Why Conor McGregor deserves more respect than he's getting

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Conor McGregor is taking a hammering in the media and from fight fans worldwide, particularly from boxing fans who are reveling in what they anticipate will be a vicious beating delivered by Floyd Mayweather Jr. when they meet in a 12-round boxing match Aug. 26 in Las Vegas.

McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion and, along with Mayweather, the biggest draw in combat sports, isn’t being shown much respect.

There is a fear in some corners that if things aren’t going well in the bout with Mayweather that McGregor may resort to MMA moves to even the score.

UFC president Dana White was asked that question during the conference call to formally announce the bout. Sports talk radio hosts have had a ball with it. Even someone as knowledgable and respected as UFC broadcast analyst Joe Rogan discussed it.

“That will not happen,” White said. “First of all, obviously, that is absolutely in the contract [that he can’t use MMA moves], No. 1. And, No. 2, this is a boxing match under the Nevada State Athletic Commission under the rules of boxing.

“And I mean when you talk about a guy of Floyd Mayweather’s level and value in the sport … I mean the lawsuit if that ever happened would, you know, Conor likes money, man, and Conor would depart with a lot [less] money if that ever happened. So, yes, that will not happen.”

It’s disrespectful to McGregor, who is the consummate professional, to suggest that might even be a possibility. McGregor is colorful and frequently says things that are over the top, but he knows his job, conducts himself within the rules and isn’t a guy who would even conceive of such a thing.

It would also get him banned from his sport and cost him much of what he stands to make in the fight.

The fact that boxing fans are mocking him for challenging Mayweather also misses the point. There are scores of fighters, in both boxing and MMA, who avoid difficult fights. The culture within MMA is vastly different from the culture within boxing, and it’s common in MMA for the athletes to seek out the best possible opposition without regard to pay. In boxing, though, it’s not nearly the case and there are more than a handful of top fighters who aren’t so eager to test themselves regularly.

White is often over the top in praising McGregor, but he was correct last week when he talked about why UFC fans admire McGregor so much.

UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor has been working on his boxing in preparation for an Aug. 26 fight with Floyd Mayweather. (Getty Images)

You don’t have to beg McGregor to fight anyone.

“The reason that this fight is so big and the reason that he’s such a huge superstar is because this guy will fight anybody, anywhere, anytime,” White said. “He’s going to step in and fight Floyd Mayweather under boxing rules.

“These are the reasons that people love this kid, you know? I got all these guys crying about ‘Oh, Conor McGregor this, Conor McGregor that.’ Shut up. Step up and fight like Conor McGregor fights. Take the big fights. When somebody falls out on four or five days, he’ll fight anybody. That’s why people love him.”

McGregor has never boxed, and Mayweather is the finest boxer of this generation and one of the best of all time. Virtually every edge has been ceded to Mayweather.

It’s his sport in his town under his rules. McGregor is fine with it, simply because he’s gotten the chance.

Sure, he’s getting paid a mind-boggling amount of money, but this isn’t solely about money. He’s all about doing what otherwise seems impossible. He believes in himself to such a degree that he’s willing to put himself out there in order to prove it.

He’s promoted himself brilliantly and made himself enough of a star that he got Mayweather’s attention. There are dozens of UFC fighters calling out boxers now, but it’s probably a good bet that Mayweather couldn’t name three active UFC fighters.

He knows McGregor’s name, though, and that’s a tribute to McGregor’s brilliance and dedication.

“There’s not one place that I go to, that Floyd goes to, that anybody who is affiliated or associated with Floyd Mayweather, where we aren’t asked the question, ‘Is Floyd going to fight Conor McGregor?’ ” Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said.

The public loves a winner, but it particularly loves it when a guy is willing to accept a challenge against all odds.

Mayweather is so good, so technical and so focused, he may win all 12 rounds even if McGregor is at his absolute best. Mayweather has beaten a slew of elite boxers and made them look less-than-average in the process.

McGregor has talked so much and put himself under such heavy scrutiny that he’ll undoubtedly be mocked if he loses. Losing by a wide margin to Mayweather is hardly unusual; it’s happened to many world champions and future Hall of Famers.

McGregor is a massive underdog, but his coach and longtime friend, John Kavanagh, said the thought of losing, let alone embarrassing himself, doesn’t even enter his mind.

“I certainly would not like to fight a man who cannot even begin to imagine losing to me,” Kavanagh said.

He deserves your respect for that. He’s dreamed the impossible and may be fighting the unbeatable foe. His quest, as Frank Sinatra sang, is to follow that star, no matter how hopeless and no matter how far.

His is the kind of attitude that would make combat sports the most popular sport in the world, and not just by a little bit.

I think he’ll get spanked, just as you probably do. But that matters little.

What matters is that he is in the fight and he’s coming to win.

No one can ask more of a man.

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