McGregor vs McGrath; Classic Cultural Elitism

By Patrick Brogan

The Authorcratic Assembly, what is it? It’s something I just made up there. What it refers to is journalists telling you what to think without saying so much. It’s usually done in what are supposed to be subtle ways. I was looking for a good example of this and I found it in an unexpected place.

The sports pages. It should have been an obvious place to start. By-and-large most issues journalists talk about are based on social sciences and are hard to prove one way or the other. Sport, however, is generally a meritocracy. Bar the odd dodgy decision or bureaucratic interference the most talented participants win. It’s this simplicity that is part of its appeal.  

Journalism as PR

After studying journalism for over a decade now, I’m weary of certain of publications and never buy them. Anything Rupert Murdoch has involvement with is poison. Independent News and Media have a long record of reporting only what benefits the proprietor of the time. This stretches back further than Denis O’ Brien. The paper was also guilty during the Tony O’ Reilly and William Martin Murphy era of spinning the news cycle or not reporting it at all, depending on what was beneficial to their desires.

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The Daily Mail has a fascist history

Another media institution that practices these shady arts is Daily Mail and General Trust. The Daily Mail was founded by Viscount Rothermere. He was a supporter of the Nazi Party and wanted Britain to be a fascist state. One of the tenets of his publications was the reader should put the newspaper down feeling more scared and angry than when they picked it up. His newspapers also pushed their ideology onto to readers. This is taken from “The British Press” (2008) by Mick Temple; “… with a crucial by-election in Westminster St. George’s imminent, prime minister Stanley Baldwin delivered a fatal blow to their aspirations;

The papers conducted by Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook [owner of the Daily Express and the Evening Standard] are not newspapers in the ordinary acceptance of the term. They are engines of propaganda for constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes, personal likes and dislikes of two men. What are their methods? Their methods are direct falsehood, misrepresentation, half-truths … what the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at … is power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.

(Middlemas and Barnes 1969: 598)”

This is not all ancient history. The British version of the Daily Mail loves partaking in old-fashioned “paddy bashing”. This is taken from the most recent edition of The Phoenix (VOL. 34, NO. 23);   

“THE carefully honed Irish edition of the Daily Mail avoids the sort of paddy bashing still purveyed by sections of the British media – including its own British edition. Last Friday saw the Irish edition’s comment slot filled with a whimsical column about the joys of kite flying and petty bureaucrats banning the practice in Louth.

“However, in the same slot in the same day’s British edition, one Tom Uttley was a little more pointed in his own commentary on matters Irish, arguing that in 1916 “the rebels were sucking up to the German enemy and the lawful punishment for murder and treason was death. What else could the authorities do but execute them?” For good measure, Uttley expressed his annoyance at British politicians apologising for British conduct in the Irish potato famine.”

The old racist attitudes have not died away yet in the Mail, although they can be put to one side when they went to make money in Ireland. How convenient? It’s almost like it’s controversial to make money or something. They give a voice to Katie Hopkins for Christ’s sake. Needless to say, I never buy any publications from INM, Murdoch’s lot or anything with Mail in the title. Imagine my glee when I found an edition of The Irish Mail on Sunday in my house.

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The Article in Question

Shane McGrath’s Article

It is with these aforementioned traits the criticism of the article I read should be kept in mind. The article itself was written by The Irish Mail on Sunday’s Chief Sports Writer, Shane McGrath. This was written following Conor McGregor’s win over Eddie Alvarez. The title; “Notorious McGregor will never gain the respect he craves”. Just in case that doesn’t give you a flavour of the tone of the article, here is the first paragraph; “Truly, it is a mystery. For days now we have been told to celebrate Conor McGregor, but nobody can convincingly explain why he should be feted as an Irish sports star.” I’m not sure who is telling him to do, maybe his editor or the ghost of Lord Rothermere. Is he suggesting there is a Conor McGregor led conspiracy to tell people what to think and then ultimately take power?

Shane McGrath then goes on say that McGregor broke records at Madison Square Garden, scene of many a famous fight. This surely qualifies him as a star? McGrath’s argument is that he has not achieved enough. “There is no compelling sporting case to be made for him – because there is none. They [his fans] confuse, deliberately or not, fame and achievement. The problem is, though, the confusion of notoriety and merit. Simply because he is well known in America does not make him one of our sporting greats, despite what the fawning reports insist.”

