Age is the Crum­lin Pied Piper’s great­est weapon and he has a puncher’s chance to win

Both fight­ers proudly rep­re­sent what Amer­ica has be­come

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - BOXING MAYWEATHER V MCGREGOR - Johnny Wat­ter­son

Crum­lin’s Pied Piper has coaxed them to Las Ve­gas, the town where sell­ing a li­cence to per­form al­most any­thing is ir­re­sistible.

Here we are. Conor McGre­gor, an MMA demi-god, a sales­man, cul­tur­ally a Kim Kar­dashian. Fa­mous for an unerring abil­ity to cap­ture the zeit­geist of a younger gen­er­a­tion bored with box­ing’s stu­por and con­fused di­vi­sions, stim­u­lated by the cel­e­bra­tion of ugly.

She re­leases a sex tape with singer Ray J. He tweets ahead of a 2014 fight with Den­nis Siver a photo of him­self and the Ger­man fighter cap­tioned: “Kiss them feet Nazi.”

She ap­pears on the red car­pet in a trans­par­ent Gucci num­ber.

He says: “I love Jose Aldo like my bitch” and “Chad Men­des hits like a bitch.”

So it goes. McGre­gor sell­ing his poor Paddy, great Paddy schlock and his bom­bas­tic brand, where in­flam­ma­tory and of­fen­sive are shouted out, a Trump-like, sanc­tion-free world where words and ac­tions lose im­pact or mean­ing. He’s half black, you know. “From the belly but­ton down.” Brag­gado­cious.

A poster boy of gen­er­a­tion Snapchat, the ex­plicit and the toxic have short life­spans but McGre­gor’s “fun” racism leaves stains, his misog­yny re­mem­bered. The craic he has had. In a more se­ri­ous fo­rum there is a di­ag­no­sis as­signed to in­di­vid­u­als who ha­bit­u­ally vi­o­late the rights of oth­ers without re­morse. An­ti­so­cial Per­son­al­ity Dis­or­der. Surely not.

Art­ful communicator McGre­gor po­larises and is clever enough to know that if you do that you will al­ways be left with half of the room still sup­port­ing you. And im­por­tantly, you will sell.

This week there was some low­er­ing of the vol­ume but no change of the mes­sage. McGre­gor in­formed us of his cur­rent state of mind.

“Some­times I re­gret say­ing things and say, ‘why would I say stupid shit like that’?” he asked rhetor­i­cally. He quickly took it back. “But then I don’t care about it.”

Keep­ing in char­ac­ter, there is no telling the method ac­tor from the fighter.

That McGre­gor’s hands ap­pear too high for a de­fence, that his punches to the bag in the short clip re­leased are poor to av­er­age, that he put out a redacted clip of him knock­ing down a spar­ring part­ner, who claims he was thrown, sends mixed mes­sages of anxiety and con­fi­dence.

In lat­ter weeks, May­weather broke a life­time of self-de­ifi­ca­tion and cel­e­bra­tion of his great­ness to fall into a so­lil­o­quy on the sor­row­ful mys­ter­ies of age blunt­ing per­for­mance.

It could have been seen as be­lated self-re­flec­tion rather than an ex­er­cise in faux frailty and push­ing ticket sales.

“He’s a lot younger. When you look at my­self and Conor McGre­gor on pa­per, he’s taller, has a longer reach, he’s a big­ger man from top to bottom. He’s a lot younger, so youth is on his side,” said May­weather. “And I’ve been off a cou­ple of years. And I’m in my 40s. So, if you look at ev­ery­thing on pa­per, it leans to­ward Conor McGre­gor.”

Did May­weather point out that he had not knocked any­one out since 2011? That he must have for­got­ten, or maybe found it too sur­real.

“I just didn’t like when he called us mon­keys,” added May­weather, not for­get­ting.

McGre­gor has never knocked any­one out in a pro­fes­sional box­ing ring. As we head into the long night in Ve­gas, there are sev­eral things his sup­port­ers use as se­ri­ous charges against May­weather win­ning.

McGre­gor is awk­ward, rangy, has a hard left and the fight is at 154lb, com­fort­ably just one pound below the UFC limit.

McGre­gor won’t win on points over 12 rounds. No one knows if he could last that long. He must use un­pre­dictabil­ity be­fore May­weather’s in­tel­li­gence gath­ers and he hits a com­fort­able rhythm counter punch­ing, at which he is the best.

The eight-ounce gloves will add hurt fac­tor to McGre­gor’s ef­forts but he first has to land.

