Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Tom Hogan/INPHO McGregor speaking at the UFC 205 post-fight press conference in New York.
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Can McGregor remain UFC's big daddy when he becomes a father?
Tommy Martin ponders how the arrival of his first child will affect the new two-weight champion.

HE’S BEATEN ALL comers at three different UFC weight divisions in the past 12 months, but could Conor McGregor’s toughest opponent yet come in the tricky 7 to 8 lbs category?

In my experience, McGregor may come to yearn for five gentle rounds of grappling with craggy old Nate Diaz once mini-Notorious comes along in May. Or March, or whenever — McGregor didn’t seem quite sure as he broke the news after his victory over Eddie Alvarez (don’t worry Conor, you’ll soon know all about it).

Baby talk was a jarring turn for a UFC post-fight press conference to take. It was strange to hear the usual bragging and cussing interrupted by that most heart-warming of announcements. Thankfully, McGregor soon got things back on track by admitting he was “crapping (his) jocks” at the prospect, suggesting partner Dee Devlin will soon have two dirty bottoms to deal with.

Putting aside the mental image of a tiny toddler McGregor dishing out knee strikes and foul-mouthed insults at the local montessori, it’s worth speculating how fatherhood will affect the biggest star in UFC.

McGregor seemed genuinely concerned as he revealed the news, expressing his disgust at the world of “celebrity shite” that his child will be brought into. “I hate all that, I don’t want my family to be like that,” said the man who arrived to a pre-fight press conference in a $20,000 mink coat.

Perhaps his real worry is that he’ll lose his edge. Can you still be Notorious when you’re doing night feeds and nappy changes? Will being a parent affect the drive that has made him the biggest draw in UFC and one of the world’s best known sportspeople?

Personally, I would describe early fatherhood as being like the opening twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, except with poo instead of bullets. There’s also the constant state of catatonic fatigue which makes performing even menial work tasks difficult, problematic when your job involves blood-thirsty, cage-based combat.

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What we’re talking about here is the ‘pram in the hall’ dilemma, from the famous quote by critic Cyril Connolly, who claimed “there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”

The debate got an airing recently when Irish writer John Banville admitted that his literary success had come at the cost of familial obligations. “I have not been a good father,” Banville told the Irish Times. “I don’t think any writer is.” Not everyone agreed: “Speak for yourself, fucknuts,” tweeted The Wire creator David Simon. “Family is family. The job is the job.”

And there’s plenty evidence that sportspeople can still do their job, from British athlete Jo Pavey, who won 10,000m European gold ten months after giving birth to her second child, to the likes of Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll, both of whose warrior spirits were hardly diminished by endless Peppa Pig marathons.

Neither has fatherhood bothered Andy Murray much: he managed to win Wimbledon and Olympic gold through the baby fog after the birth of his daughter in February this year. Murray reckoned fatherhood benefitted him mentally as it meant there was “something else on (his) mind” besides winning tennis matches.

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Despite the common perception of him as a rampant narcissist, there’s nothing to suggest that McGregor will be anything other than a devoted family man. He’s always displayed public tenderness towards Devlin, his girlfriend of eight years, and has long hinted at a future as head of a happy household.

“I’m doing this to secure my family’s future and Dee’s future,” he told VIP magazine three years ago. “I want to be financially secure by the time I have kids.”

But could the real threat to McGregor be the very respectability comments like that suggest?

McGregor’s popularity is split largely down generational lines. Aside from the serious MMA fans, who know their arm bars from their choke holds, his wild popularity is based on being a classic youth anti-hero.

He is a 21st century punk, Johnny Rotten for millennials, whose legend grows greater in proportion to the disapproval of his antics from aghast elders.

But take it from me, as I write this in my favourite comfy slippers: there’s nothing less punk than being a dad.

The older generation worry about what kind of role model McGregor is for their kids, forgetting that parents are the only true role models they need. But now he’s becoming one himself, will he change?

Will the arrival of McGregor Junior make him think twice about telling opponents to “suck these big Irish balls!”? Will he be quite the anti-establishment icon when spotted wheeling a Bugaboo around the local park?

McGregor’s fans will hope that David Simon is correct, that family is family and the job is the job, and that their hero remains the big daddy of UFC as well as at home, in his comfy slippers.

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