PLAY THE MAN, NOT RE­LI­GION NOR RACE

Sunday Tribune - - SPORT - CLIN­TON VAN DER BERG ON TWIT­TER: CLINTONV

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.

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