Conor McGregor antics put UFC sledging in the spotlight

You hear a lot about how sports people are role models for our kids.

Conor McGregor antics put UFC sledging in the spotlight

It may be a ridiculous proposition to many, but it undoubtedly holds true.

The naked idolisation of UFC fighter Conor McGregor at Dublin’s Convention Centre earlier this week was just the most local and recent example of the hold which our sporting stars have on our hearts.

McGregor is a dab hand at working a crowd. The days when he was serving an apprenticeship as a plumber and signing on the dole to receive €180 a week aren’t all that far in his rear view mirror, but you suspect this is a guy who was even then devouring marketing and promotional manuals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, such are his abilities in building his brand.

On Tuesday evening, he sat on stage with the featherweight champion Jose Aldo, the man whose belt he seeks to claim when they meet at UFC 189 in Las Vegas in July, as the pair accepted questions from a few thousand raucous punters, many of whom could be clearly seen taking the mike with beer from a plastic cup swilling over their fingers.

It was cringeworthy stuff at times. Crass.

The one speaker who stood out was the sober gentleman who prefaced his few shillings worth with confirmation that he was as much a fan of McGregor as everyone else there before proceeding to implore the hometown favourite to tone down what he deemed to be disrespectful words towards his Brazilian opponent.

In one way, he was among the few to strike an acceptable note on a night of banter and bluster. In another, he was miles off key. What, after all, is the sporting world coming to if mixed martial arts fighters cannot indulge in the sort of tomfoolery and smoke and mirrors stuff that their cousins in boxing have indulged in since time immemorial?

McGregor’s persona has proven to be Ireland’s long-awaited answer to Marmite. There are many out there who adore his no-holds barred and very un-Irish cockiness and then there are those who revile all that. Is he a good role model? Yes and no, is probably the most accurate if unsatisfying answer, but you can’t deny that there is a market for his acidic tongue.

Like him or not, that is to be welcomed.

The fear is that we are at a stage now where sport is being curbed of all its edges: on and off the field of play. Sports such as rugby, American football and even cricket after the tragic death of Australia’s Phil Hughes are understandably embedded in introspection over health and safety and how to square pastimes that originated in the 19th century with 21st century sensibilities.

It’s the finest of lines and if the efforts to make games safer without diluting what it is that makes them so enthralling as spectacles in the first place can only be welcomed, then the PC brigade that lunges at every perceived faux pas in the heat of battle is something that should be awarded a more tempered acceptance.

Let’s be clear here. No-one wants to hear verbal abuse that even laps at the boundaries of issues such as racism, homophobia or sexism. The incident in Super Rugby recently when Brumbies captain David Pocock reported the Waratahs’ Jacques Potgieter for repeated homophobic slurs was a noteworthy line in the sand against that sort of thing.

But should the culture of taunting in general — unedifying as it is, and galling too when on the receiving end — be something to be met with such fury by default? Is it because it exposes our heroes to be less than super and just as human as the rest of us, or is it simply a case of the herd mentality which, in this case, tells us that sledging is simply wrong? End of.

In case you missed it, Australia cantered to a seven-wicket victory over New Zealand at the MCG in the World Cup final this week. For many, however, it was the verbals aimed at some of the Kiwi batsmen, by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin especially, as they walked dejectedly away from the crease on being dismissed that demanded comment and denouncement.

What was interesting was how New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum played down the incidents when quizzed about them, maybe in the knowledge that the Aussies, more than any other nation, have viewed sledging as just as integral to their arsenal as fast bowlers or destructive opensides.

It clearly isn’t the type of dark art that everyone should practise.

The reams of unfavourable publicity and AUS$20,000 fine, half of which was admittedly suspended, that came Potgieter’s way recently was a reminder to those who live by that sword that they can be badly wounded by it as well.

Which is exactly how it should be.

Mr McGregor beware.

Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie

Twitter: @Rackob

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