Depending on the day you catch him on camera, UFC featherweight star Conor McGregor is alternately one of the most fascinating people in the sport to listen to, or one of the most tedious.
Turning on your computer or television and watching a young, pimply McGregor boldly declare his intention to one day make it to the UFC and become the best in the world when he was just 4-1, or listening to him technically analyze other fighters these days, is interesting.
After all, there’s nothing wrong with confidence, or even a certain type of arrogance. Though not all greats verbally express it, the internal feeling is a prerequisite to achievement.
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Backed up by hard work and results, it can be a sight to see. And, the best athletes often have been big trash talkers, even if they didn’t have reputations among the general public as such.
Additionally, McGregor also seems to have a capacity for unique authenticity. Think back to when you heard McGregor tell The Fighter and The Kid about how, just two years ago, stressed about his future and discouraged by a teammate’s injuries, he nearly quit MMA forever, before a chance call from his coach and opportunity from the UFC.
Or, remember the Irishman at an emotional loss for words over a terminally ill child from his homeland who, as a last wish, wanted to speak with McGregor over the phone. The little guy died right before McGregor’s fight with Chad Mendes in July, and the fighter — even behind bright red sunglasses and a steeled posture — was visibly shaken when asked about it.
"It f*cked my head up because this little kid is in Ireland, and I’m telling him, ‘I’m going to take this belt, and I’m going to bring it to ya, and we’ll raise the belt.’ And I woulda done it," he trailed off.
"It’s just a really sad situation. It’s heartbreaking. I have lost family members to cancer, and it is a horrible, horrible thing. I wish … I don’t know. It would have been nice if I could have … I don’t know."
After his fight with Mendes, McGregor said that he didn’t really have any animosity towards his opponent. In that moment, he truly appreciated, and wasn’t afraid to express, what really mattered: that two courageous men met and gave it their all.
He seemed overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment, that his dreams were coming true, while remembering that it was so because another man’s were crushed.
Any time McGregor is engaged during a quiet moment and gets to speak of his endless curiosity regarding movement and the martial arts, he spins analytical and philosophical gold. He even seems to sometimes get lost in his own mind while considering and speaking of the endless possibilities in unarmed combat.
Unfortunately, in other moments, McGregor can get lost in prejudiced talk, or masturbatory mirror-gazing. That stuff, in which the recent underdog in life insults whole nations of people or showcases shopping sprees and poses with stacks of cash, is the mundane, stale part of McGregor.
There is a tension between the thin but loud act "Notorious" puts on for the world and his promoters, and the things that really matter to the man, and how he thinks of and normally would express them if he weren’t trying to sell the latest pay-per-view.
Let’s compare some quotes from the loquacious featherweight. The first set are just a few positive, considered comments, and the latter are, well … they’re something else, entirely.
"I’m just a normal guy with curious fascination for unarmed combat."
"I just wanted to learn to defend myself in any scenario, and I used to go from gym to gym, learning different ways.
"Fight would happen. Young boys would fight. It just stuck in my head a little bit more. Something like that would happen, it was always in my head. I’d go back and think about it. I would think about what happened. What positions happened. Some people may have gone about their day. Me, I sat back and thought about it a lot more. And, it led me to the gym."
"I knew what was going to happen. I knew I was going to get here. They didn’t. It was a lot of stressful years. A lot of tough times. But I proved them wrong. I proved myself right."
"There’s many ups and downs in the fight game. There’s many times where you have these conversations where you want to do it, you don’t want to do it."
There are moments when McGregor isn’t afraid to show how grateful he is for all that he has, indeed even his opponents. In many other, however, he seems content to be one-dimensional and stale.
"If this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work. But, we are in a new time, so I’ll whoop his ass."
"Little Brazilian, you are going to die."
"You little midget. You little, skinny Brazilian f*ck. You little bitch. You want to do something? You little Brazilian bitch. What are you going to do?"
Talk of buying a fleet of expensive cars, or enslaving poverty-stricken Brazilians, is beneath a man capable of real thought and compassion. Perhaps worst of all for a budding star, it’s also flat-out boring.
McGregor is not a boring person, but much of what he’s making himself known for, outside of the cage, is quite dull. He’s likely being pushed to keep the volume turned up at all times, and be as outlandish as possible — especially before next week’s UFC 194.
Through all this, however, the fighter should beware. The shelf life of a one-dimensional cartoon character is a lot shorter than that of a brash but thoughtful, sincere man, who backs up his predictions by giving his heart and soul to his training and to his fights.
McGregor’s spotlight is growing larger. As it does, he would do well to focus more of it on his substance than the flashy, flimsy and ephemeral.