There is an underlying sneery context to this article. There could be no possible reason that people support McGregor other than them being confused? This is extremely condescending. The undercurrent of intellectual elitism is staggering. I think it may be McGrath that is confused. It is no secret that McGregor’s initial fan base was made up of young men from working-class areas. McGrath is mistaking intelligence for opportunity. Not everyone in life has the opportunity to go on and get a Masters in DCU. Remembering material for standardised tests also is not an accurate measure of intelligence.

The title is a loaded statement. It assumes, ie McGrath assumes, a) McGregor’s only motivation is to be respected and b) he isn’t respected. Both are false. He may not be respected by the Irish Daily Mail and the neurotics that run it, but I don’t think that will bother him for some reason.

Comparisons

Shane McGrath makes a number of comparisons with McGregor and different sports stars. This can be a redundant exercise because each sport presents its own challenges, skillset and rhythm and these aren’t always easily transferable to other disciplines.

However, it might be useful to examine each of these. The first one is Muhammad Ali. The great Muhammad Ali. This is what McGrath had to say; “It is a comparison so astonishingly stupid that it collapses under the weight of its own ignorance given the slightest application of logic. One of these men was convicted in court and given a suspended prison sentence for refusing to fight in Vietnam, before becoming a global symbol of dignity; the main concern of the other is making himself as rich as possible”. Again, notice how anyone who makes such a comparison is “stupid”. Thank God Shane McGrath has appointed himself the High Priest of intelligence, otherwise the rest of us would probably struggle to think what we were told. The irony here is that Shane McGrath has also made that comparison.

Let’s look at this in a little more depth. Was Muhammad Ali a boxer that transcended his sport? Yes, of course, and he still is a long time after hanging up his gloves. In terms of achievement, he is also hard to match. Was Ali the greatest of them all. This is impossible to answer, but for my money, he wasn’t the greatest fighter of his era, even. The “Thrilla in Manilla” will go down as one of the greatest fights of all time. I’m not totally convinced it was but what this fight has what only a select few do is its mythology. It had a level drama that promoters could only dream of, and not just the fight itself but the build up and aftermath.  

The fight itself, it’s just my opinion, but I think Frazier was on top. The problem was he went into the fight blind in his left eye and had a nasty cut under his right. He was close to blind for the last few rounds of the fight. Also, the commentary can be misleading. Frazier nearly takes Ali’s head off with a left at the start of the fifth round and the commentator’s response is; “Frazier is coming back into this fight.” You may disagree with all of this, but one thing is not disputable; the Ali-Frazier trilogy showed that Ali was human. This idea that grew around Ali being invincible is not true. Nor was Frazier invincible, the fella that made the grills showed us that.

In terms of star quality, is Ali boxing’s biggest ever star? Well, the sport was at its most popular before Ali fought, back in the 1920s. Jack Dempsey was its biggest star then. If we compare that with McGregor,  MMA has never been more popular than it is today.

Ali; A Real Hero?

Also, there are other elements to Ali’s personality that seem a bit unsavoury. McGrath praises Ali for making a stand against the egregious and unjust Vietnam War. When asked why he did it, he answered in a way only Ali could; “No Vietcong ever called Nigger” and he wasn’t going to travel thousands of miles to murder people. If more Americans, then and now, had this foresight and moral courage the world would be much better off. This stance led to him being stripped of his world title. But, there was a negative side to this heroic stand.  For example, his treatment of Joe Frazier. See if this piques your interest;

“In short order, Ali was stripped of his title, of his boxing license, and maybe most damning, of the widespread public support he had long enjoyed. The once beloved Champ was called un-American, labeled a traitor; meanwhile he was being  used as a puppet of propaganda by the Nation of Islam.

“Basically he was “running low”,  both in the finance and friendship departments. Running low…but not on empty. Because Joe Frazier was there.

“Joe Frazier was a friend to Muhammad Ali, giving him much needed money privately, and possibly more importantly, a much needed voice of support publicly.  Frazier, who had won the Heavyweight title in 1970, outspokenly lobbied for Ali’s reinstatement, be it to the media, or to the “powers that be” (up to and including President Nixon). This was of course  not a completely selfless act on Frazier’s part; many considered Ali the “true champion”, and Joe wanted the opportunity to cement the legitimacy of his crown. That fact withstanding, Frazier truly liked and respected Ali, and felt compelled to lend a hand when he was down.”

