PLAY THE MAN, NOT RELIGION NOR RACE
THE trouble with trashtalking sportsmen is that few of them back up their words with deeds. It’s easy to go off the deep end and rant and rave about an opponent. It’s a little harder to deliver a commensurate performance.
Just ask mixed martial artist Conor Mcgregor. For weeks ahead of his Las Vegas showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov, the cocky Irishman spat out cruel insults at the Russian, his team and his family. Laced with venom and bile, his remarks raised the temperature and brought Nurmagomedov to boiling point.
The Russian duly exacted his revenge in the octagon, handing out the mother of all beatings before forcing Mcgregor into meek surrender last weekend.
It was a brutal comedown for Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest star, not least because his filthy words rung hollow as he lay slumped and defeated on the blood-stained canvas. His promises of a vicious defeat of the Russian evaporated amid a seething, simmering cauldron, where many a big mouth has been closed.
Not satisfied having humiliated his opponent, Nurmagomedov then vaulted the railing and attacked Mcgregor’s fight team. Chaos ensued as the police and public got involved Las Vegas-style. It was a mess.
When the air had cleared, the Russian was contrite, but pointedly explained that Mcgregor had attacked his religion – Nurmagomedov is Muslim – and his family. There was also the incident in April when Mcgregor threw a trolley through the window of a bus carrying Nurmagomedov and several teammates. You ratchet the temperature up that high and you can’t expect a soft landing in the octagon. The Russian sought to hurt the raging narcissist and he did so with a cold, devastating touch.
The ugly post-fight scenes quickly played out across social media and elsewhere with much hand-wringing and pontificating. One former UFC champion said the Russian might have his US visa revoked. Another, Daniel Cormier, described it as a
“sh*t show”, but then got into the heart of it by saying that fighters were slapped on the wrist for “acting like barbarians” outside of fights.
That’s precisely the point. We saw during the Floyd Mayweather circus just how Mcgregor’s insults were indulged by his bosses, probably because he’s such a cash generator.
It’s a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.
Even when he turned racist against Mayweather – “dance for me, boy,” he caustically uttered at one point – there wasn’t a murmur about Mcgregor’s behaviour. In any other environment, he’d be slapped with a massive fine or thrown into jail for his behaviour.
It’s rich for MMA bosses to hold their hands on their hearts and speak of their disappointment, knowing full well that Mcgregor creates carnage wherever he goes.
Privately, they know that combat sport, like boxing and MMA, thrives on chaos. Few watch for the high art or the technique. They watch for drama and blood and controversy.
Which is why you can be sure moves are already afoot to stage the rematch. The fighters will earn twice as much, the pay-per-view numbers will go through the roof and the MMA juggernaut will continue its extraordinary growth.
Mcgregor was uncharacteristically subdued in the aftermath, but don’t expect it to stay that way. His ego can’t stand the spotlight being elsewhere. His foul mouth won’t stay shut for long. You can bet on it.