Conor McGregor enjoys a fairytale in New York

Sports review of 2016: Dave Hannigan on the Irish phenomenon’s seemingly unstoppable ascent to fame

Madison Square Garden, November 12th
Conor McGregor beats Eddie Alvarez inside two rounds

Six hours before the main event, three twenty-something stooges were loitering with intent outside Madison Square Garden, delighted with themselves in their identical garish green suits garnished with shamrocks.

A hawker was moving through the crowd eagerly pressing Irish flags into hands and the place thrummed with predominantly Dublin accents.

At the corner of Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street a promotions team were handing out free cans of an energy drink. A jarring note that suggested this November Saturday night in New York might well be like a particularly over-caffeinated version of St Patrick’s Day.


So it proved.

Having waited 23 years to get to the Garden, the most storied venue in combat sports in America, UFC was determined to get its money’s worth.

The undercard stretched for more than six hours, offering up bouts and entertainment that ranged from the compelling to the unnecessarily savage to the puerile.

Following his brutal dismissal of Chris Weidman, Yoel Romero then called out the current champion Michael Bisping.

From his position working the television broadcast, Bisping gave Romero the middle finger with both hands, then gestured for him to kiss his ass. The crowd went wild.

At various junctures, Dana White, the Svengali with the singular power to decide who fights who and when, appeared in the octagon.

Wearing an open-necked shirt and the perma-grin of the carnival barker, he looked like a fella fetching up to the afters of a wedding hoping a scrap might break out to offer some relief from the band.

Which is kind of what he was.

By the time Conor McGregor swaggered to the ring with an exaggerated gait that has spawned a thousand equally awful imitations, there was a sense the rest of the evening had merely been a prelude to the inevitable coronation.

The curt manner in which he disposed of the overmatched Eddie Alvarez, erstwhile lightweight champion, was so facile that interpreting its meaning depended on your faith in UFC.

Those who worship at that church believed it to be further evidence of his athletic greatness.

Those of us still prepared to blaspheme about the curious way the sport is run reckon it only provided more proof that there remains a distasteful whiff of the WWE about the whole operation.

“I’ve ridiculed everybody on the roster,” said McGregor in the octagon immediately afterwards, “and I’d like to take this chance to apologise to absolutely nobody.”

His mantra. His sport.

Low Light: See above.

Dave Hannigan

Dave Hannigan

Dave Hannigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New York