Conor McGregor’s defeat in his recent Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) match against Dustin Poirier on 24 January 2021 has reignited debates within Ireland regarding McGregor’s reputation on the world stage.
The match against Poirier took place in Abu Dhabi this year despite claims by McGregor in June 2020 that he was retiring, a claim he had previously made in March 2019 before fighting again in January of the following year.
While the fight was brief – McGregor was knocked-out by Poirier less than 3 minutes into the second round – the conversations surrounding Conor McGregor and what his notoriety means for people back in his home country continue.
“It is really embarrassing when people think of Ireland and they think of him automatically,” says Eoin McCall about the notoriety that McGregor has gained as a UFC fighter.
As of December 2020, McGregor is ranked number 6 in the UFC lightweight category, and is one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, but his meteoric rise to the top has also been mirrored by increasing controversies, as well as numerous court cases.
In Ireland, as Conor McGregor was rising in popularity, many young men were attempting to emulate him, said Eimear Cosgrave: “It was so galling to see an example of toxic masculinity held up as a success story for guys.”
While ‘trash talk’ is a key component of UFC – opponents tend to assert their dominance over their opponent and draw up interest for the fight at press conferences and weigh-ins – McGregor has faced controversy for stepping over the mark into racist or Islamophobic remarks. When he fought the boxer Floyd Mayweather in 2017, he called Mayweather’s boxers ‘Jungle Monkeys’, made snide comments referring to ‘favelas’ when fighting Brazillian José Aldo in 2015. In 2018 in the lead up to his fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2018 he mocked the Russian’s Muslim faith and referred to his manager as a terrorist.
“I was vaguely interested in him at the start… but he just became very unpalatable, with the casual racism he would throw in, and making misogynistic comments, even alluding to rape,” McCall says.
Outside of the UFC ring, McGregor has also faced several high profile court cases. Most recently in November 2019, when he was convicted on an assault charge in a Dublin court, following an altercation in a pub in which he was promoting his whiskey brand. In July 2018 he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a US court in order to avoid jail time, with a requirement that he undergo anger management. A 2019 charge of robbery was later dropped by Florida police.
In March 2019, the New York Times reported that McGregor was under investigation in Ireland following allegations of sexual assault. In September 2020, The New York Post reported that McGregor had been detained in Corsica on allegations of attempted sexual assault and indecent exposure. McGregor has denied these allegations.
“He’s so internationally well known… and for such a small island we actually have a lot of great sports people who would be great role models who don’t get the same recognition,” Cosgrave told The Lens.
Despite his controversies, McGregor remains the most lucrative draw in MMA history in terms of pay-per-view broadcasting, an influence which does not appear to be waning any time soon.