It is at best an in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ment but cir­cus ma­te­rial. Olympic gold medal win­ner Jessie Owens rac­ing against a horse. It is Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King play­ing ten­nis in bat­tle of the sexes.

Both had un­der­ly­ing so­cial com­men­tary, Owens on how cham­pion black ath­letes earned money in the US and King the way women are treated ev­ery­where. McGre­gor breezily en­cap­su­lates both prej­u­dices.

Fash­ion­ably, McGre­gor’s vul­gar chic chokes out nu­ance, his celebrity and $20,000 suits de­mand­ing a fab­ri­cated piece of glitz be treated as an epoch -break­ing event.

Heavy­weight cham­pion Charles “Sonny” Lis­ton, win­ner of 35 of his 36 pro­fes­sional bouts and one of box­ing’s most in­tim­i­dat­ing ath­letes, faced Cas­sius Clay in 1964, a lightly re­garded 22-year-old from Louisville. Clay won. Buster Dou­glas, a 42-1 un­der­dog against Mike Tyson some­how bent Iron Mike out of shape.

Up­sets hap­pen. A May­weather de­feat would soil his 49-0 record and post him as the man who held box­ing’s rep­u­ta­tion in his hands and dropped it. Re­match!

Both proudly rep­re­sent what Amer­ica has be­come. This is the busi­ness we are in. It is the com­merce of pay-for-view dol­lars, a fight that has lit­tle ba­sis in the tra­di­tional box­ing im­per­a­tive that you earn a ti­tle shot, where pop­u­lar at­ten­tion and how much cash you can bring begets a claim to le­git­i­macy. It’s false but it is where we are.

Two men stripped to the waist and fight­ing in a square ring fi­nally af­fords McGre­gor dig­nity. Age is his great­est weapon and he has a puncher’s chance to win.

So too would Katie Tay­lor. When he lived in digs above The Foun­tain café on Cork’s Grand Pa­rade, Christy Ring used to walk the short dis­tance to St Au­gus­tine’s church each morn­ing for 7.30am Mass.

He gifted his eighth All-Ire­land medal to the priests there and it was used to dec­o­rate a chal­ice. A daily com­mu­ni­cant and a mem­ber of the Catholic Young Men’s So­ci­ety in his na­tive Cloyne; on the big­gest days of his sport­ing life he gen­u­flected and kissed the ring of some bishop or prelate in the mid­dle of Croke Park. No­body flinched at the bizarre spec­ta­cle. That was just the way things were.

Once upon a time in New York city, some en­ter­pris­ing busi­ness­man made Ring an of­fer. They wanted to open a bar with his name over the door. In re­turn for use of the brand, half of all prof­its would be his. He turned them down, just like he es­chewed a va­ri­ety of other lu­cra­tive com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties to cash in on his fame, pre­fer­ring to earn his corn driv­ing an oil truck for Shell, a com­pany that fa­mously tried to stop him trav­el­ling to the States on a hurl­ing tour be­cause it clashed with his de­liv­ery sched­ule.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Ring was the great­est sports­man in the coun­try and he was of that par­tic­u­lar Ire­land. De­vout. Tee-to­tal. Hum­ble. Pi­ous. A sepia-tinted hero when the world ex­isted only in black and white.

Half a cen­tury after Ring first be­strode hurl­ing, Roy Keane tooled around the cor­po­ra­tion hous­ing es­tates of Cork’s north­side in a flam­ing red Mercedes with the num­ber plate Roy 1. Gaudy. Crass. Ju­ve­nile.

But, it wasn’t un­known in those days for em­i­grants to re­turn for their sum­mer hol­i­days with a hired Beamer to ex­ag­ger­ate how well things were go­ing over in Eng­land. He was of that time and place, from a house scarred by un­em­ploy­ment, honed by the hard­ship of the 70s and 80s, and as­pi­ra­tional enough to want to flaunt new-found wealth in the first flush of pro­fes­sional suc­cess.


Even if his bout of con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion was a pre­view of the way so many of his com­pa­tri­ots would be­have in the Celtic Tiger decade com­ing down the line, Keane got rid of the car soon enough. He had to. Un­wit­tingly and un­will­ingly, he be­came the first su­per­star of Ire­land’s tabloid age. In 1996, pa­parazzi staked out Keane’s fam­ily home in May­field as we en­tered an age so pruri­ent and in­tru­sive that we ended up on first-name terms with his dog. He was the bridge be­tween the old and new Ire­land. In one, peo­ple prayed on Sun­days, in the other, they shopped.

