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The strange politics of Conor McGregor

Karim Zidan delves into the politics of UFC star Conor McGregor, which include his meeting with Vladimir Putin and his support for former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Photo credit should read ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Conor McGregor is no stranger to controversy.

During the 2018 World Cup final between France and Croatia, which took place in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, McGregor tweeted a photo of himself alongside Vladimir Putin. The former UFC champion was pictured with his arm around Putin and revealed that he had been invited as a guest of the Russian president.

“This man is one of the greatest leaders of our time,” McGregor said of Putin on social media, following France’s 4-2 win. “I was honoured to attend such a landmark event alongside him.”

McGregor ended his social media post with a Cyrillic phrase that translates to “Go, Russia.” A little more than a year later, McGregor returned to Russia to promote his Proper Twelve Irish whiskey brand. During the press conference, the Irishman revealed that he gifted Putin the “very first bottle” of Proper Twelve during the World Cup, though he was unable to have a drink with the Russian president because his security team confiscated the bottle to have it tested for toxic ingredients.

“They had to take the liquid from the bottle to make sure the liquid was safe and it was not maybe poisoned or what not and then it was gifted to Vladimir Putin,” McGregor said during the press conference in Russia.

McGregor’s decision to show support for Putin, an authoritarian leader accused of human rights abuses, including accusations of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on British soil, banning so-called “gay propaganda” in Russia, and heavy-handed responses to peaceful protests, raises concerns about the MMA fighter’s politics. It is also far from the only example of McGregor’s strange politics.

McGregor’s controversial political views coincide with his rise to stardom.

After compiling a six-fight win streak to kick off his UFC career, including a interim featherweight title win against Chad Mendes in July 2015, McGregor drew scorn following a strongly-worded Facebook post about Poppy Day, which is observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

Responding to a picture of himself wearing a poppy during a UFC event in 2013, McGregor explained that he did not “need a stupid little flower with a 100 different meanings to tell me if I do or do not represent my country.” He added that he has the “blood of many nations” on his gloves.

“You have a pint in your hand and a Celtic jersey on in your local,” McGregor concluded. “Fu*k you and the Queen.”

In a precursor to how McGregor would handle future controversies, the Irishman addressed the critics by doubling down on his comments in a follow-up tweet.

As McGregor emerged as a mainstream celebrity, many questioned whether the UFC star would eventually look to a future in politics. In 2017, shortly following McGregor became a two-division UFC champion, his father, Tony McGregor, suggested that his son could become a politician.

“Conor could be a politician if he chooses,” Tony McGregor said. “Maybe when his fighting career is over. Conor might choose politics.”

In a 2018 Facebook post, McGregor hinted at a potential pivot to politics when he claimed to be “becoming more and more interested in where much of the money in my home state has gone and where it actually goes when it comes in. There are more and more things I see daily that do not add up.”

“I see many things I do not like and I see many things that I feel can be easily amended under constant instruction. We shall see,” he concluded.

UFC Fight Night Weigh-in Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Later that same year, TMZ Sports asked McGregor if he had any interest in a political career, to which he responded, “Maybe, who knows? I know they’re shakin’ in their boots anyway!”

While McGregor was beginning to show signs of contemplating life after combat sports, it remained unclear whether he would be taken seriously as a potential political candidate, in part due to his divisive track record. McGregor was previously arrested by the NYPD and charged for his role in the bus attack at the UFC 223 media day, faced assault charges for punching an elderly man in a Dublin pub, and faced several allegations of sexual assault and indecent exposure.

Despite McGregor’s criminal history, Leo Varadkar, who served as Ireland’s Prime Minister at the time, told TMZ Sports that “stranger things have happened” when asked whether he thinks McGregor will one day be involved with politics. Varadkar referenced bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ascension to politics as an example of the absurd reality of politics.

While McGregor appears to have earned some political intrigue from influential figures in his homeland, he also has his fair share of critics, including fellow Irish fighter Joe Duffy, who defeated McGregor in 2010.

“In Ireland, people are quite humble,” Duffy told TMZ Sports when asked about McGregor’s chances in a hypothetical political campaign. “In the city, obviously you get a lot more people who are confident and brash and a lot of those personalities, but people in general are hardworking people, working hard every day. Cockiness isn’t a trait that they take to.”

Fresh from a rapid-fire victory against Donald Cerrone in his UFC comeback in Jan. 2020, McGregor once again involved himself in political controversy when he praised the presidency of Donald Trump. After Trump marked Martain Luther King Day by celebrating his own achievements in reducing unemployment among Black people, McGregor responded by calling Trump a “phenomenal president.”

“Quite possibly the USA [greatest of all time],” McGregor said in his tweet. “Most certainly one of them anyway, as he sits atop the shoulders of many amazing giants that came before him.”

McGregor’s views on Trump came as no surprise to those who followed his career. In a 2017 interview with GQ, the Irishman criticized anti-Trump protests in New York, claiming that “people like to blame others.”

However, in a sign of McGregor’s potential maturity during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fighter called on Irish President Michael Higgins to “close airports” and “utilize defence forces” in an attempt to adopt a “full lockdown” in March 2020.

“To President Higgins, to all of our leaders: Close our airports. Utilise our defence forces. For the nation, abide by these measures impeccably. And prepare for five weeks of it. After that, we are free. Five weeks to freedom. We can do this. The countdown begins now. God speed to us all,” McGregor said in a video posted on Facebook.

Ever since McGregor first voiced his opinion on Poppy Day in 2015, his political views have been as controversial as his pre-fight antics. From celebrating the likes of Putin and Trump to criticizing his country’s handling of taxation and the coronavirus pandemic, McGregor has injected himself across the political spectrum. For better or worse, it would not come as a surprise if the former two-division UFC champion attempts to fashion himself as a political force in Ireland.

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