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A GLOBAL icon for whom the only constraint is none whatsoever, who wears his vulgarity, bombast and disregard for humility as a badge of honour, what does MMA star and currently Ireland’s most famous son represent if not the moral void in which sits the values of an American Dream that stand as a grotesque perversion of the human condition?
Nietzsche’s “will to power” is embodied in the rise of Conor McGregor from a working-class housing estate in Dublin to the summit of fame and the riches of a latter day Crassus; riding the wave of a sport, mixed martial arts, which acquaints with the most primal of our origins, rooted in brute cruelty and a thirst for glory that must needs can only be satiated at the expense of others.
From a distance, McGregor appears to be living the “dream” — which has it that holds that the summit of human happiness, meaning and value is a place of unbounded fame, riches and, with it, the licence to proclaim: “Fuck you” to the world of mere mortals that lies beneath and from you have escaped.
It is a summit that sits so high in the sky of Western society that only a rare few who try could ever succeed in reaching it, deemed special and unique, indeed superhuman, for having done so in consequence.
The problem with an American Dream that wields such power over Western man is that though it may tantalise those who walk through its golden door with the promise of everlasting happiness, the reality on the other side is a spiritual desert, populated not by those blessed to have “made it” but those cursed to bear the cross of its ineffable burden of alienation from and detachment from self.
Indeed, what is McGregor if not a study in the grim consequences of life lived in the gilded cage of the American Dream, a prisoner rather than beneficiary of the fame, money and adulation it bestows, a pernicious trinity that can only ever leave its “victims” adrift, distorting and disorientating reality as no narcotic can?
The pride of a fighter is forged in the laboratory of asceticism, an emotional and psychological place where virtues of self-sacrifice and abnegation walk hand in hand with the hunger and determination to overcome — first and most importantly yourself.
The discipline required to eat, sleep and train as a fighter, day in, day out to the exclusion of all else is of a type that induces justifiable awe.
It is the awe of those who can’t and would never dare try of those who risk all to prove that they can. Thus it is no accident that fighters have long occupied a special respect in societies dulled and softened by stultifying conformity to the strictures of modern life.
The McGregor who tapped out against Khabib Nurmagomedov was defeated before he stepped into the octagon, defeated by an excess of fame and money and motivated by its perpetuation.
His howls of delight at the final presser over the fact his new whiskey company/brand was among the event’s corporate sponsors conjured words attributed to ancient Greek dramatist Euripides: “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.”
For a fighter such shallow motivation writes blank cheques when the going gets tough in the ring or octagon, when he is invited to descend to that place where the question of how far he is willing to go to prevail must be answered.
It is a place inimitably described by Norman Mailer in his classic account of Muhammad Ali’s epic 1974 encounter with George Foreman in Africa as “the boiler room of the damned.”
Against Khabib, McGregor refused to enter this hellish place when invited to, while his opponent did so gladly. This was the fundamental difference that determined the outcome.
Though McGregor may drape himself in the Irish tricolour as he enters the ring to the haunting anthem The Foggy Dew, written as a stirring tribute to the martyrs of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, its meaning is subverted and disfigured by a man whose ability to fly around the world in private jets, regale himself in bespoke tailored suits and diamond watches by the hundred, violates the principles they fought and died for in Ireland’s freedom struggle.
But, then, the Ireland from which McGregor emerged is itself now a country on the make, a property developer and bankers’ paradise and veritable hell for its legion of homeless and poor rather than the proud independent country the men of 1916 dreamed.
Bertolt Brecht’s admonition: “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes,” could have been authored with McGregor and Ireland in mind.
McGregor achieved global fame and the riches to match as a result of years of fierce discipline, self-sacrifice and ascetic application to a most brutal profession.
In so doing he has allowed himself to become just another pawn in the game of greed that devours those it entraps.
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