Conor McGregor – The Enigma


An athlete like Conor McGregor comes around once in a generation. He has an Irish lilt and gregarious nature which charms and enrages the world masses almost in equal measure. He fights with apparent reckless abandon while still keeping an absolute clarity in his head. Some say he will easily find his way to world title while others think he will be badly beaten this weekend. Whatever you think of Conor McGregor there’s no denying he is an enigma.

When McGregor initially garnered success fighting in Cage Warriors, Europe’s premier MMA promotion, things were succinctly less complicated. He wasn’t disliked by anyone. In fact, everyone loved him. McGregor made MMA exciting in Ireland and did it in the only viable manner – through success. He won a lightweight and featherweight title in Cage Warriors and on both occasions was showered in beer by his adoring fans in attendance. Those fans, and many more besides, are still die-hard supporters of his to this day; and will be for life.

Then, the UFC came – and so did the doubt. McGregor was put in against Marcus Brimage. The Dubliner had never faced anyone like him – a tough wrestler who was thought to bring a different skill-set to the party. McGregor knocked him out in 67 seconds.

The always progressive Max Holloway came next with his toughness and well rounded game. McGregor tore his ACL midway through the fight but still easily won every round and the unanimous decision.

Cole Miller was then scheduled. The American was thought to be the jiu-jitsu answer to the McGregor riddle. He didn’t make the fight, though, and was replaced by TUF champion Diego Brandao, a man with not only better jiu-jitsu than Miller but better striking as well. McGregor dominated him on the ground and knocked him out before the first frame finished. This all took place in front of the now 10,000 strong army of fans packed into Dublin’s 02 Arena after the UFC returned to the emerald isle for the first time in five years – a direct result of the McGregor success.

That wasn’t enough. Word on the street now, though, is that McGregor hasn’t beaten anyone in the top 5 so shouldn’t be taken seriously yet. (Note: Current number one contender Chad Mendes has beaten no current UFC top-5 featherweight in his UFC career and will get his second title shot next month). There is still doubt; but that’s natural, especially in MMA. Nobody is sure about anything and if they are it has a high chance of being misguided. This game isn’t often easily predictable.

What’s different now is that the doubt is being coupled with hate and an abhorrent dislike by a large section of the community. His braggadocios personality just irks some people the wrong way.

“McGregor is too cocky, McGregor has fought nobody, Europeans can’t wrestle, McGregor talks better than he can fight, McGregor is being coddled by the promotion, McGregor is all hype, McGregor only fights bums, McGregor is looking past his opponent, even Joseph Duffy submitted McGregor, bro.”

On the other side of it, there is a large portion of the community which can see what’s in front of them; an exciting, talented, hungry, flashy prospect on the verge of big things. The vigorous dislike is matched or even bettered by the hope and anticipation that McGregor fulfills his potential and goes all the way to the top.

McGregor doesn’t care which side you are on, though. In actual fact it benefits him to have people hate and love him. He has been quoted as saying on many occasions; “People are going to want to tune in to see me whoop ass or to see me get my ass whooped – but either way, they are going to want to tune in”. And he is 100% correct. Just look at the viewer numbers for the three UFC 178 countdown shows online. The McGregor/Poirier video has almost as many views than the other two combined. And we know why – McGregor is the hero to some and the heel to the rest – the enigma.

Conor McGregor elicits a reaction – whichever end of the argument you find yourself on. He is the equivalent of MMA marmite. You are either those fans jumping the cage in the Helix when he was fighting in Cage Warriors or you are that fan baying for him to lose so you can go online and post “I told you so, it was all hype”. On Saturday night, though, the haters and the admirers alike will tune in to see what happens. Someone will leave happy, someone will leave sad… but everyone, everyone will care.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook

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