Conor McGregor’s rise to the pinnacle of the UFC and combat sports has been meteoric. His rags to riches journey, and embodying the fighting Irish spirit engulfed the nation, as he became a hero to many Irish people.
Staying up until 5 am to watch every one of McGregor’s UFC fights, I felt as if I was on this journey with him. There was an overwhelming sense of unity, as if it was the Irish against the world, a feeling that is now not shared by all.
Over the last couple of years, the stories we have heard and seen about McGregor have turned that sense of euphoria and passion, into anger, hatred and embarrassment.
For his most recent fight with Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, I wondered what the crowd response would be to McGregor. Whether or not the Irish fans would travel in their thousands as they did for so many of his fights in the past. Would his recent behaviour and incidents ruin everything he built in the previous few years?
To my surprise, the reaction was still one of excitement and passion. It seemed as though nothing had changed: the Irish were still there in their thousands, he was still the poster boy for the UFC, and all eyes were on him.
For the fans watching, it brought back the memories of the previous years, when he was regarded as the pride of Ireland. There was little mention of the incidents in the years gone, and very few comments from McGregor himself.
What McGregor has done has completely changed the public perception of the once adored fighter, and during his brief absence from the UFC, all the negativity and incidents that surrounded McGregor made me think that his reputation was destroyed.
Despite what has been said and done, it appears that McGregor still has a huge following, and it seems to be here to stay.
We have seen situations like this multiple times in the past, with fighters such as Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather and Tyson Fury. It appears that despite what happens or is reported about certain athletes, that their popularity and following still remains so strong.
In the case of McGregor, I believe for the majority of his fans, it is the case that the memories and moments that he has brought to many people over years, and the spectacle of watching these huge fighting events, has blinded people to the negativity.
It appeared to me that during the build-up to the fight, and the event itself, a huge amount of people forgot about what has transpired over the previous years, and we have been brought back to when there was only positivity surrounding McGregor.
There is still a lot to answer for, and the coming year will play a huge role. I fear that if his renewed success in the UFC is to continue, less and less will be spoken about what he has done and said over the last couple of years.
Image: Andrius Petrucenia