Conor McGregor: Dubliner revels as king of alternative sporting stratosphere

By Mark SidebottomBBC Sport NI
Conor McGregor
McGregor is the only UFC fighter to hold two titles simultaneously

He breezed into Belfast like a tornado might into a mid-western state and blew the building away. The crowd left breathless, the room reverberating.

Conor Anthony McGregor is both stalker and stalked; as stealthy as a tiger as furtive as a deer.

Neatly manicured, swaddled in a bespoke cobalt blue suit he ambles to the stage with the exaggerated swagger of a prohibition era gangster.

HE is the man. HE can talk the talk and walk the walk.

A contradiction clothed in a conundrum, the once shy child from Crumlin on the outskirts of Dublin now comes pre-packaged. A present from the cyber space gods to the social media hordes.

Irish fans in Las Vegas before one of his right recent fights
Conor McGregor has a huge following in his native Ireland and beyond

McGregor holds Belfast's hordes in his thrall

Tonight he holds Belfast's attendant hordes in his thrall. Ballsy, belligerent, brash; compelling, commanding, controlling.

Tonight he breaks the seal on his silence for the first time since the controversy and fallout over his relinquishment of the UFC featherweight title.

"Did you relinquish it or were you stripped of it"? I coax.

"Nah, I ain't stripped. I've still got that belt...that belt's still at home right now. I'm still the two-weight world champion. Someone's got to come take that off me."

The hall erupts in a crescendo of primal shrieking and raucous chest beating.

On and on we shoot the breeze, astride two bar stools in the Devenish complex at the confluence of west and south Belfast.

For me the questions are secondary, almost superfluous. As a journalist it's the cult of McGregor which intrigues.

What lies beneath the river of words? What makes this buffed and shiny new age warrior tick?

Whether by accident or design the one-time trainee plumber has tapped into some kind of 21st century dystopian zeitgeist.

'McGregor a kind of 21st century James Joyce'

Whatever your take on mixed martial arts and UFC, the Dubliner's genius has been to identify, manufacture and craft a persona which allied to his undoubted prowess in the 'cage' has catapulted him into an alternative sporting stratosphere.

A kind of James Joyce for the 21st century, McGregor is warming to the Belfast evening.

Rat-a-tat tat...rat-a-tat tat the insights and insults tumble from him in a torrent.

At source a stream of consciousness, at rant's end a waterfall of words for the capacity crowd to bathe and luxuriate in. Each feigning of faux and sham indignation, each guttural expletive greeted with roars of approval.

UFC and its brand is valued at just north of £3 billion.

Conor McGregor and Dana White
McGregor's relationship with UFC chief Dana White has become strained in recent times

Dana White its CEO has an uneasy relationship with McGregor. Theirs is a marriage of commerce and convenience and the cranky couple are constantly butting heads.

Two satellites in the one orbit, White the self-proclaimed business supremo watches his man like the moon watches planet earth. When they are not pulling together, they are pulling apart.

In what time we've had, it strikes me that in addition to having fists of fury, the 'Notorious' is also possessed of a fine business brain.

Streetwise, McGregor steers his own publicity juggernaut and that it has just rolled into California is no coincidence.

Securing a professional boxing licence in the biggest state in the union is a shrewd political move in a game of commercial chess.

As politicians will tell you, deep pockets win elections!

So could McGregor v Floyd Mayweather really be in the offing? On reflection in a world so out of kilter with itself, that's about as likely as Donald Trump becoming President

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