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‘Be passionate, be optimistic, be grateful.’ – Conor McGregor
It’s that inescapable knee-jerk feeling of pride. You don’t necessarily have to like U2’s music, watch Colin Farrell’s films or, in the case of Conor McGregor, understand exactly what Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is to bask in the reflected glow of their achievements.
It’s probably fair to say that for many Irish people, MMA didn’t exist before The Notorious came along. Now a day rarely passes when McGregor’s not making headlines, be it for the featherweight champ’s most recent exploits in the ring, his latest memorable soundbite, or his new Lamborghini.
Whatever your feelings concerning the sport itself, the dramatic journey of the 27-year-old must be acknowledged, from apprentice plumber from Crumlin to No 3 in the official UFC pound-for-pound rankings (and No. 1 featherweight), accompanied by a hefty dollop of public adoration and considerable financial reward. You can’t deny his tremendous work ethic or his unshakeable self-belief either, although given what a self-deprecating country Ireland is, his supreme confidence is almost upsetting to some. McGregor cites the laws of attraction; that by visualising good things when stuff isn’t going so well, you’ll bring them into your life. We could probably all do with a little more cage fighting thinking in our lives.
The man is polarising, and generally unrepentant about being so, although when it came to allegations that his pre-fight trash talk could be perceived as being offensive to women (Sample: “I love Jose Aldo like my b*tch”) he swiftly apologised. Innate showmanship and a penchant for gladiatorial-style aggression shouldn’t be confused with the man himself; he’s said to put in the hours meeting his fans, and last year donated €50,000 to help homeless charities, split between the Simon Community and Focus Ireland.
While his fanbase is global, McGregor is staying faithful to his Dublin roots, yet another reason that endears him to us. He wants to come back to fight here soon, emphatically stating: “I haven’t outgrown my home f***ing town.” We also love the way that when he returned to Dublin in glory last August, after eight months away, the first two things he did was to have a full Irish breakfast and watch Reeling In The Years.
If his defeat to underdog Nate Diaz in 2016 – McGregor’s first UFC defeat – has left fans reeling, McGregor, took to Twitter to proclaim that this is merely a small blip for him. “I’ll eat it all and come back stronger.” And even in that defeat, there was triumph: he became the first UFC fighter to earn a seven-figure payday of $1,000,000.
The Notorious is going to be alright. And who doesn’t love a comeback?
UPDATE: Conor McGregor defeated Nate Diaz by majority decision at UFC 202.