By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
Over the past few days, Conor McGregor underwent a successful surgery to mend his broken left leg, which was a good thing, then immediately started talking trash again, which wasn’t.
Up until now, throughout a career in which he has categorically established himself as the biggest star the Ultimate Fighting Championship has ever known, McGregor opening his mouth has pretty much always been a positive.
He’s said some silly stuff, sure, often testing the boundaries of decency and decorum, but the Irishman with the quick fists and quicker wit has most always entertained and played the role of showman to perfection.
But not now.
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Such things are a delicate balance, and if the actions in the octagon don’t back up the fighting talk that precedes it, the whole façade begins to crumble. In the wake of his latest defeat, a doctor’s stoppage TKO to Dustin Poirier on Saturday night, that’s what is happening to McGregor.
He remains the biggest draw in the sport of mixed martial arts, with an estimated pay-per-view audience of at least 1.8 million buys last weekend – according to UFC president Dana White – and a live gate of $15.7 million, the second-highest in organization history.
But McGregor’s light, once brighter than any in the combat sports universe, has dimmed drastically.
He has fought just four times (plus a boxing bout with Floyd Mayweather) in the last four years, and the only victory in that time came over washed-up veteran Donald Cerrone. His pair of outings this year were a knockout loss to Poirier in January and another defeat to the same opponent at UFC 264, a broken tibia sustained when he stepped backward and his ankle buckled beneath him.
He’s nowhere near the top 15 in the pound-for-pound ratings, has slipped to No. 7 among lightweights, and, if not for his ability to draw so many eyeballs, he’d be far removed from the title contention picture.
Perhaps most disappointing, his verbal game seems to be suffering just as badly. Maybe that’s no surprise. After all, it is infinitely harder to break down your opponent’s mindset with fiery jabs and stinging retorts once you’ve been knocked out, choked out and tapped out by multiple opponents.
“He’s just full of (expletive),” Poirier told reporters. So it proved.
Ahead of Saturday’s event, McGregor resorted to crass chatter that went too far. It ranged from the unsavory – repeatedly stating he wanted to commit murder – a topic far too serious to be fit for flippant purpose. There were a few highly inappropriate remarks mixed in, when McGregor brought Poirier’s wife Jolie into the discussion, claiming she had tried to chat him up on social media. The families of fighters, virtually without exception, are off-limits as pre-fight talking points in MMA. McGregor didn’t care and even repeated the taunt as he sat helpless on the octagon floor post-defeat.
That, if anything, served as a further reminder of how he’d clumsily promised to ensure Poirier would leave T-Mobile Arena on a stretcher. In the end, that was his own fate.
There was a time when there seemed to be no such thing as too much McGregor, now you find yourself wanting him to shut up. In a video statement after his surgery, McGregor derided Poirier’s triumph as an illegitimate win. That absurd comment – Poirier dominated the first round and would have been an overwhelming favorite had the fight continued – rekindled memories of his remark before the fight that he regarded his record as 19-1 (not 22-6) because “I only count the knockouts.”
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The problem is that McGregor’s attempts to reshape history are now firmly working against him. For each time he seeks to diminish the achievements of others, the MMA public takes a more critical look at his own career achievements.
Like how he never defended either the lightweight or featherweight titles he won in the UFC. Or how Jose Aldo, recipient of a dramatic 13-second knockout in 2015 that turbocharged McGregor’s career, has since gone 4-5 and looks spent. Or how Eddie Alvarez, whom he beat at Madison Square Garden to become the UFC’s first two-weight champion, has long since left the company and is now slipping down the ranks of the Asia-based ONE Championship.
In a sport that has never had a shortage of trash talkers, McGregor surged to the top of the pile not by reinventing the wheel, but by simply running his mouth more entertainingly than anyone had ever done before.
It is enough now.
He’s running out of ideas and he’s running out of ammunition. There is no shame in losing, but if you want your past glories to be paid full respect you have to confer the same upon others.
“Money and fame show who you are,” Khabib Nurmagomedov, who conferred a ferocious 2019 beatdown upon McGregor, told ESPN. “If the MMA community is going to support this bad (person), this sport is going to go in a bad way.”
In most sports, a performance downturn like McGregor’s would have seen him fade far away from the spotlight. But this is MMA, where bombast and antagonism sells like nothing else, and where having a big name guarantees you’ll get another chance – or several.
Whenever that comes, you can be sure you’ll hear about it.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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