Conor McGregor is back to doing what he does best – which is not fighting, though it’s fair to say he’s not bad at that either. No, his greatest skill is in making headlines. This is not to say he’s not a talented fighter – he really is. But there are plenty of talented fighters in MMA, and none of them can accumulate column inches (or cash) at anything approaching the same rate. In this case, it’s a court appearance related to the actions that took place at the beginning of April shortly before UFC 223. Following a press conference two days before the event was to take place, McGregor and his team attacked a bus containing several of the fighters. During the altercation, the bus windows were smashed, causing several fighters to withdraw from the event due to injuries sustained by the broken glass. McGregor pled guilty to one count of disorderly conduct, and in addition to five days’ community service, will undergo an anger management evaluation. He will not receive a criminal record.
UFC fighters getting into trouble with the law is, unfortunately, nothing new. Nate Diaz, the only man to defeat McGregor in the Octagon, was recently investigated by Sacramento police regarding an incident with another UFC fighter, Clay Guida. Nate’s brother Nick, also a UFC star, is this month facing charges for domestic violence. Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones was involved in a hit-and-run accident in 2015, and in the same year, female Bantamweight contender Julianna Peña was arrested after a bar brawl in Washington. All these fighters are high-profile names in MMA, but none of them have the global reach that McGregor does. His court appearance on the 26th June was noted by media outlets around the world. So, what is it that makes ‘Money Mac’ so special?
Firstly, McGregor is famed for his trash talk. There is no doubting the power of a good bit of trash talk. When Zinedine Zidane famously headbutted Marco Matterazzi during the 2006 W. Cup, it was in response to a verbal insult. Zidane received a red card, left the game, and Italy went on to win on penalties. While this was unlikely to have been wholly down to the fact that Zidane was no longer on the field, his absence certainly cannot have helped. It is rumoured that in 1995, Michael Jordan (6ft 6in) ruined the career of Muggsy Bogues (5ft 2in, the shortest man ever to play in the NBA) with a single line. During a game, Jordan allegedly called Bogues a midget, putting him off his shot on the night and some believe that he never played the same again.
The pugilistic arts have always been rife with insults and comments. Muhammad Ali is generally acknowledged as the reigning, undisputed and undefeated king of trash talk. His verbal assaults on larger, stronger opponents such as Sonny Liston and George Foreman are the stuff of legend, more poetry than personal attack. Certainly, it’s a skill that you either have or you don’t, as Mike Tyson famously demonstrated in 2000. Speaking about how badly he wanted to fight Lennox Lewis, Tyson stunned a press conference by stating: “I want to eat his children.” It did not achieve the desired result for when they did eventually meet, Lewis knocked Tyson out in the eighth round.
So where does McGregor fall in the list of world-beating trash-talkers? Well, while he lacks the creativity and poetry of Ali, the evidence suggests that he’s up there. He favours similar subject matter to the GOAT, including how badly he will beat his opponent (a promise to Eddie Alvarez: “I will rearrange his face”), how good looking he is (“There are two things I really like to do and that’s whoop a** and look good. I’m doing one of them right now and on Saturday night, I’m doing the other”) and how wealthy and famous he has become (“These custom-made suits aren’t cheap. This solid gold pocket watch, three people died making this watch”). While often entertaining, none of this is particularly new. But there’s one further talent that McGregor possesses, and it might just be his best trick.
When he exploded onto the UFC scene in 2013, it was not just his spectacular knock-outs that won him fans. Clearly, here was a charismatic young man with a gift for words and apparently completely unaffected by nerves (“I fear no man. If you breathe oxygen, I do not fear you.”). But the most impressive aspect of McGregor’s pre-match banter was his uncanny ability to correctly predict the result, round and method of his victory. Diego Brandao, Dustin Poirier and Jose Aldo were all defeated in the manner and at the time that Conor had stated. To do this once might be considered a lucky break. To do so repeatedly is near unheard of.
In publicity terms, McGregor is the perfect storm. He is mouthy, mercurial, sometimes quite mad, and usually able to back up his words with action. He has leveraged this talent to his best possible advantage, becoming not only the biggest name in MMA, but one of the biggest names in sport. His fame has enabled him to cross over into the boxing world, bringing Floyd Mayweather out of retirement for a multi-million-dollar showdown. While McGregor did not win (and did little to change minds that he was not suited to a boxing environment), he still managed to net himself $40 million for a fight with the second highest PPV buy-rate in history. In Forbes’ list of the 100 highest paid athletes in the world for 2018, Conor McGregor comes fourth (Mayweather retains the top spot, no doubt due to his bout with the Irishman). To push the point home even further, he is the only MMA fighter to make that list. Not bad for a man who hasn’t fought in close to a year.
With the court case out of the way, McGregor will be seeking a return to action soon. The online scuttlebutt suggests that he will be facing Khabib Nurmagomedov in October. Nurmagomedov was the target of his ire during the UFC 223 controversy, and currently holds the Lightweight title that McGregor was forced to vacate before the Mayweather fight. As well as the history between the two men, it’s also a massive test for McGregor who has struggled against grapplers in the past. Khabib is definitely a grappler, and currently holds the longest unbeaten streak in UFC history, having gone 26 fights without defeat. You might have thought that this record would make Nurmagomedov the centre of attention, but come October, fair or not, all eyes will be on McGregor.