Una Mullally: McGregor fight was a circus, but no one was made a clown

McGregor may have lost to Mayweather, but he can hold his head high – and so can we

Conor McGregor pays his respects to Floyd Mayweather after the American defeated the Irishman early in the 10th round of their fight in Las Vegas. Video: Reuters


Do you have to hand it to him? Going 10 rounds with supposedly one of the greatest boxers ever (although no one can really consider Floyd Mayweather, with all his torrid personality and boring tactics, actually “one of the greatest”)? Andy Lee put it best before the fight was fought, saying it was both a symptom and a product of a world where Kim Kardashian was the most famous person and Donald Trump was president.

Most people’s social media spats don’t end in multimillion pay days, but Conor McGregor conjured a millennial dream forged from fitness, notoriety, social media grandstanding, and a real-life circus. In the lead-up to McGregor v Mayweather, the obnoxious televised and streamed rivalry that emerged from the press conferences and staged aggravations was like steam off manure, but it powered something which, once it began,was almost unbelievable to watch. How was this actually happening? After all the talk, seeing McGregor in a boxing ring with Mayweather was surreal and, very quickly, oddly captivating.

McGregor, despite his manufactured crudeness, and suit with its pinstripe spelling “f*** you” – just in case we didn’t get his tone without a middle finger raised to Mayweather – still manages to straddle those odd Irish hero dichotomies: ruthless yet cheeky, well up for it yet doomed, viscously hard yet so obviously sensitive. Like many Irish people, he talked himself into and out of situations.

In the run-up to the fight, a special brand of heady sports journalism persisted, one where an environment and context is written about that feels laughably alien to those who actually experienced it. It portrayed, in some cases, a fiction surrounded the entire city of Dublin, not just the spots where McGregor murals loom large. But maybe it was impossible not to weave several fictions around something that felt like a fantasy come to life.

Fight-stopping impact

Mayweather, perhaps, could have unloaded at any time, but chose the 10th round – long enough to start allowing his punches to have a fight-stopping impact. There was no power in McGregor’s shots. He was the author of the spectacle, but couldn’t keep writing the fiction.

Did it live up to his construction? One can’t help but feel that Mayweather permitted those 10 rounds. McGregor’s punches never had enough snap, despite all the guff about that left hand. His stance was straight out of an old-school tattoo artist’s depiction of a 19th-century boxer, one hand outstretched, the other about to wind up like a cartoon. Mayweather did what he’s always done, kept his arms close to himself, and waited for combinations to rain down, forcing a stoppage.

Where does McGregor go now? Living up to his nickname, “Notorious”, he’s bigger than the sport he helped make famous. Endless imitators have and will continue to follow in his wake, but he can hardly go back to fighting people few have heard of or care about. The gasket has been blown on the ludicrous, so normality will not be an easy thing to recreate.

But McGregor is now immortalised in the ultimate of Irish glories: loss. Ireland’s relationship with its heroes is an odd one. We say we like people of us, but most of them are outsiders, unlikely figures that come to represent some part of our id. McGregor was the scrapper, the underdog, but more novel: the guy who had a dream, talked about it, and chased it.

For some reason, and perhaps for the first time, Irish people couldn’t be cynical about that. McGregor didn’t pretend to be there by accident or luck, he spoke about manifesting seemingly impossible goals, from being on €188 a week on the dole to calling his yacht The 188 to remind himself of that figure. Going from plumbing to pummelling is a completely unlikely story, yet Irish people are meant to be quiet about their dreams and ambitions. McGregor took his notions and followed them beyond any parameters anyone could have dreamed up. For that pursuit alone, you have to hand it to him.

Clarion call

He talks about “his people”, and it’s hard not to succumb to his clarion call that somehow we were all behind him by default, not here to take part but there to take over. In a sport still sick from Olympic robberies, there was something satisfying about a McGregor infiltrating it and making it work to his advantage.

But another Irish condition felt worryingly close as people copped on to themselves and realised the gap between both fighters’ skillsets: humiliation. Would it be a complete joke? Would McGregor get destroyed, be laid out within minutes? In the end, his participation was noble enough. McGregor didn’t embarrass himself, so then none of us did, not the people who got caught up with the hype, or who sneakily put a few quid on him, or spent Saturday posting photos of themselves with him, snapped in shops or bars or streets, leaving us all to wonder whether there’s a person in Dublin who hasn’t got a selfie with The Notorious.

In the end, the farce felt like it meant something. McGregor can hold his head up high, which is a strange thing to feel after something so nonsensical. Despite the ludicrousness of it all, there is huge pride to be had in what he has achieved. Yes, it was all about a payday, but it was also about a dream, and not many people get to live theirs, never mind invent them.

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