In the autumn of 2016, one dream died and another was realised. Weeks before Conor McGregor had pulverised Eddie Alvarez to become the first two-weight champion of the UFC at a cacophonous Madison Square Garden, Twitter — then the Notorious one’s favoured means of communicating with his disciples — killed off Vine.
The short-form video app that had made an entire generation believe it could be famous for just six seconds, and indeed had helped make some of its best creators actually famous and very, very rich, had become all but obsolete. As can be the case in this age of social media, it had reached a critical mass but then largely stood still. And it had been bypassed.
McGregor was the sporting star of the Vine era. Hell…his most iconic night, the 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo in Las Vegas in December 2015, could be captured in pretty much its entirety in just two Vines. He had conquered the platform and almost in tribute conquered the UFC entirely days after Vine’s passing. But then, as far as mixed martial arts was concerned, McGregor stood still.
In actuality, of course, he did nothing of the sort as he detoured to Floyd Mayweather and a crossover carnival of excess in the boxing ring. It earned him millions upon millions — of dollars and followers.
But as he limped and laboured back to his yacht in Abu Dhabi this morning and opened Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook to communicate with his near 60m combined followers, McGregor’s eye will have quickly caught something. He had been thrust into less familiar social media trending territory — a meme.
The Dubliner had ended the headline bout of UFC 257 in an equally unfamiliar position, splayed out on the canvas at the Etihad Arena, dazed and bloodied at the hands of Dustin Poirier and the victim of a knockout for the first time in his fighting life. As they do, this latest generation of creators had rapidly got to work with screengrabs of a prostrate McGregor, his eyes closed, his right hand tucked under his head. Almost serene in his moment of surrender.
There were ‘Netflix: Are you still watching?’ jokes, ‘when the first NyQuil hits’ captions, and pretty quickly the week’s previous mega-meme, US senator Bernie Sanders in his winter mittens, had been Photoshopped in there alongside McGregor too. You live by the social media sword… The memers will rapidly move on. Likely already have. But it is that decision in 2016 to stand still that will linger over McGregor in the days and weeks to come. Perhaps over the rest of his career, wherever it goes from here.
Sunday's rematch with Poirier was just McGregor’s third UFC fight since that heady New York night. He’s won just one of them. UFC 257 was supposed to have heralded the beginning of the surge back to championship nights and reclaimed titles. Instead, in what UFC chief Dana White claimed was one of the most-watched nights in the promotion’s history, McGregor was downed for the world the see, left looking like a man whose ring rust could prove terminal.
“You know, it’s hard to overcome inactivity over long periods of time,” McGregor said in a post-fight interview in the octagon, the low lull of a reduced crowd of 2,000 inside the Etihad Arena adding to the unusual sense of things. “If you put in the time in here, you’re going to get cosy. I have to dust it off and come back… that’s what I have to do.”
A little later, after hobbling to the press conference room on crutches, he remained particularly magnanimous, reflective too. He even wondered why this wasn’t immediately hurting him as much as his two previous UFC defeats, both submissions, to Nate Diaz and bitter rival Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I don’t even know whether I’m that upset… (It’s) the highest highs and the lowest lows in this game. I’ll get up off the floor and go again,” he said. “It wasn’t my night. It wasn’t a great performance. I have to take those licks. It’s a bastard of a game.”
It wasn’t a great performance. It wasn’t a bad one either though. On the surface McGregor had looked the better fighter for six of the seven-and-a-half minutes the bout lasted. Just below the surface, however, Poirier was laying the groundwork for the KO to follow. With strategic, slicing efficiency he targeted McGregor’s lead leg with lacerating kicks to the calf and sometimes the thigh. Flat-footed patience would be the undoing of the Notorious one this time.
When Poirier surged forward with a flurry of fists midway through the second, McGregor back-pedalled on one red raw dead leg and another coated in rust. His chin withstood for a few seconds but a square and true right hand to the nose did for him. He slumped and, just long enough for the screenshots, slumbered.
“My leg below my knee is like an American football inside my suit pants,” McGregor said as he was peppered with questions about what’s next.
A trilogy with Poirier, another tilt at Nate Diaz perhaps. Another boxing crossover with Manny Pacquiao back in the Persian Gulf had been rumoured for later in 2021. Given what the Mayweather circus has done to McGregor’s mixed martial arts career, another deviation to the squared circle could hardly be advised for anything other than financial reasons.
With the greatest respect, Poirier is no Pacquiao, not the first cousin of him. And yet he picked off McGregor easily enough in the end. Pacquiao, all 42 years of him, would have a frightening field day in such circumstances.
No, if McGregor, turning 33 this year, truly wants to get back to those title nights and viral heights, he needs to mute such distractions, needs to get busy, and stay busy.
Otherwise, this stuttering second act likely dies on the vine.