A grotesque €100m circus of testosterone where alpha males are celebrated and a visceral and raw violence is glorified
THE Conor McGregor/ Floyd Mayweather fight will be over by the time you read this, but it will still be a while before the billions of dollars made from the tawdry spectacle stop pouring in. More than 20,000 people pitched up at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, while millions of men all over the world, many of them staying up all night for the pleasure, watched it on their Skybox or the equivalent.
They feasted on an orgy of violence, while those at the live fight will have enjoyed the incredible energy that surges through the crowd at pivotal moments, an incomparable high that, according to those who attend such events, has to experienced to be believed.
Just as importantly, perhaps, the ‘entertainment’ was entirely guiltfree. Society has awarded cage fighting, wrestling and boxing its stamp of approval, so buoyed by the pleasure of male bonding, washed down, no doubt, with copious amounts of alcohol and takeaway grub, it had all the ingredients of an adrenaline-charged lads’ night out.
But what really explains the moth-to-the-flame attraction among men for a prize fight between two mismatched adversaries, one a former champion who has come out of boxing retirement for the promise of a lucrative payday, the other who has never boxed professionally in his life but is a superstar of the MMA firmament?
It’s certainly not the thrill of a fair fight between equals. Money is obviously a part of answer; not the eye-watering purse for the novelty fight, but the money that has, over a short number of years, been pumped by Las Vegas entrepreneurs Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta into making mixed martial arts socially acceptable and glamorous.
Prior to the Fertittas’ deep pockets, cage fighting was an underground pursuit, so vicious and barbaric that the US cable networks wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
Senator John McCain dismissed it as ‘human cockfighting’, but like almost everyone who once wagged a finger at the ugly sight of men savagely beating each other to a pulp, he has softened his view.
Still all the money in the world would not have pushed MMA in particular into the mainstream if there a readymade audience of men who seized on it with alacrity, as if their lives depended on it.
Psychologists can argue whether there is an innate drive in men to conquer and dominate. Geneticists might ponder if the Y chromosome contains a code that forces men to literally flex their muscles so that the world cowers in subjugation before them. Sociologists might claim that macho posturing is solely the result of social conditioning.
But it is indisputable that boys and girls emulate their role models and that up until recently, the dominant male archetypes were action heroes, from dashing James Bond who could set the world to rights while wooing the ladies, to a gallery of sporting heroes from George Best to Hurricane Higgins, celebrated as much for their selfdestructive streak as their aggressive pursuit of sporting glory.
But the problem for boys reared on these stubbornly resilient ideals of ‘real’ masculinity is that society today offers few opportunities to express their inner Tarzan. A generation ago, the accepted way of standing up to the school bully was through brute force.
The boy who could box the playground bully to the ground and send him home with a bloodied nose was the school hero, the mighty protector of the weak.
Nowadays, the scourge of bullying has been taken out of children’s hands, entrusted to school management and a matter of school policy.
It was not that long ago that boys who hankered for the discipline that comes with intense physical training or the challenge of active combat could head for the military.
The best-selling book, Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, describing Trump’s attraction for the white US working classes, tells how the author joined the Marine Corps and served time in Iraq. But the changing face of modern warfare and wide availability of college education has cut off that particular path for most young men.
AND what of the contemporary male icons which young men can look to for reassurance about their primal cravings for ruthless competition, derring-do or even bloodletting? In place of rough-and-ready hemen like John Wayne or hardboiled hellraisers like Oliver Reid, they have symbols of metrosexuality like David Beckham, who champions eyeliner, nail varnish, waxing and new expertly coiffured hairdos practically every week. Or Paul Galvin with his short trousers and no socks. No wonder there is a crisis of masculinity where preening vanity rules and boys join a gym not so that they can get physically fit and strong but to be selfie-
ready with rippling muscles and toned biceps.
The asexualisation of men, which sanctions ponytails and shaven legs, blurring the distinction between male and female appearance, has occurred in tandem with their emasculation.
The traditional male role during courtship of paying bills and making the first move has all but been obliterated, as has their status as sole provider and wage earner.
These dramatic changes in gender roles have happened very quickly. Men are no longer expected to be assertive, to be strong and silent types. Under the watchful eye of the PC police, they must continually check their male privilege.
Whether that means not falling into the same trap as John McEnroe, who got into hot water for suggesting men’s tennis was superior to women’s, or whether it just rules out making sexist or lascivious remarks about the fairer sex, is still a matter of some confusion.
The proliferation of baby-carrying male hipsters buying organic oats and almond milk at Whole Foods might say it all about how fatherhood has changed.
But just as Donald Trump has exposed the undercurrents of resentment and often racially fuelled hatred that existed beneath the PC consensus in America, it’s also possible that the current male attraction to vicious sports reflects a resentment about the usurping of their power.
And it also may signal a fierce drive to get away from the finger-wagging eye-rollers and into a testosterone-soaked safe space where alpha males are celebrated and violence, the more visceral and raw the better, is glorified.
Watching two well-oiled specimens of manhood, stripped to the waist, squaring up to each other in the ring, promising a fight to the death just days after trading unspeakable racist and homophobic insults amid all the razzmatazz of a Hollywood spectacle, may be just the thing to prop up the faltering male ego at this point in time.
For out in the real world of our softened and feminised society, no man – or woman – would get away with wearing a pinstripe suit like Conor McGregor with the words F*** You hidden in the pinstripes.
STRUTTING his stuff like a proud peacock, risking life and limb for no higher motive than money, Conor is almost a male fantasy figure, a practitioner of a brutal, atavistic violence that outside the blood-curdling world of cage fighting dare not speak its name.
Who knows, but it’s also possible that the darker underbelly of these combat sports, where the rates of domestic violence are twice that in the general population and even a fighter of Floyd Mayweather’s stature is accused of violence against women, actually enhances the attraction.
It’s a horrible, thought hardly surprising, that misogyny is also a glue in this alternative man-made universe.
It seems a pity that when men have lost their moorings regarding their gender role, they can only experience masculinity vicariously through a caveman pursuit that involves inflicting maximum damage on a fellow human.
However, we should beware the cynical moneymen who often, unbeknownst to us, are pulling our strings behind the scenes.
The sanitising of pornography, the proliferation of vulgar reality TV, of naked selfies, of apps that facilitate strangers in hooking up for sex, are, along with MMA’s stunning popularity, all of a piece.
They are a sign of how even our private desires are now being monetised and exploited for profit.
It shows how under the aegis of advanced capitalism, there is little that is sacred that cannot be bought or sold.
PrEEnInG: Conor McGregor promotes masculinity in its crudest form