For a lot of MMA fans outside of Ireland the idea that some of Conor McGregor’s countrymen scoff at his achievements in the Octagon is outrageous.
Since the outspoken Dubliner emerged on the scene, the merit of MMA as a sport has been called into question in Ireland.
The criticism has continued ever since, and Eamon Dunphy, a celebrated football analyst and author, even claimed that it was “shameful” that Irish footballer Robbie Brady was overlooked by Irish national broadcaster, RTE, for a ‘Sportsperson of the Year’ award when McGregor appeared on the shortlist.
“Brady has somehow missed out on the RTE scheme,” wrote Dunphy in his column for the Irish Daily Star.
“It is hard to figure out. It does look as if this is a mixture of a box-ticking exercise and playing to the gallery.”
He added: “As for playing to the gallery, just look at the presence of Conor McGregor on the list.
“He’s more a celebrity than a sportsperson. I’ve watched a few MMA fights and I struggle to class it as a sport.
“Including McGregor and ignoring Irish footballers - especially Brady - is ludicrous. It is shameful and daft.”
Another respected Irish writer, Vincent Hogan, claimed that the popularity of McGregor made it very hard for anyone else to win the award.
“And the hunch here is (the award) can't, logically, go to Seamus Callanan, Brian Fenton, Daryl Horgan or Jamie Heaslip either,” wrote Hogan in the Irish independent.
“Why? Because this vote will be about fame and celebrity and public moxy, about qualities that make it fatuous to hold McGregor's credentials up against something like the scoring of nine points from play in an All-Ireland hurling final.”
Compared to the passionate displays we’ve seen from his fans in Dublin, Boston, Las Vegas and New York, the nonchalant round of applause McGregor received in the RTE studios following the announcement of his award win was very interesting.
For a lot of MMA fans in the nation, achieving the ‘Sportsperson of the Year’ award was the recognition MMA needed as it pushes for regulation in Ireland. The years spent fighting for MMA to gain the status of a sport were hoped to be over as McGregor stood beaming to a live studio audience from Los Angeles in an electric blue shirt.
“Thank you so much to the fans for voting for me for RTÉ’s Sports Person of the Year,” said the lightweight champion as he clutched the award.
“I’m extremely grateful and extremely blessed to have the support of my home country.
“Thank you RTÉ as well. I’m sorry I couldn’t make the awards ceremony. You know I love to stick on a good suit and roll into these awards ceremonies and collect an award so I’m a little bit upset about that.”
The masses must have voted in numbers to see McGregor win the award, but the reaction on social media has been far from being overwhelmingly supportive of ‘The Notorious’. Despite him being the most Googled athlete in the country for the last two years, he still has plenty of critics in his homeland.
To give you an idea of how vehemently hated the sport is in Ireland, one tweeter took us right back to the John McCain hate speech from the early days of the UFC to voice his discontent.
“Anyone/anywhere kick off about human dog cage fighter Conor McGregor winning the Irish Sportsperson thing?” posted one upset Irish sports fan.
There were even some who believed that McGregor claiming the award was a direct challenge to the Irish identity:
“RTE have announced Conor McGregor as SPORTSPERSON of the year?? We truly have lost our identity, morals, standards, direction and mind.”
The concept of the Irish losing their identity was something that was brought up quite a bit. With Gaelic Games being an integral part of the Irish identity, some felt as though an athlete from national sports hurling and Gaelic football should have been given the nod.
“Not too happy with McGregor winning Sportsperson of the year... not when (there are) players who give their all on the pitch week in week out...”
The reaction also brought forward the common refrain from MMA contrarians, who believe the sport is “fake”.
“RTE is a joke a fake fighter as sportsperson of (the) year. Conor McGregor Lol(fishing for bites).”
You can see where a lot of peoples’ arguments are coming from. The entertainment-driven promotion of McGregor’s events is nearly more WWE than boxing. With the sport’s history so steeped in professional wrestling, it appears as though it will always be a considerable stumbling block for some purists to see MMA as a legitimate sport.
However, after becoming the first fighter to record three wins in three different weight divisions under the UFC banner in a year, as well as being the first man to hold two of the promotion’s belt simultaneously, McGregor’s naysayers will have to come up with a more compelling argument as to why his sporting achievements are not valid.
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