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TV Wrap - UFC and Vegas get rich selling Conor McGregor's redemption, but are you buying it?

The Dubliner took less than a minute to finish off Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone on Saturday night.

A Conor McGregor fan outside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
A Conor McGregor fan outside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Image: Tom Hogan/INPHO

THE RICH MAN will always find friends in Las Vegas.

Thus Conor McGregor returned to the desert’s octagon last week for his return to the UFC, leaving a palpably diminished support at home.

Dana White and his accountants at “the company” can no longer afford to have their most bankable star merely selling whiskey, and so welcomed him back by tuning the band for a good ol’ redemption song.

And where better to do it than in Las Vegas, the gaudy, neon id of the western world?

Vegas is, as David Foster Wallace wrote, “a city that pretends to be nothing but what it is, an enormous machine of exchange—of spectacle for money, of sensation for money, of money for more money, of pleasure for whatever be tomorrow’s abstract cost.”

And for your pay-per-view subscription over the weekend, the UFC were promising you the neat return and redemption of their greatest star in exchange.

McGregor played ball on the storytelling front, appearing in the official UFC promo for his bout with journeyman Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone to do a bit of exposition.

“To go down that path as the cliche of the fighter who has it all and leaves it behind in ruins. That’s not who I am”, rang a disembodied McGregor voice.

In an interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani ahead of the fight, McGregor said he was intent on righting the fecklessness of the past, specifically the build-up to the defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov, during which he said he had been “drinking all bleeding fight week” and “not living the life that I should be living.”

When Helwani asked about the litany of controversies that have dogged him since he last fought in the octagon, McGregor said he couldn’t add much, other than stressing the virtues of patience and “time.”

When a reporter raised McGregor’s “legal issues” at the pre-fight press conference, “Cowboy” Cerrone cut in to say “we’re here to talk about a fight”, Dana White told him that McGregor had addressed them on ESPN, and the crowd cloaked said reporter with boos.

The top table’s message was clear: Hey, this is a redemption song, but let’s not stray too far from the chorus.

Cerrone was equally pliant in the octagon, what with his being the first American Cowboy so committed to furthering someone else’s frontier.

36-year-old Cerrone is a journeyman with just a single title fight in his entire career, and here he was knocked out within 40 seconds, lasting scarcely longer than the man McGregor assaulted in a Dublin pub last year.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith lambasted Cerrone by saying that “I got hit more than Conor McGregor in the last week”, that perhaps the “lights were too bright” for Cerrone, and that we “learned nothing” about the returning Irish fighter. 

Few agreed on the last point, with Joe Rogan saying that McGregor “didn’t focus like a guy who has $200 million in the bank, he focused like a guy who was starving.”

Also on ESPN, Michael Bisping told us that “this shuts up all the haters, shuts up all of the naysayers, it shuts up everybody who has a theory that Conor McGregor is washed up, [that] he’s been partying too much and has left the fight game behind because he has all that money.”

There was much talk of humility too, with the LA Times splashing that McGregor is “a changed man outside the octagon”, noting that the man who once said he would apologise to nobody had said sorry for being late to his press conference.

McGregor himself told RTÉ News that he is motivated by the Irish support, and is working to make the Irish people proud of him. 

Dana White, meanwhile, was in trademark salesman mode post-fight, saying that a rematch with Khabib would be like Ali/Foreman or Ali/Frazier, and that McGregor “had lots of personal stuff” going on ahead of the first Khabib fight, that “some stuff [was] self-inflicted”, and he has been “obsessed with getting that rematch because he knows that he wasn’t 100 percent right.”

With that, everything cranked up again – the call-outs, the celebrity endorsements, the Floyd Mayweather talk, and the speculation about potential fights, venues, and revenue.

Thus it all went to plan – Conor McGregor is back in the UFC and everyone is going to get rich all over again.

So what are you going to do about it?

Will you just blithely ignore it all? Follow it feverishly?

Or will you fall somewhere in between, and try to negotiate some kind of personal compromise? Will you try to split the man of the back-page feats from the front-page stories; separate the post-fight suits from the courtroom suits?

Vegas’ transactional nature makes it a snug bedfellow for sports entertainment and the likes of the UFC – it is the city that puts a price on everything so nobody has to worry about working out a value on anything.

Real-world value judgements are different, though – they are filled with the tangled nuances and knotty morals that Vegas makes its business to smooth and erase. 

For many of the Irish people oft-invoked by Conor McGregor, this all comes down to one question.

Are you buying what Vegas is selling?

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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