It’s hard to disagree with much of what Conor McGregor said during a 40-plus-minute appearance on ESPN2 last week in which he apologized for an ongoing string of exceptionally boorish acts. He said he was sorry. He said he’s going to change. He vowed to make his family and his sport proud. Who can disagree with that? But until his actions match his words, sorry, I’m not buying it.
Not yet, at least.
His outrageous behavior has coincided neatly with the increase in both his fame and his wealth.
The UFC in particular and mixed martial arts in general will survive just fine with or without McGregor. But the McGregor who joined the UFC in 2013 — the witty, compassionate, devilish young man who is willing to accept all challenges and is determined to put on a show — can do so much good for the sport.
He would lift the sport by his mere presence. He was accessible and approachable, to fans and media. Often a star fighter has a suffocating presence on the sport and sucks all the oxygen out of a room, but such was not the case with McGregor in the first half of his UFC tenure.
The spotlight on him cast a glow on others as well as the sport at large.
But since he decided he was too big to have to attend a news conference prior to UFC 200, it’s been a different McGregor and he’s had a different, more negative impact.
McGregor apologized dozens of times during his interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani for his role in various incidents over the last several years. But McGregor is beyond apology at this point. The only thing that will show he’s truly sorry are his actions.
His televised apology came off as insincere and contrived and more of a bid at damage control, particularly since he was neither asked about nor commented on allegations of sexual assault against him that were raised in March by The New York Times.
Last year, Irish newspapers had headlines such as the one in The Herald on Dec. 11, 2018, which read, “Sports Star in Hotel Rape Probe.”
Whether that rape probe is the one The Times referenced or not is just conjecture, but it’s important to note that Irish laws are different than those in the U.S. and McGregor’s name has never been publicly connected in Ireland to any sexual assault case in any way.
McGregor’s faced precious few consequences for his many indiscretions — those he admits to, those he says he had a part in and those which he has yet to discuss.
He’s been arrested and paid fines and undoubtedly paid princely sums in both settlements and attorneys fees, but when he’s making tens of millions to fight, it doesn’t hurt as badly to take a few extra months off as it does when you’re only making $25,000 to show, $25,000 if you win and get a shot at a potential $50,000 fight night bonus.
It’s easy for McGregor to feel like he’s above the law because he’s treated so differently than his peers. The UFC suspended Matt Mitrione in 2013 for comments he made about a transgender fighter, but McGregor has faced no publicly known discipline from the promotion for throwing a dolly at a bus that cost several fighters a bout; punching an elderly man in a bar and smashing another man’s mobile phone.
The UFC, though, isn’t going to suspend McGregor into changing his behavior. It has to come from within, and he has to be sincere when he says, “I must get this right. I must not go down that path, that written path, the cliché of the fighter that has it all. I need to be aware of my past, of the past, and learn from it and grow and that’s what I’m doing. That’s what I’m working hard to do every single day.”
McGregor’s about to find out that a good reputation is hard to build and easy to lose, and it’s going to take a lot more than just saying “I’m sorry” on a television interview to change things.
He’s a Hall of Fame promoter, but he needs to avoid the edgy, nasty tone he took when he promoted his bout with Khabib Nurmagomedov last year. The incident that happened following Nurmagomedov’s submission of McGregor at UFC 229 in Las Vegas last year was born from months of baiting by McGregor. He threw a dolly at a bus Nurmagomedov was on; he insulted Nurmagomedov’s father, his wife, his religion and his country.
The UFC knew how explosive those words were because they prepared for it and made extraordinary security plans for fight night, only to have it all blow up in their faces when Nurmagomedov leaped over the cage to get at a McGregor cornerman who just couldn’t stop talking.
McGregor’s one of the wittiest athletes in the history of the fight game, but it’s been years since that guy’s been around. He’s been boorish and bullying, offensive and outrageous. He said it himself: It’s time to change.
He has to earn back the respect and trust that he’d worked so hard to gain and so foolishly allowed to slip through his fingers.
He can start by shutting up and following through on what he told Helwani he’d do: Live a life that is an example to his children and others, and shows that the real Conor McGregor is the guy UFC fans grew to love from 2013 through 2015 and not the boor he’s become in the last three years.
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