The build up to fight is well known for the animosity Ali showed towards Frazier. It is usually dismissed as mind games, but this just seems to be ungrateful. Also, it is hard to criticise McGregor for not being humble enough when Ali is guilty of such self-aggrandisement. Also, McGregor has never shafted a friend in such a manner. The above quote was taken from this site and is a fascinating read.

Was Ali a Racist?

There are other troubling aspects, too. He appears to be someone that supported racial segregation. There is a number of points that need to made here. Growing up where he did at the time he did, it is only natural that racial issues would be seared into his brain. Also, he is not claiming that one race is superior to the other, he usually said that opposite in fact. However, this kind of thinking leads to the racial segregation the world watched with dismay in the US and South Africa amongst other nations. Have a look at this clip and see what you think. I don’t particularly like the spin or comments attached to the video. The point is, the sanctity of Ali should not be bought into, even if he is one of the most talented and charismatic athletes of all time. He is human after all, warts and all. He should not be used as a paragon of human virtue to be compared against someone like McGregor because, like it or loath it, they share a lot of similar traits.  

Further on in the article, McGrath claims Rory McIlroy is the most famous Irishman in America. This may be true, but is the argument here becoming fame equals success? Golf is “a long-established sport” but the fact that “The Notorious”, coming from an emerging sport, is mentioned up there with McIlroy is to the Dubliner’s credit.  Also, it is stated that Joe Schmidt and Martin O’Neill are thriving on the global stage. Both have done well in recent times, especially Schmidt, but come on. They are nowhere near the same sporting bracket as McGregor. I’m not a sports journalist, but if I was I would probably say something like “it is a comparison so astonishingly stupid that it collapses under the weight of its own ignorance given the slightest application of logic.”

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Neither of these fighters are Conor McGregor, but it was free so I went with it

Drugs in the UFC

Shane McGrath writes multiple paragraphs on an issue the UFC has to seriously address and that is drugs in the sport. Now some of his criticism is hardly scientific; “Last year, one UFC fighter, Sam Alvey, estimated that 90 per cent of fighters took performance-enhancing drugs. Before he was beaten by McGregor last March, Nate Diaz claimed, ‘Everybody is on steroids. The whole UFC, everybody.’”

Both of these competitors have their own reasons for exaggerating but, the fact remains, performance enhancing substances have always undermined MMA as a sport. According to the article, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) sanctioned 18 UFC fighters, with cycling’s 15 being the next highest affected sport in this time frame. This is starting to change as the UFC becomes more professional and the new owners will also want it to have a better public image.

McGregor himself is one of the most tested athletes and not just in the UFC. Each test has come up clean. McGrath mentions “unsubstantiated claims” of him using drugs. If they are unsubstantiated why even mention it? I think this is another example of McGrath subtly trying to tarnish McGregor. It is not mentioned that McGregor and his camp have always been major advocates of drug testing within the UFC. You might think this would be the norm, but the actions of some members of the UFC in relation to drug taking have been suspicious, to say the least. Jose Aldo and his staff are a perfect example of this. The likes of Conor McGregor have forced the sport to clean up this side of its dark past.  

Conor McGregor; A One Off

The main crux of McGrath’s annoyance is that McGregor gets so much credit without having achieved anything. Let’s put this claim under the microscope. The reason McGrath wrote about him when he did was because he had just won the Lightweight title, something the article doesn’t even mention. Everyone knows about McGregor being the first UFC fighter to hold two weight class titles at the same time. The 13-second knockout win over Aldo. Why are these not mentioned in the article? Because they would obviously disprove the claims.

It’s not just the titles either. He fought four fights against 3 opponents in three different divisions in 11 months. The fact that he lost one of these showed his mental strength, and that he is humble too. Since entering the UFC he has lost once. All of his fights, bar one, have been awarded, Performance of the Night, Fight of the Night or Knockout of the Night. It is fair to criticise the sport but nobody can make the claim he has not achieved anything within it. Add to this his titles in Cage Warriors, he held the two of these at the same time, too and his National Championship in amateur boxing.  The claim he has no achievements is plainly ridiculous. He is the real deal. As Joe Rogan said in commentary before the Alvarez fight; “There’s so many factors in Conor McGregor’s rise to fame, both in his ability, his personality, his verbal skills, his confidence, his aura, there’s so many things going on but all that would be nonsense if he couldn’t knock people death with one punch, but he can.”

