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Conor McGregor’s latest guise keeping fans enthralled in the US

Dave Hannigan: Irish fighter’s bouts barely register but cult of celebrity is strong as ever

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Stephen Siller had just finished his shift at Brooklyn’s Squad 1 when he heard that the first plane had hit the World Trade Center. Instead of going to meet his brothers for a round of golf, he returned to the firehouse to grab his gear and head to the scene. By the time he reached the Battery Tunnel in to lower Manhattan, it had already been sealed off to vehicles. Abandoning his truck, he donned 60lbs of equipment, and ran two miles to the towers where the 34-year-old gave his life that day trying to save others.

In memory of Siller’s heroism, his family established the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a charity that has since raised $250m to pay off the mortgages of those left behind by fallen first responders, police offers and veterans. Right now, one of their recurring television ads on American television features Conor McGregor delivering a 60-second monologue on their behalf. In the clipped, quasi-hostage video tone he reserves for moments when he’s not spewing hateful bile, the Dubliner asks viewers to donate $11 per month to help them continue their good work.

“They are my heroes,” says McGregor. “They need our help today.”

Even as McGregor the fighter has diminished, the brand has somehow flourished

Some might regard this philanthropic cameo and a subsequent donation of $1m by his rotgut whiskey company as evidence of a belated maturation. Others, who have traced the cynical, stage-managed arc of his entire career, prefer to see the work of canny PR mavens, deliberately softening the image, desperately counteracting the canon of negative stories, and smartly trying to reposition their client for the next phase of a lucrative post-fighting career. His prospects of continuing to cash in big on his celebrity rest far more on the success of that strategic enterprise than the outcome of his clash with Dustin Poirier at UFC 264 in Las Vegas this Saturday night.


Now that mixed martial arts has returned to its natural place on the margins, this McGregor fight, like the last two, has barely registered on the American sports landscape. No matter. These bouts and anything that happens to him in the octagon are largely secondary. And have been for some time. Attaching himself to a high-profile charity is more significant for his long-term chances of ensuring everybody in this country conveniently forgets the slew of disturbing stuff the New York Times and others not restricted by punitive Irish libel laws have reported about his various legal difficulties.

With the willing compliance of gushing enablers in the American media, most notably the shameless ESPN, the current rights holder to UFC, it looks like they are succeeding too. Even as McGregor the fighter has diminished, nearly five years having passed since his last victory in a title contest, the brand has somehow flourished. Among his most recent commercial partnerships is TIDL, a topical recovery spray supposedly combining elements of cryotherapy and “novel plant science”. According to the spiel, the letters stand for Tenacity, Intensity, Dedication and Lifestyle, because these adjectives are, apparently, what he represents. Others might beg to differ.

There’s also yet another new line of casual clothing, with flogging t-shirts, sweatpants and other apparel bearing his name. With a be-shamrocked gear bag retailing for just $110, the hard sell continues apace because there remains a sizable, gullible constituency out there who don’t care what their hero is alleged to have done. What kind of rubes would pay that money for such glorified tat? Well, you may have seen his customer base swarming around his Rolls Royce in the viral video of McGregor leaving a California restaurant last Saturday night. Moths to the flame.

To the Tik Tok and Instagram demographic under the constant spell of influencers of every stripe, here is their very own sporting Kardashian

Despite living in a country where every one of his, ahem, law enforcement-related incidents has been reported in gruesome detail, these people somehow remain in his thrall. Overly impressed by the mere fact of his celebrity, they couldn’t care less about him still trading on the myth of his supposed invincibility in the cage. They are not bothered either that his biggest pay day as the willing stooge in a circus side show against Floyd Mayweather ultimately derailed his UFC career.

To the Tik Tok and Instagram demographic under the constant spell of influencers of every stripe, here is their very own sporting Kardashian, famous for long enough now that they forget what gained him renown in the first place. Instead, they enjoy him flaunting his every vulgar excess, drinking in his brogueish braggadocio, savouring how he offers them an ongoing profile in ostentatiousness. Scandals only seem to add to the allure, so much so that right now, some smart mover in the cosmetic industry is probably hard at work on a signature McGregor scent called “Eau de bar fight” or “Hint of subpoena”.

Everything sells because too many of his credulous fans know the price of every item he wears but the value of nothing. On the cusp of his 33rd birthday, McGregor, suspiciously resembling a washed-up boxer who can’t relinquish the limelight, will meet Poirier for the third time. As on the previous two occasions, there isn’t even a title at stake and calling it a trilogy doesn’t confer instant credibility. The fella who, famously, came to take over is now just taking part. Maybe he thinks more wins and enough charitable donations/instances of personal sportswashing will convince doubters he’s truly a heroic figure. It won’t. He isn’t.