One man's saint... as they say. Conor McGregor has made a massive splash in the UFC. There's no doubting that. He went from relatively unknown (but talented) Cage Warriors champion to UFC champ and promotional front runner in just 3 years.
Skill carried him part of the way, without question. He couldn't have won the fights he did, in the way he won them, without skill. But his brash personality turned what would be a great winning streak for most other athletes into a an overwhelming surge of popularity and prestige for McGregor. And all the while he's done this, he's brought his country along with him, proudly promoting his Irish nationality and the Irish fans that stand beside him.
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And while this has been viewed by most as a positive, it can mean that his Irish heritage gets lumped in with less glamorous parts of his personality as well.
As a trash talking dilettante in an inherently violent combat sport, McGregor has made his share of ugly remarks. Find enough creative ways to threaten another man, and it's bound to happen. And it's that kind of tendency and his (somewhat self created) role as an international representative of Ireland, that got a blistering op-ed by J.P. O'Malley for the Irish news site Independent.ie:
"Indeed, what's most galling about McGregor's arrogant persona, which lacks any sense of humility, is the way he's attempting to market what appears to be a natural inclination towards stupidity as national pride - especially his parading of the tricolour as a badge of honour, draped around his shoulders after each fight.
"The paddywhackery "Oirish" card McGregor constantly plays - to enhance his image in United States - is as embarrassing as it is ridiculous. One American journalist even claimed that McGregor was carrying 'the nation of Ireland around on his back'.
"McGregor agreed, adding that he was so proud to see Irish fans dancing around Las Vegas like 'fucking leprechauns'. Never one to shy away from cliches and bland stereotypes in public, McGregor has also labelled the Irish - to millions of viewers around the world - as a nation of people who 'are lovers of combat'.
"It's hard to figure out if McGregor has the even the most basic intellectual faculties required to think before he speaks, given just how outrageous some of his comments have been."
Of course, a lot of this is a gateway for him to talk about what a brutish and disgusting sport MMA is and how the UFC is only driven by money and not deeper ideals. Included in that are shots at the figures and fixtures that surround the sport, casting McGregor largely as, if not the product of said culture, then a natural fit for it.
MMA hit pieces are nothing new. We've seen them over and over again, most particularly when the sport starts expanding into a new market like Australia or Germany. It only looks like, this time around, the regional opposition has a more precise focus for their ire than the "too violent" moniker from years past. Considering McGregor's rise in popularity so far, I don't see it doing much to hold him back.