Regardless of what happens in the octagon Saturday in his fight with the undefeated destroyer of men known as Khabib Nurmagomedov, it would appear another challenger to Conor McGregor’s pandemic popularity awaits back home in Ireland.
A drive-thru window at a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop that has opened in the Dublin suburb of Blanchardstown apparently has caused more chaos than McGregor did in confronting Khabib by throwing a dolly — the kind used to move refrigerators and whatnot — through a bus window.
By all accounts, that was not the best example of Irish hurling.
Anyway, so many people were queuing up for an original glazed and honking horns in the wee hours of the morning that drive-up hours had to be changed.
But during UFC 229 open workouts, McGregor still proved vastly more popular than a strawberry cruller. When doors opened at Park Theater at Park MGM, his loyal legions rushed to the front and center of the barriers that formed a waterless moat (discounting spilled beer) between the nonpaying public and the nonpaying media.
More than a few sported Ireland soccer jerseys.
More than a few wore the Republic of Ireland flag as a tunic.
Only one was dressed as McGregor dresses and looked enough like him that nine fine Irishmen and a bevy of average ones queued up to have their photo taken with him. It was as if original glazed were dropping out of the vest pockets of the doppelganger’s gold lame suit.
Spectators and journalists were approached with a certain amount of trepidation, because some journos from the other side of the pond have that wild look in their eye, too. They were asked what makes Conor McGregor more popular than strawberry crullers and a double shot of Jameson back on the Emerald Isle.
“Conor’s got the twinkle in his eye, and he’s a cheeky chap and he can really deliver,” said Gareth Davies, who covers boxing and MMA for the London Telegraph and is pretty cheeky in his own right. “He talks the talk, and he walks the walk.
“But I think his popularity has dipped in the last two years because he went over to boxing (though) he did brilliantly against Floyd Mayweather.”
Perhaps so, but McGregor’s favorables are still such that he has been known to defuse the powder keg of conflict in Northern Ireland, at least on fight night after the undercard bouts.
“He comes from the workingman’s perspective,” said Cormac Davidson of Derry, aka Londonderry on the River Foyle, Northern Ireland’s second-largest city. On the Google search panel, Derry is depicted by a photo showing soldiers in a bombed-out building milling about a cloud of smoke that one assumes is tear gas or from a Molotov cocktail.
McGregor was a plumber before he started carving chunks out of chaps with his fists. Most Irishmen, be they from north or south, can relate to that.
“He went right from the bottom right to the top,” said Davidson, who like virtually all the Irishmen with whom I spoke (and unlike Ricky Hatton fans I’ve encountered) couldn’t have been finer or most hospitable. “He literally had a car that had to be push started, and now he (drives around) in Lamborghinis.
“He’s probably the best that Ireland has ever had.”
Smiling Irish eyes
At the end of the day — or when McGregor finally shows for an official UFC 229 function, whichever comes first — that probably best explains why fine Irishmen and average ones alike spend thousands to cross the pond to watch him punch guys in the face and shout invective.
A story in the Irish Post proclaimed there being “no shortage of famous Irish athletes through the years.” But outside of golf’s Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy and soccer’s Keanes (Roy and Robbie) and George Best, few have resonated beyond the Cliffs of Moher and Giant’s Causeway.
The Republic of Ireland has qualified for only three World Cups. It’s primary accomplishment: advancing furthest in the global soccer tournament without winning a match.
“I think that’s part of it for sure,” Cormac Davidson said as he patiently waited for Conor McGregor to make Irish eyes smile again. “It’s a small country, and any big stars that come out of Ireland get a lot of support.”
Consider James Joyce and Oscar Wilde.
Bono and The Edge and the other two guys in U2.
Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson.
Or just ask the lad who turns on the lighted sign at the Krispy Kreme in Blanchardstown signaling the original glazed are hot out of the oven.
The top three pay-per-view nights in UFC history have featured a common element: the presence of Irish fighter Conor McGregor:
1. UFC 202, McGregor vs. Nate Diaz II, 1.6 million buys.
2. UFC 196, McGregor vs, Diaz I, 1.31.
3. UFC 205, McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez, 1.3