Artwork by Grimoire
Trying to navigate all the speculating, cryptic messaging, spotty reporting, and lurid insinuations that have flooded the Internet since UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor announced to the world yesterday that he has “decided to retire young” is a fool’s errand. Best at this point to just step back and marvel at the sheer magnitude of chaos that can be caused in our modern world by one tweet. If you ever doubted that MMA and the UFC had reached some rarefied new plateau of cultural resonance and that Conor McGregor was the man responsible for dragging them there, then doubt no more.
For now, not even 24 hours into what is shaping up to be the greatest controversy in the controversy-plagued history of MMA, we must rely on rumor, fuel of the Internet, upon whose tongue “continual slanders ride.” Surely, we all thought when McGregor sent out his retirement tweet late yesterday thanking us for the “cheese” that he was either joking or using his position as the sport’s biggest star living in the golden age of democratized information dissemination to renegotiate his contract with the UFC heading into his big rematch against Nate Diaz at UFC 200, which was shaping up to be the biggest show in the promotion’s and the sport’s history, a show he of course would be headlining. After all, if there were two things we knew about Conor McGregor they were that he is a company man through and through and that he adores money and its making. This was the guy, after all, who “went around the world twice” promoting his interim title fight with Chad Mendes and who was willing to play the role of a dancing “monkey in the zoo” to publicize his fight with Jose Aldo, all to increase the size of his paychecks. McGregor is a fighter and a self-promoter and a maker of money. To think that he was giving any of those things up, rather than demonstrating his new mastery of all three in a mere 13 words, seemed impossible.
But then, not two hours later, came those equally cryptic messages from McGregor’s coach and confidant John Kavanagh that seemed to confirm the legitimacy of the champion’s announcement. “Well was fun while it lasted,” Kavanagh wrote on Twitter. Then later, referencing his protégé’s unprecedented and meteoric rise from disgruntled handyman to king of the fighting world, he wrote on Facebook, "Mate of mine did his 1st year apprenticeship in plumbing a few years back. Looking to start up again if anyone can help."
So even if the rumors are true and in the end we’re all currently in the process of having our collective hearts broken, we will have that image to comfort us: of world-beating, trash-talking, Lamborghini-driving, cash-counting, suit-wearing, tattoo-covered fighting superstar Conor McGregor fixing a leaky faucet.
Maybe McGregor’s tweet was an attempt at a contract renegotiation and maybe UFC President Dana White was calling his bluff when he pulled the Irishmen from UFC 200 and claimed he did so because McGregor was refusing to show up for his pre-fight media obligations (an irony not lost on longtime fight fans who remember when it was a different Diaz brother, Nick, becoming the first-ever fighter tossed from a UFC card for refusing to fly to Las Vegas to answer reporters’ questions). Several reporters have sent out tweets since yesterday saying their sources were confirming that Conor just couldn’t bear to do another press junket that amounted to a “mini world tour.”
Maybe McGregor really did just look at the current MMA landscape (where he is the undisputed king of all he surveys and the sport’s one true star) and thought about that long plane ride from Europe to Vegas and all those cameras and microphones in his face and decided enough was enough. Can you blame him?
Strange to say about a man we’ve only known as a self-made media obsession, but maybe Conor McGregor is finally exhausted by all that fame he made for himself. Maybe he can no longer stand the sound of his own voice and the thought of being responsible wherever he goes for the entertainment of thousands of fans and for filling the notebooks of hundreds reporters.
It’s not an impossible thought (though if anyone seemed built for the long haul of perpetual self-aggrandizement it was McGregor), especially not now, barely a week after McGregor witnessed firsthand the beating of Joao Carvalho that led to the death of the Portuguese fighter two days later. McGregor wrote that he was “truly heartbroken” over Carvalho’s death, and who could possibly blame him for witnessing something like that, thinking about the money he’s made and the things he’s accomplished, and deciding that a life spent bludgeoning and being bludgeoned becomes at some point unnecessary, perilous to one’s body and soul, even morally dubious?
Or maybe we’re looking too deep. Maybe in the end Conor McGregor—who, like all great self-promoters and practitioners of self-adoration, wants to believe more than anything that he can freeze himself at this one perfect moment in time, his body and his mind and his skills and his profitability, and never age: to finally be that first human being who can defy time and cruel nature, so blessed is he—recognized that it would be best to burn out and to deny the world the opportunity to see him fade away. To, like J.D. Salinger or Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix and Dorian Gray before him, paint his masterpieces and get out before the inevitability of time and decline took him over and marred his youth and beauty. But to do so without the mess, without the theatrical isolation or the descent into drug abuse or the suicidal collapse or the homicidal, self-portrait-loathing, narcissistic rage. To do it on his terms, in other words. Which is the McGregor way.
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