Picture an Irish fighter and the first thing that typically comes to mind is a drunken hooligan throwing punches in a low-end dive bar along a Dublin wharf, his red beard glistening with the remnants of a tall glass of room temperature Guinness. Maybe this is an exaggeration, but something about Irish fighters conjures up images of heroic pub-crawls and the use of language that many a mother hopes her children never hear uttered. It’s a romantic lifestyle, no doubt, and MMA star Conor McGregor certainly fits the image.
It takes a special kind of athlete (and human being) to become a fighter. If anything, it takes a unique attitude and lifestyle, not just athleticism. One could describe Conor McGregor as a hooligan, but just being an everyday hooligan doesn’t get you a UFC featherweight championship, which he received after defeating reigning champion Jose Aldo in the fastest finish in any UFC title fight. McGregor’s style is anything but reckless—in fact, he has some of the best timing in the octagon. Combine this with some of the impressive trash talking in recorded history and you find yourself with a great fighter.
McGregor’s trash talking is ruthless and downright disrespectful, but isn’t that what trash talking is all about? Before his featherweight championship bout with Aldo back in December, McGregor waged what can best be described as a psychological thrashing of the former champion. From slandering Aldo’s upbringing and comparing him to his dog, to dubbing the featherweight division as the “McGregor Division,” McGregor left nothing off the table. There is no doubt that many see him as a disrespectful and misbehaved individual, but trash talking works considering that Aldo lasted 13 seconds before McGregor knocked him out cold with two hammer fists to the face.
Bad-mouthing is certainly a viable strategy, and many forget that trash talking and cockiness are what help make Muhammad Ali the greatest fighter of all time. With trash talking comes confidence that scares opponents who have never seen a fighter like McGregor and is a major reason why he has been so successful as of late.
Like Ali years before, McGregor has taken the world by storm and his star will continue to rise if he wins his non-title fight on March 5 against Nate Diaz in UFC 196. Only time will tell if McGregor can complete his rise to stardom, but regardless of his success in the upcoming fight, he will certainly be remembered as an illustrious figure. Something about his Dublin upbringing and tenacious attitude has been missing from UFC and other combat sports for years. He brings energy, spirit and charm to a sport that has yet to discover a true star.
McGregor has a chance to increase both his own popularity and the popularity of UFC and MMA, which could possibly cement the two sports as mainstream entertainment similar to professional soccer and basketball. McGregor is the first European to win a championship against the reigning champion, and more importantly the first Irish fighter to do so. As a result, hopefully more Irish fighters will begin to make their way to the top of a sport that has been dominated by Brazilian and American fighters in recent years. Like Muhammad Ali in the 1960s and 1970s, McGregor fusion of undeniable skill and charismatic bluster allows him to transcend his brutal sport.