At their essence, combat sports are a form of reality programming, which is to say, not as unscripted as we might hope. Hence, there’s this persistently preposterous presumption that Dana White isn’t merely exploiting the arrest of Conor McGregor but in some unseen way has executive produced it.
If you believe that’s the case, perhaps your mind has been corrupted and dulled by decades of housewives and Jersey Shore kids and, of course, that most cynical of reality shows, presidential politics. Yes, if McGregor ever fights again — a big if at this point — this narrative will inevitably become part of The Sell. Question is, who really drives that: the promoter or the consumer? It’s like arguing that Don King orchestrated the arrest and incarceration of Mike Tyson. I listened to that crap years ago. Now, as then, my response: You’ve lost the ability to discern reality from artifice, hype from authenticity. In this case, the truth is only what it appeared at first blush.
Conor McGregor was in jail thanks to the actions of one man only, Conor McGregor. I use the term “man” advisedly here, as the McGregor in the video of him smashing the windows of a bus seems to have reverted to his adolescent self, the hoodlum he was back in Crumlin, Ireland.
From the looks of it, the same preening adolescent vanity that helped make him the most interesting fighter in the world (however you want to parse that distinction — MMA, boxing, whatever) has now taken full possession of his soul.
It’s to McGregor’s everlasting shame that Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg will not be able to compete Saturday night because of facial lacerations and corneal abrasions, respectively, from the shattered glass.
Still, it obscures another monumental dishonor, this one self-inflicted, and perhaps altering the course of MMA. Way back when, when McGregor was still an actual fighter, he didn’t sound like anyone else, what with that hip-hop brogue. More important, he didn’t fight like anyone else. Again, boxing, MMA, the distinction doesn’t matter much. There are universal principles to combat, and to appreciate them was to recognize his beauty as a fighter: the way he controlled distance, his ability to inflict a savage counter, the power in his left hand, the limber, bounding aggression.
His combat style seemed sui generis, like the best years of Manny Pacquiao or, yes, Muhammad Ali. As fluent as he was in provocation, McGregor was better in the Octagon. In a rapidly evolving sport, he was to be MMA’s Babe Ruth.
And now what? He looks like a soccer hooligan.
I happened to be all for his fight with Floyd Mayweather. It falls into the grandest of all American traditions, both the hustle and the hype. And whether you believe that Mayweather carried him, or that he distinguished himself admirably, it wasn’t a real fight for McGregor. It was a great score, God bless. But for McGregor, it was also a riskless proposition. In point of fact, he hasn’t had a real fight since Nov. 12, 2016.
He’ll be 30 in a matter of months. By comparison, Mayweather — forever criticized as a risk-averse fighter — had beaten Genaro Hernandez, Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo (twice), Arturo Gatti and Zab Judah by the time he was 30. A few months after his birthday, he beat Oscar De La Hoya.
Hype and hustle are fine. But McGregor has ceased to operate as a fighter. He’s an Instagram account.
It’s worth noting what Dana White said on Get Up! this morning — that he’d been redoing McGregor’s deal. In other words, after 500 or so days, the possibility of an actual fight, with actual risk, was becoming real.
My teenage self understands what happened here. Khabib Nurmagomedov‘s crew apparently ganged up on one of McGregor’s crew. So McGregor flew across the pond to make sure the world knew he was man enough to throw a large metal object into the window of a bus.
“I am laughing inside,” Nurmagomedov told MMA Fighting. “You broke window? Why? Come inside. … If you real gangster, why don’t you come inside?”
If nothing else, this episode proves that McGregor has lost his edge as a provocateur. A gifted stage manager lost control of the scene, and in the process a part of him was exposed. Nurmagomedov’s question, rephrased: Does McGregor want to fight or merely perform?
The answer seems clear: When confronted with reality, he went reality TV.