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McGregor Leading MMA To Greener Pastures

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Last Sunday morning, one of the most successful and entertaining MMA events in recent history came to a close in Las Vegas. The headliner, and main attraction, was a young upstart from Crumlin. He began the night as a doubted and divisive figure, but ended it as Ireland’s newest sporting hero and the latest figurehead for the UFC.

The doubts were understandable.

McGregor has only a handful of fights in the organisation, and we had not seen the full picture. We still haven’t, but another large chunk was revealed at the weekend, and it looked like a work of art.

I’ll hold my hands up and admit it; I was a sceptic. Not through any pettiness or begrudgery, but because I have watched MMA for a long time, and it’s a sport that rewards scepticism. Much like in boxing, prospects can be built, and you often don’t know how good someone is until they’ve been made to look bad. Remarkably, that has yet to happen to McGregor.

Dana White and the Fertittas will be hoping McGregor can spearhead the UFC’s latest expansion.

The fight was not without its hairy moments – the SBG product was taken to the mat four times in less than two rounds by opponent Chad Mendes. He spent a worrying chunk of time on his back and sustained some eye-watering elbows. At one point, he almost got caught in a crucifix, a position which is usually followed by a quick and gruesome finish.

Instead of wilting though, he showed remarkable composure and patience. Being taken down by one of the best wrestlers in the division is no real shame. McGregor dealt with it like a pro and took his opportunities to explode back to the feet. More thrillingly, he once again showed the multi-faceted arsenal of a truly great striker. Mendes may have only had two weeks to prepare, but it looked as though two years preparation would still not have saved him from McGregor’s power and accuracy.

Mendes had no answer for McGregor’s left hand

I am now more than happy to step aboard this particular bandwagon, and delighted to report that ‘The Notorious’ looks very much like the real deal.

Speaking purely as a fan of MMA this is fantastic news. This is a sport that has fought long and hard for respect and mainstream legitimacy, both in Ireland and worldwide.

It has only recently shed an unfair stigma. A prominent sports broadcaster here in Dublin recently told me that he doesn’t consider it a sport, and I’ve had to defend it to many fellow professionals in the past.

While working at a national tabloid just a few years ago I floated the idea of an interview with John Kavanagh and a feature on the Straight Blast Gym. It was decided that the interest probably wasn’t there to justify it.

This weekend Conor McGregor was the main story on the RTE website. Even the BBC tried to muscle their way into the party, slyly claiming McGregor the first ‘Irish or UK UFC champion’. To say this level of exposure was unthinkable only a short time ago is an understatement.

This is why Conor McGregor is so important. He is important not only for the growth of MMA in this country, but worldwide.

It’s less than 20 years since the first regulated bout took place in the States. In the early days its appeal was extremely limited, even in key demographics. In recent years however, the UFC has been making a concerted push to expand into other regions and hosting events all over the world.

Georges St Pierre helped the UFC gain a foothold in Canada.

They need marketable fighters to win over the public though. Georges St Pierre unlocked Canada, for example. Closer to home, the UK have produced a long line of admirable fighters who have helped the sport steadily grow in relevance and earn limited recognition in the national press. These strides open the door for younger fighters, raise the profile of the sport and make it an attractive prospect to the next generation. They are the key if a young sport like MMA wants to thrive.

Despite producing such skilled and charismatic fighters as Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy though, no UK fighter has managed to break through and take gold

Few in MMA history have ever done it with the swagger and magnetism of McGregor.

You can bet the UFC will be making the most of their golden goose. Already McGregor has been signed up to coach on the Ultimate Fighter TV series, a faded reality show that’s wheezing into it’s 32nd season. They’ll be hoping the Irishman can breathe new life into that too.

The fact is, McGregor has talked and fought his way into a powerful position. He is a huge box office draw, as evidenced by last weekend’s PPV numbers. Personally, fighters who talk have never interested me that much. As a long time Jose Aldo admirer I’ve had a few wry smiles at the abuse that has been meted out to him in the last few months, a subject covered at length elsewhere. I will also admit to not being a fan of some of McGregor’s pre-fight antics. The press conference in Dublin was not always the most edifying spectacle, and grabbing the belt felt cheap.

The press conference boiled over at times

I don’t run a business though, and when someone is able to back up the talk as impressively as McGregor did last Saturday, they can pretty much say and do what they like.

Because make no mistake, a Chad Mendes win would have been disastrous on a number of levels. For McGregor personally, for the UFC and for Irish MMA. It would have cost the UFC a fight that they had spent a million dollars promoting before the Aldo injury. It would have been an awkwardly early humbling for McGregor too, and it’s hard to see people in Ireland having anything like the same enthusiasm for his next encounter.

Nine minutes into Saturday’s fight at the MGM, there would have been the first pangs of panic among those with a vested interest. Luckily, McGregor looks as good as his own enthusiastic advertising. Now we can look forward to a showdown with Aldo, which (again) promises to be one of the biggest in the history of the sport.

Jose Aldo is next on the McGregor hitlist

And you know what? After years of seeing the Brazilian terminator as nigh on unbeatable, I now believe McGregor will win. He will probably be the audience’s favourite to turn interim gold into an undisputed championship, and he may even be the bookies favourite too.

All aboard the bandwagon. It’s taking us to greener pastures.

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