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Dublin: 12°C Wednesday 12 May 2021

History shows Conor McGregor isn't the first to lose himself in murky, shallow world of celebrity

The 28-year-old – just like Jack Doyle before him – has crossed the line and that comes with its own caveats.

Image: PA

THERE’S SOME OLD black and white footage of Jack Doyle from before his debut at Madison Square Garden in 1935.

He was preparing to take on Buddy Baer in a world heavyweight bout but the boxing was largely irrelevant for the Corkman. Doyle was there to push his good looks on America and see how far his charm could get him.

It had already worked a treat in England where he’d won his first 10 straight fights. But Doyle was more concerned with his overall ‘brand’ – and never refused an offer to make a few bob. Instead of merely concentrating on his craft, he began to live for the celebrity life instead.

He fought for the British title in 1933 against Jack Peterson in front of 85,000 but was disqualified in the second round. Having realised very quickly that he was out of his depth, he began fouling his way through the bout. Rumour has it that Doyle had a fever owing to a sexually-transmitted disease, though his alcohol-filled preparation surely didn’t help either.

Still, he had hordes of adoring fans and put his dulcet tenor tones to good use on a singing tour of the UK.

And, inevitably, when the cameras rolled in New York before the Baer fight, there was Doyle – propping up a conveniently placed piano – to perform a rendition of The Rose of Tralee.

Source: British Movietone/YouTube

During the fight itself, Baer dropped Doyle three times before an end was finally called. The entire charade lasted just 2 minutes and 38 seconds.

The rest of Doyle’s life is well-known. He tried his hand at Hollywood but his two films as a leading man tanked at the box-office.

Over the last while, it’s hard not to think about Doyle in the context of Conor McGregor.

With the entire world already prepared for his meeting with Floyd Mayweather to be nothing short of a humiliating pantomime, you wonder what the attraction is. Why push so hard for something that is so ultimately irrelevant? Why campaign and lobby so tirelessly for an event that means absolutely nothing?

Is it all just about the pay-out? Because, if it is, will there ever be enough money for him? His mantra of ‘Get in, get rich, get out’ is already looking a bit fanciful.

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Last year, he made $34m, ensuring him a place in the Top-25 of richest athletes in the world – quite the achievement for the incredibly niche sport he’s a part of. It clearly meant a lot to him, tweeting the story twice.

But, if the goal now is just to make even more money, then why stop at Mayweather? Why not approach Showtime with a series of never-seen-before pay-per-view events? Like, McGregor strutting into a wildlife enclosure and taking on Larry The Lion. There’d be quite a sizeable audience for that and McGregor wouldn’t have to worry about getting second-billing. Maybe, in another episode, he can team up as a double act with that Newcastle fan who punched the horse.

McGregor now – just like Doyle before him – has crossed the line and that comes with its own caveats. Where Doyle became better-known for serenading audiences with Irish ballads and bouncing from one new career to the next, McGregor saunters into Aintree and signs on for exhibitions. Because, after all – regardless of the hoopla and the PR stunts that will follow the official announcement – that’s all it is.

2017 Randox Health Grand National Festival - Grand National Day - Aintree Source: Peter Byrne

Clearly, this isn’t about money at all, despite McGregor saying it is. It’s about attention and celebrity. And remaining in the public eye, no matter what the consequences.

McGregor is, clearly, a remarkable athlete – a winner, a strong and uncompromising warrior-type figure. But signing up for something so futile taints him. The athletes usually seduced into taking on a hybrid mash-up event are the older, well-worn guys chasing a bumper cheque. McGregor is a 28-year-old and at his peak.

Is McGregor likely to return to UFC once this is all over? According to Dana White, the answer is absolutely. But once any line is crossed, it’s very hard to get back.

Which leads to an inevitable question: just what will McGregor be in ten week’s time? Ex-MMA fighter? Future boxer? Future actor?

Up until recently, he had a clear objective: to be a champion. To be the best MMA fighter of all time. In recent weeks and months, it’s become less and less clear what his new goals are.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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