Conor McGregor transcends the sport. The same way Muhammad Ali, Pele, Maradona, Jonah Lomu, Usain Bolt and many other have over the years. People all over the world watched these athletes that had no interest in the sport, or sports in general. McGregor is the same. I had no interest in UFC before McGregor arrived. Like Shane McGrath, I thought the sport was barbaric. I thought McGregor was a mouthpiece. After a while, I was impressed by his conviction in himself. And he was backing up what he said in the octagon.

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The Daily Mail loves telling people what to do

Approved by Science

The clincher for me was science. Before either the Poirier or Siver fight, Conor McGregor went through a battery of tests. His power, accuracy, speed, agility were all tested. The results were incredible. This is probably the best way of comparing athletes in different sports. It can’t replicate the pressure of a sporting event or the intricacies of the different disciplines, but it can test the physical elements in a neutral environment. After the examinations were complete, McGregor was described elite compared to the elite. His movement, speed, power and balance were high above anything they had seen before. To question his credentials after watching this would be foolish.

Why Do People Not Like Him?

I don’t know. The world has increasingly become a more shallow place. Kids in the 60s and 70s had a huge number of people fighting for civil rights and trying to make the world a better place to look up to. Increasingly, bland celebrity has become the benchmark of children’s aspirations. Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian. Is this what our children should be aiming for in life?

Now, consider McGregor. People are turned off by what they see as his crass behaviour. Don’t mistake his fighting persona for the real person. When going into fights, he is creating a high-pressure environment. So much of combat sports is about handling pressure. If you are better at the mental side of the game why not use that to your advantage? Also, it surprises me that a number of people that criticise McGregor also praise Ali and Jose Mourinho. So much of what they have done is far worse. I can’t imagine McGregor turning on a friend the way Ali did.

There are a number of positive aspects to take from Conor McGregor’s example. His lifestyle, his work ethic, his loyalty. Listening to him talk in interviews can be inspirational, too. He said that even when he was broke, he appreciated the small things in life. If you are taking more than to you give to others there is something wrong with you. Now think of the Kardashians, their excessive lifestyles and how much they are plastered all over the Daily Mail.

McGregor’s life is a great example of how, with hard work and self-belief, you can achieve anything, regardless of your circumstances or background. Some quarters are critical of how he talks about money. I don’t believe in all that you have to be humble bullshit. McGregor realises that the UFC is bigger now than it has ever been and he’s the main reason why. He should get his fair cut. Certain social commentators always want people to think less of themselves. One can only be impressed with McGregor and his coach John Kavanagh’s predictions going into fights. Most of the time they are very accurate.  As Ali said; “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” Long after McGregor’s career is over, it won’t be his quotes about money people are talking about.

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He's far from the worst role model a person could have

I stole this from HDBF Cover

As a society, the Western world is seriously lacking in role models, especially young men. This has been compounded by recent austerity measures. In places like where Conor is from, and where I’m from too, there has been a sense of hopelessness creeping in. McGregor has offered these people hope. If you are in disbelief over this look at the huge number of fans that follow him. The likes of the Daily Mail want to take this hope away from people because they don’t want them getting notions about themselves. They subscribe to the idea that Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, had that people should not be trusted and there needed to be a social elite to control everyone because it is for their own good. Every edition of Daily Mail is a reissue of this condescending, patriarchal nonsense. It’s not the news and it never has been. It’s a PR exercise for those with money and wish to consolidation power. Nothing more.

Anything written about Conor McGregor in these papers must be viewed with this in mind. He challenges everything these papers stand for. Consider this from the aforementioned article; “He is rich and famous, but his chosen sport is off-putting, because of its violence and its problem with doping.” The same journalist interviewed Katie Taylor in the same edition. Boxing has long had issues with doping. Studies have shown that boxing is more traumatic long term than MMA is. Although MMA has more blood injuries, most of these are superficial. Rugby also can be extremely dangerous. Even when players are trying to stick to the letter of the law, the physics of the game can lead to high and dangerous tackles. So every point about McGregor is totally undermined by facts and it is shown for what it is, a propagation of elitism.

Mystic Mac has always had his detractors. Those fighting him will have a vested interest in bad-mouthing him. For others, though, they just can’t appreciate a good thing when they see it. It’s only fair to leave the great man with the last words; “I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, proving people wrong and proving myself right.”

 

 

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