If there’s any justice in the world, Conor McGregor’s getting thumped Saturday night.
There’s plenty of reasons to be cynical about Dustin Poirier’s chances in his rematch against the former two-division title surrenderer. McGregor’s fought in just 5 MMA bouts over the last half decade, while Poirier’s fought in 11. McGregor’s last fight was a 40-second knockout win against the aging Donald Cerrone. Poirier’s most recent bout was 25 minutes of he and Dan Hooker trying to murder each other. Poirier spent his pandemic donating meals to hospital staff. McGregor got arrested.
It’s hard to watch this last year and think the universe doesn’t stump for shitheels. It’s hard to see this particular shitheel flaunt million-dollar watches while people suffer in a pandemic and conclude this world has any guiding principle beyond naked malice. But shit, Poirier’s grown a lot since their first fight in 2014. And shit, Khabib thinks he might pull it off.
But beyond the brutal logic of the sport or tireless analysis of weigh-in physique, Poirier just has to win this one. For the good of the sport, Conor McGregor needs to be swept into irrelevance.
Conor McGregor’s popularity is a special kind of insidious. For most combat sports fans, his gift for stand-up boxing makes him as exciting as any fighter. Add that onto his cageside bravado, and you’ve got a recipe for an athlete that’s bigger than his sport. In a vacuum, that’s not such a bad thing. McGregor as the face of the UFC should pull in new fans from across the world. The Irishman also keeps the promotion flush with enough money to spread the wealth to its rank-and-file fighters.
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But Conor McGregor is a shitheel, the last person you’d want representing your sport to the world. Just this week he’s been sued twice for an alleged 2018 sexual assault. Even if you assume those allegations were made up, this is a guy who has used his gift for fighting to throw a dolly at a bus full of people, to break a fan’s phone after he tried to take his picture and to deck an old man who didn’t want to drink his shitty whisky at a pub. Beyond the violence, McGregor’s past trash talk has at least bordered on racist. He also chose a training partner who called Khabib Nurmagomedov a “fucking Muslim rat” in front of 20,000 people.
McGregor’s gotten away with this stuff for years since Dana White knows better than to shoot the cash cow. But, it’s in McGregor that we find so much of what’s wrong with the sport: the racism, the unsanctioned violence and the willingness to look the other way when it pays to. And when it’s celebrated at the highest levels of the sport, why should we be surprised the UFC remains a home for guys like Mike Perry and Greg Hardy?
As long as McGregor’s buyrates eclipse his fellow athletes’, this cycle won’t stop until he retires. But Poirier can kill McGregor’s UFC superstardom the same way Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes did Ronda Rousey’s. And without a monetary outlier like McGregor, suddenly the promotion has to put real effort into promoting the people it has. A more level playing field might mean more leverage for fighters to see the profits their risky business deserves. That’s probably wishful thinking, but at least there’s a chance the face of the sport might not be one of its worst after Saturday.