight, he has a unique and unorthodox style but he’s smart. He needs to be. How else would a fighter from a country so small, that has contributed so little to a sport, become it’s marquee name after only six fights in it’s biggest promotion? Through his scintillating character and own unmovable and incomparable self-belief.
This was one of Conor’s first interviews in terms of theUFC and although he is noticeably more raw, it’s clear that although the talking is a bit of an act, it’s who he is. He’s emotional, passionate and confident. I could throw in all the quotes but we’ve all seen, read and heard them. The story of Conor McGregor is a well-documented one, one that’s still developing, one that will be retold for years to come but certainly not one that will be defined by thirteen seconds.
‘To the naked eye it was 13 seconds, but to my team and my family it has been a lifetime of work to get that 13 seconds’.