Conor McGregor, Death of a Sportsman
It may be difficult to fathom that Conor McGregor once missed the opportunity for the biggest sales job in UFC history. So upset after his loss to Nate Diaz, McGregor’s refusal to do more media than necessary for UFC 200 resulted in his removal from the card. McGregor’s reasoning was that he needed to properly prepare for the rematch and media obligations interfered with that. It was the most important card in the history of the promotion and the sport’s biggest star, ever, was kicked off of it.
Reading that now is as incomprehensible as it was then, only moreso. It was seen as a powerplay by some, a way for McGregor to show the UFC who was boss. Others interpreted it as an athlete genuinely telling his bosses that he cared about winning and losing. Either way, it would be remarkable for McGregor to turn down a similar stage and opportunity today. Such is the business McGregor has built for himself.
This past Sunday, whatever sportsmen still remained in McGregor died, fittingly, at center field of a monolith to salesmanship. Barely a week removed from his biggest loss – the first time he has been beaten in the UFC with gold riding on the line – McGregor was standing on the Dallas Cowboys star, yukking it up with Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys. The image brought sharply into focus a reality: all that is left of Conor McGregor is the salesman.
To be fair, this is nothing new for McGregor. He had always been a dyed in the wool salesman, but during his now legendary world tour in the leadup to his fight with Jose Aldo, he mastered the sales pitch.
The sales pitch was about a rough kid from the streets of Dublin who was quick to fight anybody and quicker with a line. He was an underdog with a nation behind him. He was scraping to get his piece of the pie. His devastating left hand and penchant to call his shot went to turn his skills in the cage into mythology. It was a simple story – a simple pitch - told expertly.
That is until now. The story has changed. The underdog is now one of the privileged. He’s no longer one of the middle class fighters in the business, but its pre-eminent figure. He’s no longer willing to fight anyone, but fighting only those he can carefully build his business against. He’s no longer quick with a line but seemingly quick to belittle and insult. His left hand - though undoubtedly not de-weaponized – is no longer his most talked about trait. In its place is a lack of cardio and a reputation to tap quickly.
More alarming just how little McGregor seems to care about each loss. As McGregor memed his way into the headlines on Sunday, it appeared he was hardly sweating his lopsided loss to Russian adversary, Khabib Nurmagomedov. Audio during the fight suggested as much. Hot mics caught McGregor trying to explain to Nurmagomedov that it wasn’t personal, it was just business - as Nurmagamedov pounded him in the face. Worse was when microphones caught him immediately in the aftermath of his loss to Floyd Mayweather joyfully telling Mayweather that they made eachother rich. It ceased to be a personal endeavour for McGregor a long time ago – it’s all business now.
Sure, it’s fair for a person to celebrate their financial successes. No one is asking him to be inconsolable and disappear from the media glare. However, these actions give the impression that he is has other priorities now. Yukking it up very publicly at AT&T Stadium is stark contrast to disappearing into training to prepare for Nate Diaz rematch.
His appearance at the NFL’s pre-eminent shrine to capitalism all happens, ironically, as the NFL is in a season orchestrated to be its highest rate of parity in 86 years (a sign that the league, and ostensibly its individual team owners, don’t care about wins and losses at all but games that can draw an audience). McGregor, like the NFL, knows that the money isn’t in sporting achievement but the show suggesting it’s about sporting achievement. If his next fight is under the 50-yard hi-res jumbotron of AT&T, who cares that he hardly prepared or could care less if he loses?
When you begin to look at it this way, McGregor’s habits begin to take on a new form. Perhaps his penchant for quick taps appear to be a sign McGregor is willing to make a business decision. Which is to say, McGregor is longer making decisions like a businessman, he’s making decisions for his business, man.
At some point, the business of sport is no longer about wins and losses – it’s about dollars and cents. The old Conor may not have entirely cared about that once, but he died somewhere along the way. All that’s left is the salesman.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb