Conor McGregor transcends UFC as one of the most important athletes on Earth
What McGregor did Saturday on the world's biggest stage makes his greatness impossible to ignore
NEW YORK -- It's time to start rethinking how we classify Conor McGregor.
Two-division champion, the first to hold two belts simultaneously in UFC history? Face of UFC? The most mesmerizing draw in fighting?
Yes. True. Absolutely right, every bit of it. After McGregor destroyed Eddie Alvarez on Saturday night at UFC 205 to take another belt and gild the sport's Big Apple debut at Madison Square Garden with his particular flash and style, The Notorious One's place in the octagon reigns supreme.
But McGregor is bigger, as I'm sure he would be happy to tell you, than even UFC 205. He's bigger than the UFC itself. And it's time we start putting the Irishman where he belongs -- in that rarefied category as one of the greatest and most important athletes on Earth.
Remember: UFC is a $4 billion sports company. It attracts huge crowds, absurd pay-per-view draws (particularly given where it was 15 years ago), and an array of celebrities that only gather regularly in such numbers when a personality and a sport converge in a way we haven't seen in fighting for a long time.
McGregor is the best and most important fighter since Mike Tyson, but his accomplishments are, in some ways, larger. Tyson magnificently owned his sport, yes, but it was one with a long history and an easy path to greatness if you could dominate it. McGregor is the face of a sport that few took seriously when Tyson was still fighting, and while McGregor isn't the reason UFC has grown to this point, he is the person who is now taking it to another level.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird built the modern NBA. But it was Michael Jordan who inherited what they had shaped and sent it to levels that changed the American sports landscape. McGregor can be just as impactful for UFC.
McGregor belongs in the same space as LeBron James, Lionel Messi and the few other luminaries whose greatness transcends their sports.
It's true, in part, because McGregor is a fighting force of nature. He knocked Alvarez down three times in the first round, a fourth time in the second round, found himself pinned against the cage and escaped -- and then utterly destroyed Alvarez. It was a flurry of strikes that was nothing short of astounding, against an opponent who shouldn't be dominated so utterly and totally.
But McGregor is as great as he thinks he is.
Which brings us to the other reason he's a star on a magnitude beyond anything we've ever seen in the sport, including with Ronda Rousey: He has Tiger Woods' level of domination, Jordan's talent and all that matters. But it's Charles Barkley's flair and an arrogance that's wholly his own that make him so much fun to watch.
In the octagon afterward, he started with: "Where the f--- is my second belt? I already got this one. Where's the second one at? Cheap motherf------, $4.2 billion this company sold for. Go backstage and find that belt somewhere."
He followed that with: "Thanks everyone for coming out. There's a reason we're at the top of the game -- because of me and because of you." The crowd roared. It was incredible.
McGregor went on: "I've spent a lot of time slaying everybody; I've ridiculed everybody on the roster." Behind him, Dana White approached with the belt he had been demanding. McGregor keep going. "I'd like to take the opportunity to apologize ... to absolutely nobody!"
Warning: Explicit language in the video below
I have no idea what he said next, other than it certainly had another F-bomb or two, because the crowed drowned him out. But he took that belt and dismissed White, UFC's president, like the man was some kind of servant unworthy of his time. The architect of this sport, a man worth $500 million, slinked away.
McGregor is unlike anything we've seen in this sport in talent, execution, promotion, buzz, charm, offensiveness, the ability to draw -- all of it. He has lost one time -- at a weight class he wasn't ready for against a nasty opponent he hadn't prepared for -- and he has already set that straight.
Saturday night, after the win and the bluster and second belt firmly in his hands, he saddled the top of the octagon like it was some eight-sided throne. And he just laughed. Why not? He had just done what he had said all week he would: put himself atop sports history at a level few have achieved.
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