Conor McGregor, the Irish darling of mixed martial arts, is a bigot. Dig a little bit, and you’ll see it for yourself. Is he entertaining? Yes. Is he a gifted self-promoter? Absolutely. Is he a skilled, hard-working fighter for the UFC? For sure. And because of his popularity, fans and brands alike are willing to look past his numerous reprehensible statements.
I want to like Conor McGregor. Dude has guts. He doesn’t duck or dodge any challenge in the ring. A few years ago he was surviving week-to-week off of welfare checks. This August, in what could be the most viewed, highest grossing pay-per-view fight of all time, he will reportedly take home over $100 million in a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather — who has his own problems with bigotry and abuse toward women.
Mayweather and McGregor’s feud was fueled in part by racism. After Mayweather complained in January 2016 that McGregor got favorable treatment because he is white, McGregor responded, “don’t ever bring my race into my success again,” and wrote how Irish people have been “oppressed our entire existence.”
Fighters say a lot of foolish things when promoting their matches. Nowadays, because many of the top fighters get a slice of the pay-per-view revenue, they’ll say or do almost anything to get people to watch. This past weekend, boxers Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev had a rematch. In promoting the fight, Kovalev, a white man from Russia, posted a since-deleted video to social media mocking Ward, a black man from the Bay Area of California, in which Kovalev repeatedly used the N-word and other slurs, pretending to be Ward. Except Ward is a devout Christian and about as upstanding a man as you’ll find in the sport. It wasn’t Kovalev’s first time resorting to racism in promoting a fight. In 2015, Kovalev posted racist tweets online comparing his opponent, Adonis Stevenson, a black man, to a gorilla.
While Kovalev has faced criticism for his comments, I’m not sure any fighter, in boxing or MMA, has been a more consistent flagrant bigot — and been given as much of a free pass — as Conor McGregor. See, I don’t think McGregor is faking his bigotry come fight time. I think it’s most likely a reflection of who he truly is.
Leading up to his 2015 match against Brazilian fighter Jose Aldo, McGregor repeatedly resorted to disgustingly bigoted attacks. In a reference to colonialism, McGregor said, “If this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work.” McGregor later said, “What I really want to do is turn his favela into a Reebok sweatshop.” McGregor also said of Aldo, in an apparent joke targeting Latinos, “I think I’m going to have him come and clean up my airplane.”
Any one of those comments should have been enough to have every mainstream company he works with drop his endorsements. Being a fighter is not a license for bigotry without consequence.
McGregor started his bigoted tirades right back up again in his lead-ups to his fights against Nate Diaz. In August 2016, using an old slur against Latinos, he called Nick and Nate Diaz “cockroaches.” He also used tired bigoted stereotypes comparing Nate Diaz to “a little Cholo gangster from the hood” and calling his family “ese’s.”
My best guess is that McGregor will do the same thing ahead of his fight against Mayweather. He can’t seem to help himself. What’s sad is none of that is remotely necessary for him. McGregor would be huge without it.
In a day and age where we need principled people to speak out on racism, bigotry, and discrimination, Conor McGregor does the exact opposite, instead mainstreaming those things without consequence.