Conor McGregor Is Redefining What It Means To Be A Role Model In Irish Sport – Pundit Arena

Posted: Monday, August 22, 2016

Transcendency. The process of existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level. Going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing and exceeding expectations.

Every so often in sport you get transcendent athletes. Once in a generation stars that can alter how we think about a particular sport. Muhammad Ali, Pele, Jonah Lomu, Lionel Messi, Anderson Silva, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps.

These athletes have made us question what is possible and what is not possible in their respective sports, what can be done and what can’t be done. They’ve distanced themselves so far from their peers that we are simply in awe of their domination. We don’t get tired of it.

But is Irish UFC fighter Conor McGregor transcendent?

Is he a fighter that we’ve never seen before? Anderson Silva was arguably a better striker than the Dubliner. Chad Mendes exposed his grappling, Nate Diaz exposed his cardio… twice.

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20: Conor McGregor (R) celebrates after defeating Nate Diaz by majority decision in their welterweight rematch at the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20: Conor McGregor (R) celebrates after defeating Nate Diaz by majority decision in their welterweight rematch at the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

The Crumlin native has had one of the best runs in UFC history in the featherweight division but is he transcendent?

For some, maybe not; however, for Irish people he should be. By definition, McGregor has already gone beyond ordinary limits for an Irish athlete and he has well and truly surpassed and exceeded our expectations.

McGregor is the first Irishman to ever win in the UFC and he’s the first Irishman to ever be crowned champion in mixed marital arts’ premier organisation.

The UFC is home to the baddest of the bad in MMA, the meanest of the mean, and their crown jewel? A kid from Dublin 12.

From an average football player at Crumlin United to a gifted boxer under Phil Sutcliffe Sr. at Crumlin Boxing Club, McGregor’s rise in MMA has been remarkable.

A hyperactive kid from a tough neighborhood who turned into a dedicated man with ambition beyond belief. Is that not what we want to see from our Irish sports stars? Athletes with an unbelievable desire to succeed and who are only proud to wear the Irish flag while doing so.

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20: Conor McGregor prepares to enter the Octagon for his welterweight rematch against Nate Diaz during the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. McGregor won by majority decision. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20: Conor McGregor prepares to enter the Octagon for his welterweight rematch against Nate Diaz during the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. McGregor won by majority decision. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

It should be, but McGregor’s propensity for lavish clothes, fast cars and mental warfare with opponents makes him a polarising figure in Irish sport.

A loudmouth. A cocky b**tard. An arrogant git to some.

A hero. A legend. An Irishman conquering on the world stage to others.

McGregor’s divisive personality goes against the grain of what we expect from role models in Irish sport. We expect Irish athletes to be humble, self-effacing, warm, grateful to be there and above all else, to not act the b*****ks if they win. Do what you like, but whatever you do, don’t embarrass us by carrying on like an eejit in victory.

McGregor doesn’t subscribe to the theory, but did Roy Keane?

Unlike McGregor, Keane was not boastful or brash, he mostly let his performance on the pitch do the talking but when the Corkonian did speak, he rarely, if ever, held his tongue.

A fiercely competitive, highly determined Irish athlete who’s honesty was at times perceived as arrogance.

Keane also benefited from playing in a team sport where he reacted to the world around him, whereas for McGregor, the nature of professional fighting and its reliance on promotion has often required the 28-year-old to create his own world, a universe in which the Irishman rules and we all follow to the beat of his loud, supremely confident and inescapable drum.

LILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 22: Roy Keane, assistant manager of Republic of Ireland looks on prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Italy and Republic of Ireland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 22, 2016 in Lille, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

LILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 22: Roy Keane, assistant manager of Republic of Ireland looks on prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Italy and Republic of Ireland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on June 22, 2016 in Lille, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

McGregor’s pre-fight persona is brash, cocky, arrogant and boastful; it’s also loud and polarising, but ultimately it’s a persona. It may be a more amplified and excessive persona than what we’re accustomed to, but, essentially, it’s still just a persona.

Those who know McGregor will tell you of his friendliness, how approachable he is and his willingness to help others, but they’ll also tell you how quick he is to raise the chin, pull the shoulders back and puff the chest out when the cameras are rolling.

It’s in McGregor’s own self-interest to promote himself and trash talk his opponent. The Dubliner holds three of the top five selling UFC pay-per-views of all time and he’s taken Chael Sonnen’s promotional blueprint and expanded it into his own multi-million dollar empire.

He’s been unapologetically honest since the start of his career about making money and that he wants to make as much as he can, while he can.

The death of Portuguese fighter Joao Carvalho earlier this year only compounded McGregor’s view that his time in MMA is short, and that as a consequence he must get out of fighting what he can.

But apart from his own financial aspirations, what is he doing for kids here in Ireland? What impact is he having on youth in Ireland?

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When I went to an MMA masterclass featuring UFC fighters Max Holloway and Rory MacDonald in Dublin a few months ago, I spoke to a couple of teenage students about why they got into mixed martial arts and what they were hoping to get out of it.

Their answers varied from fitness, to health, to enjoyment, to their own aspirations in fighting, but when McGregor’s name was brought up, there was a unified common response. “He’s a legend! Just look what he’s done and where he’s come from” was the typical response.

McGregor has already inspired a whole generation of young Irish kids to get involved in sport and expand their horizons on what is possible, what can be achieved by people that look, sound and think like them. When you take away McGregor’s Rolex watches and the three-piece suits, this is essentially a man from Dublin who has given his undivided attention and time towards bettering his craft, towards becoming the best fighter possible, towards becoming the best ever one day.

The humble, self-effacing, ‘never look too far ahead’ mentality may be one of the pillars and cornerstones of a society that has been built around decades of GAA dominance. However, for inner city youth, the highly ambitious, financially incentivised motives of McGregor may be more appealing. It may give kids a better appreciation of what is possible and what can be achieved.

Scale back the glitz and glamour, the bravado and the brashness, and this is a story of kid from Dublin 12 living out his dream as a man. A proud Irishman at that.

MMA and McGregor certainly have their detractors in Ireland, of which there are many and who are often inextricably interlinked, but for those who weren’t brought up in the GAA, for those who aren’t good at soccer or for those don’t come from a big rugby background, McGregor has emerged as a new type of role model and a figure we should be proud to call our own.

Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena

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