By Duncan Clair (@DuncanClair)

My name is Duncs, and I’m a Conor McGregor fan.

It’s not that I’m ashamed, but I don’t always outwardly declare my allegiance to the Irishman, and it feels like due to his polarizing nature (and some of his actions) that I should explain myself.

Being late to press conferences and throwing water bottles and Monster cans like they’re snowballs and being kicked off UFC 200 aside, I’m a fan. No matter how many times going into a fight I think “I’m not sure he’ll have it tonight,” or “Maybe his luck will finally run out,” I can’t quite be an unbiased observer. I want to see Conor knock the other guy out. I feel an emotional reaction the closer I get to every McGregor fight. It’s decided, even if I didn’t think it through. I’ve bought in.

It’s tough to reconcile sometimes. I know that putting all your resources into improving your jiu-jitsu and ground game for five months won’t make up for Nate Diaz’s years of experience. I know that being undersized for a change may not mean anything to McGregor’s spirit, but it means something for his chances. I know that with his most intense preparation Conor should give Nate a run for his money, but then I think Nate will have more time too, and maybe all this training is nullified and we’re left with March 5 again. All of that makes sense, but I don’t quite want to let go of what I know in exchange for what I want. There’s just something about Conor McGregor.

Maybe it’s because there’s an old homeland appeal for a country I’ve never touched, even though my ancestors came from there – a way I can invest myself in a part of my heritage I haven’t felt authentically connected to. Maybe it’s something about the captivating style of movement and kicks, of grace and power, of speed and accuracy or as Conor might say, of timing and precision. Maybe it’s that Conor seems to cast a thin veil at times, a willingness to admit that while his supreme confidence is authentic, he knows to bring it up to a new level to promote his fights. He clearly understands the fight game and when necessary, disconnects between the hype machine and the man at its core. His handling of the loss to Diaz at UFC 196 showed accountability and character. It was clearly difficult for him, but he owned the loss and his mistakes. He lost like we all want to see people lose, like we all wish we could lose – fearlessly.

There’s a fatal essence about him, the way he straddles the line of tactical aggression and educated recklessness in the way he constantly moves forward, daring his opponent to swing or shoot for a takedown. The way it always seems like no matter how hard he works, he doesn’t have the time he needs to dominate the way he wants to against increasingly tougher and well-rounded opponents.

But goddamn he works hard.

There’s no illusion to McGregor’s dedication to his craft. There’s a certain satisfaction in seeing a bully as a fraud, in seeing the most brash being busted down when they don’t follow through on tough talk. McGregor though, for all he talks, brings equal measures of action. It makes you root a bit harder, hold off your doubt a little bit longer, when there’s such a willingness to learn by someone whose seeming unanimous drawback is being perpetually incomplete.

McGregor’s fight against Chad Mendes is looked back upon most fondly by McGregor fans, probably even more than his KO victory over Aldo. There was enough time to create a narrative, enough of a fight to tell a story. Conor came back from difficult spots to finish a tired Mendes. There was an underlying uneasiness throughout though. McGregor’s resilience didn’t offer a feeling of control. He was in real danger if he stayed on his back, as Mendes tried to lock in a guillotine that McGregor eventually escaped. His fight against Diaz turned quickly, his energy bursting and fizzling. UFC 202 isn’t just a chance for McGregor to avenge the loss to Diaz. It’s also a chance to dispel the ‘in like a Lion, out like a lamb’ trend the Aldo fight was never allowed to explore.

“He should have killed me when he had the chance,” shouted McGregor across the stage after facing off with Diaz at the weigh-in. It feels both retroactive and prophetic. There’s often an acknowledgment from Conor as the man who’s putting it all on the line, as if there’s only one way to put him away, and that is to PUT HIM AWAY. It’s hard not to be drawn to the all or nothing ethos, particularly in an arena that brings us as close to all or nothing as we’ll comfortably allow ourselves, for entertainment anyway.

In Diaz, McGregor has found the perfect anti-hero. The cult following he commands along with his brother Nick are loyal and vocal. He’s a character that is paradoxical, in that you can’t help but think he’d have been a superstar for years now if he were only less mumbly, less confrontational, more polished, more marketable…except, then he wouldn’t be Nate, and he wouldn’t appeal to anyone. He’d be just another high-level fighter. There’s plenty of mutual respect though, despite how pronounced they are in their differences of presentation. McGregor’s suits vs. Nate’s black t-shirts. McGregor’s penchant for storytelling vs. Nate’s one-sentence answers. McGregor’s long-winded verbal combos vs. Nate’s stiff four-letter counters. Both come from famously humble beginnings but have juxtaposed themselves in a beautifully opposing way. They are so different, but both equally embody the quintessential fighter. It’s the perfect matchup – the money fight.

Everything about this fight tells me Nate Diaz will out-grapple, out-box and outlast Conor McGregor, but there’s that essence of fatality in McGregor, that throwback fighter’s spirit that seems to at once defy convention and fulfill the portrait of what a new-age Irish brawler should be. Conor McGregor knows he’s accomplished what he needs to whether you’re waving an Irish flag or screaming at Nate to beat him without mercy. As silly as I think grouping head and heart is when they’re really both the mind, this is a unique case where emotion and reason diverge for me. There’s something about Conor, whether it’s genius marketing or the man or something in between, it’s a story I like to see come true. For others, it’s exactly the opposite, and all they want is to see McGregor kicked from his high horse with maximum force. It seems we love two things more than anything in sport – a good old fall from grace or champions being champions. Either way, with Conor McGregor, there’s a good chance you’ll get what you want.

 

 

Duncan Clair has a knack for immersing himself in and writing about sports he’s either terrible at or has never tried, like mixed martial arts, hockey (house league 3rd liner), golf (never broke 90) and a bunch of other stuff. Proud to be a cog in the Canadian sports media machine and at even odds to be holding a grilled cheese at any time.

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