The video of Conor McGregor sitting with his back to the cage bathed in red light, making threats toward Dustin and Jolie Poirier as the ‘Diamond’ spoke to UFC commentator Joe Rogan, in the aftermath UFC 264, has become one of the night’s major viral story-lines across the internet. But, from a brand and promotional standpoint, it feels like one of the most notable missteps of Conor McGregor’s career inside the Octagon.
As an athlete who has spent the majority of his time getting his hand raised in victory, McGregor has often tried to present himself as a man who is, when the occasion calls for it, ‘humble in defeat.’ If Saturday was any sign of the future, though, the MMA superstar out of Dublin needs to get back to winning in a hurry, and strip that phrase from his lexicon.
The threats he made off broadcast, while Poirier was giving his post-fight speech, and the things McGregor said when Rogan took a seat next to him along the fence, were far from humble. Some of them were downright nasty. Especially the comments he directed at Mrs. Poirier, who responded inside the Octagon with a one-finger salute to the former two-division UFC champion.
Things got so out of hand that even Dana White, who has often been quick to brush aside troubling comments from UFC athletes as part of the culture of the sport, broke with his usual ‘fighters say mean things’ rhetoric to come down on the Irishman.
“… Ah, yeah – I don’t like that. Yeah, that’s not good. Leave people’s families and wives and all that stuff out of it. Family has nothing to do with it,” White stated at the post-fight press conference.
A UFC fight card with Conor McGregor is usually the biggest event on the UFC calendar for the year. UFC 264 might earn that accolade for 2021, but the shine might be coming off McGregor as a UFC star property.
The second straight loss to Poirier and a record of 1-3 over the past three years is only partially responsible for McGregor’s stained reputation. Casual fans who only tend to show up for events when McGregor is fighting, and pay little attention to the controversies surrounding him the rest of the time, got a view of the UFC icon that was neither a boisterous braggart in victory, nor reflective (or even proud) in defeat. Instead they got a McGregor who was angry, raging, and spiteful.
It’s the kind of image that may make those fans might shrug and ignore the next time he enters the cage. It seems doubtful many saw the way he acted in the moment and thought to themselves, “That’s the kind of guy I want to emulate and look up to. I can’t wait to see him next time he fights.”
The apex of McGregor’s MMA career could very well be behind him. If that means that the high point of his appeal to casual MMA fans has passed him by as well, then I don’t know if he can repair that relationship. A good start would have been to offer an apology to the Poirier family, the UFC, and the fans. But that hardly seems forthcoming. Instead, McGregor seems to have continued channelling his rage, quoting Scarface to tell fans and promoters alike that, “you need people like me.” Reveling in his chance to be the bad guy.
I’m not sure what the future holds for Conor McGregor. Likely a long layoff before he fights again, be that in the boxing ring or back in the UFC cage. But, perhaps more than ever before, it feels like his brand and his appeal to the casual fans he brings to mixed martial arts took a real hit, all after the final bell sounded at UFC 264.