The Art of The Show: On Conor McGregor and casual fans

MMA Odds and Ends for Thursday: UFC 202 Pre-Fight Press Conference gets heated, Diaz and McGregor throw bottles at each otherIt’s another marquee UFC fight week and with it – like clockwork – the influx of ‘normals’. The rank and file of humanity who dare to enjoy our sport on a casual basis. In many ways it feels like a throwback; a resurgent echo of the days when MMA was a secret, special club that only you and your best friends knew about. Their banal chatter conjures memories of the sense of superiority we possessed. ‘Us’; the hardest of the hardcore. The true believers. We thought that this was all for us… in reality, it’s all for them – the millions who will wake from an MMA slumber to enjoy Conor McGregor’s fight this weekend – and always was. It’s never been a sport, it’s the art of the show. For reasons known only to ourselves, it is not acceptable for the masses to peak their interest when the likes of McGregor, Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey are wheeled out twice a year. These fair-weather fans of MMA are everything that is wrong with our sport, and the reason sensible people will never take it seriously. It’s a notion so far removed from reality that it could well form the basis of Netflix’s next Sci-Fi masterpiece. The insiders and the thieving, selfish and self-entitled internet fan-base are stuck in a rut of their own making; the loudest faction of this movement not doing anything to bolster its progress. Johnny TapouT, with his nu-metal soundtrack, Neanderthal passion for neatly-packaged corporate-sponsored violence and endless disposable dollars are the only reason this sport exists as it does in 2016.   Then vs Now Four years ago a certain enigmatic Irishman was the ultimate hipster’s choice; blasting through niche competition on a niche circuit. The ability that made him a safe pick pre-fame soon saw him elevated to a near-mythical status amongst those ‘in the know’. Then he got his head above water. In 2016 he is Dana’s golden boy; a multi-millionaire and the poster child for favouritism. The tide of trendy goodwill has begun to turn against him. Any shred of irony is completely lost on the hipsters. While they claim that he has been lost to the fame and money, snatched from their self-contained core of purity that is supposedly MMA’s essence, they fail to see the simple truth. McGregor and his ilk are the buoy that is keeping this often-times mockery of a sport afloat. The golden children are the yardstick by which MMA’s success is measured and the flickering flame that lights its way through the inky blackness on this troubled journey. Just like Shamrock. Just like Ortiz. Just like Kimbo. Just like everyone we ever hated for no better reason than because the unwashed masses didn’t.   Learning To Let Go and Enjoy McGregor’s first tussle with Nate Diaz was a tour de force of fighting; a vial of pure adrenaline jacked straight into the vein. Twists, turns, ups, downs; the roller-coaster of unbridled mayhem that every fight-fan truly craves. Yet somehow – on the digital plane at least – the roar of negativity heading into Saturday’s rematch is drowning out the dry, hushed whispers of anticipation heading into this carnival of controlled chaos. Why is he fighting at 170 again? He doesn’t deserve a rematch. Why is he holding up the 145 division? He’ll always get his own way.   In many ways they’re right. All of the above is fair comment. But ultimately it doesn’t matter, for McGregor and the UFC have finally, truly mastered the art of the show. For years they’ve cultivated their lie, slowly enveloping the public in their bold masquerade. How blind we were as they hid the truth in plain sight behind their very name? Ultimate. This game was never about the Ultimate: the best fighting the best. It was never a noble quest for one who could be undisputed. This journey was always, always about the Art of the Show. Saturday’s beautiful train wreck is the purest embodiment of this concept. A centerpiece half darling, half devil. His foil as deadly as he is flawed. Equal parts sizzle and steak, not a title belt nor relevant ranking in sight and what’s more, we’ve already paid for it less than six months ago. This is promotion perfected. For every internet fan looking for an excuse to write it off before they illegally stream the Pay-Per-View, there are 10 ‘idiots’ planning their weekend around the water-cooler wunderkind and his angry, funny and bitter nemesis. This is the Art of the Show. It’s time to give up. It’s time to relent. It’s time to admit that more than St Pierre, more than Silva, more than Aldo, Jones or Johnson, it is McGregor, Lesnar, Rousey and the Art of Show that allows this bizarre pastime of yours and mine to endure. It’s time to eschew the endless quest for a unique point of view in favour of basic instincts. Embrace the lowest common denominator. Join the zombie hoard’s march to the coast and get neck-deep in the cool blue of a fight that essentially means nothing while promising to deliver everything. Understand that as much as we want it to be, as much as some of us believe it to be, MMA is only our sport in it’s furthest recesses. On it’s grandest stages it will always be theirs. The Art of the Show. By Brad Wharton @MMABrad48

Written by Brad Wharton

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