All Aboard – McGregor Driving Biggest Bandwagon Since Italia ’90
There’s many elements that characterise Irish people: the sexy accent foreigners love to drip over when you’re on holidays; the cheeky sense of humour Americans find overly outrageous but we’re really just having the craic; the overall ability to not take ourselves too seriously.
There’s plenty more, obviously, but you get the gist of it.
There’s one other thing that exemplifies the Irish better than most, though – the sheer love for and acceptance of jumping on the bandwagon.
Of course, there’s also a portion of us known as ‘begrudgers’ just to balance things up, but, in general, we love a good success story, particularly when it’s an Irish one.
Few things have encapsulated that more than Conor McGregor’s rapid ascent to the top of the MMA tree. While the sport of UFC was still quite popular here in Ireland, awareness and acceptance was stunted.
The Lucan native’s explosive charisma and extraordinary fighting ability, though, has taken on a life of its own. Because of that, the growth of the sport and the cult status of McGregor has skyrocketed.
The Dubliner is a phenomenon. It’s not just that he is exceptionally talented; he is also a one-man marketing machine. He is a gold mine to Dana White and the UFC and they know it only too well.
Whether it is a conscious or unconscious ploy, part of McGregor’s ‘sellability’ is an intense love of his country. Who could forget him scolding Dana White for suggesting he was from the UK, not Ireland.
The only thing he seems to be more proud of is his shoe collection. Like attaching a handle to a beer keg, twisting it open and letting it flow, he has managed to tap into the psyche of his fellow Irish and their innate pride: “We’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over” is his mantra.
Only those closest to him know for sure whether that was a cleverly pre-planned line or an off-the-cuff moment of inspiration in front of a rapturous, partisan crowd but it, and McGregor, has nearly become a metaphor for Ireland’s surge back from the depths over the last 18 months or so.
After years of economic despair through terrible austerity the country is in recovery mode.
In sporting terms, at least, it needed an export to be proud of, to get behind and cheer on, and McGregor has provided that in spades.
Were we all UFC fans for years? No. Do most people care? No. Long-time MMA fans are mostly just happy to see their sport get such a massive boost whilst our country has a new sporting and cultural icon to be inspired by – it’s a win-win scenario.
The sheer numbers of Irish that travelled to Las Vegas for the Mendes fight was mind-blowing. Thousands filled the MGM and the surrounding hotels around the city to support their countryman. The Irish-Americans in the US were even more emboldened by their heritage.
He may be driving the biggest bandwagon the country has seen in years but it’s not just the Notorious. Hark back to the likes of Katie Taylor at the Olympics, Stephanie Roche during the Puskas Award campaign or the Irish cricket team at the World Cup; we get behind our own like no other, no matter the sport or the sex of the athlete.
In a recent national survey, the one thing that scored highly amongst Irish people was the shared sense of community – we help our own.
It’s a collective thing with the Irish: “If one goes to war, we all go to war”. It’s a throwaway line that’s great for selling T-shirts but there’s definitely a sense of authenticity about that phrase.
There were lots before him and there’ll be plenty after him but Conor McGregor is the latest in a long line of Irish sports’ stars with their foot on the accelerator and their hands at the wheel – and we love him for it. For helping to restore some pride in a country that has been belittled for too long.