The sport­ing he­roes of any era of­fer us a win­dow into the val­ues and norms of that so­ci­ety. Those we look up to and how we idolise them pro­vides a snap­shot of what we were at a par­tic­u­lar time. From Danno Ma­honey’s wrestling ex­ploits in Amer­ica (er­satz as they may have been) en­thralling peo­ple back home strug­gling through the 1930s, to Brian O’Driscoll em­body­ing the supreme self-con­fi­dence of the af­flu­ent 2000s, we can al­ways find an ath­lete whose ca­reer can help us frame the broader so­cial his­tory of any epoch.

Some peo­ple to­day are as un­com­fort­able with Katie Tay­lor’s oc­ca­sional ex­pres­sions of her re­li­gious be­liefs as their fore­fa­thers were once as un­ques­tion­ing about the pres­ence of a man of the cloth at the throw-in of ma­jor hurl­ing matches. Many men of a cer­tain age have spent the past few years tut-tut­ting about every fresh Conor McGre­gor out­rage the same way their own fathers and grand­fa­thers used to com­plain about the an­tics, the clothes and the hair of Ge­orge Best. Time passes, and of­fence is in the eye of the be­holder.

What we can all agree on is that McGre­gor ex­plains 21st-cen­tury Ire­land like no­body else. As with Ring, Keane, O’Driscoll et al, he too, for bet­ter and for worse, is a prod­uct of his own time and place. The poster child of an on-de­mand gen­er­a­tion weaned on Sky Sports, raised to believe mar­ket­ing hype about in­stant clas­sics, Su­per Sun­days and rou­tine ti­tle de­fences that are fights for the ages. Through no fault of their own, their first lan­guage is hy­per­bole, their de­fault set­ting ex­ag­ger­a­tion.

When UFC came along, speak­ing flu­ent Sky and of­fer­ing them shorter, snap­pier con­tests bet­ter suited to their dwin­dling, high­light-reel at­ten­tion spans, they found a sport uniquely tai­lored to their crav­ings. As kids, their par­ents laughed as the bearded Gi­ant Haystacks and the bul­bous Big Daddy pan­tomimed around the ring on Satur­day af­ter­noons. In con­trast, these mil­len­ni­als gorged them­selves more fre­quently on the red­der, steroid-en­hanced meat of the WWE, and came to see preen­ing self-re­gard as some­thing to em­u­late rather than a very ob­vi­ous com­mer­cial schtick. They took John Cena as their role model. Their dads looked up to John Giles. Therein lies a cru­cial dif­fer­ence.

As soon as they were old enough, these lads were go­ing to the gym with the same de­vo­tion Ring’s gen­er­a­tion traipsed to Mass in shirts and ties. Not as a di­etary push or part of a team ex­er­cise ei­ther. They pumped iron in pur­suit of a phys­i­cal aes­thetic of swollen pecs and pneu­matic bi­ceps, their metic­u­lously man­scaped bod­ies adorned by tat­toos that shape-shift when they flex their Popeye arms in front of the mir­ror. In McGre­gor they see them­selves and they love what they see. Ir­rev­er­ent and iras­ci­ble, dis­miss­ing his­tory and ev­ery­one that came be­fore him the same way they’ve learned that the banks and the church and the politi­cians ru­ined their own great coun­try.

And their man can’t be racist be­cause he lis­tens to rap mu­sic. Just like them. He’s not an in­suf­fer­able brag­gart ei­ther be­cause he’s just do­ing what they do on a larger scale, us­ing so­cial me­dia to show­case the most glam­orous and ex­cit­ing mo­ments in their lives. To these chronic over­shar­ers, mod­esty is just the name of a strip­per they met the first time they blew a cou­ple of grand they didn’t have go­ing to Ve­gas to see McGre­gor fight Dustin Poirier.

When Steve Collins ped­dled ar­ro­gance and brag­gado­cio in the mid-1990s, the Ir­ish pub­lic found it boor­ish and dis­missed him as a blowhard. They liked he­roes of a more hum­ble stripe, Keane, De­nis Ir­win, Paul McGrath, char­ac­ters who let their im­mense achieve­ments in the arena speak for them­selves and kept their bank bal­ances pri­vate. Now, devo­tees jus­tify each cringe-in­duc­ing McGre­gor atroc­ity by the fact it’s mak­ing him richer than any of the greats of yes­ter­year. The price of ev­ery­thing. The value of noth­ing. Lit­tle chance any of his belts or baubles end­ing up in a sac­risty near you.

“No man can ad­e­quately de­scribe Ir­ish life who ig­nores the Gaelic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion,” wrote the poet Pa­trick Ka­vanagh one time.

No man will ever ad­e­quately un­der­stand mod­ern Ire­land who ig­nores Conor McGre­gor.

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