Conor McGregor’s life since Monday is a strong lesson in how rapidly things can change.
Just hours after appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Monday night, the mixed martial arts champion announced via Twitter that he was retiring. The announcement was especially surprising since he’d discussed negotiating upcoming bouts with Fallon.
Throughout Tuesday morning, the question lingered: Why would a man who sits atop his sport retire just hours after talking about his future in the sport?
The answer may have come later the day, when news broke that McGregor is being investigated for a sexual assault that allegedly took place in December at a hotel he was staying in back in his home country, Ireland.
This latest report isn’t written on a clean slate. McGregor’s record outside the ring is spotty at best, and threatens not only his career as a fighter, but the empire he’s built. He’s the owner of a successful whiskey brand and a clothing line.
The line between moxie and mayhem is a fine one, and McGregor walks it. Here’s how:
Moxie punches its way to the top.
Moxie is often honed somewhere on the way from rags to riches, and that’s true in the case of McGregor. He was born to working class parents in one of Dublin’s rougher neighborhoods. As a teen, he found an outlet for his outsized aggression in the boxing ring and began training at the Crumlin Boxing Club at the age of eleven. He found success there and won the Dublin Novice Championship.
He began apprenticing as a plumber but abandoned it to pursue a career as a fighter. He found his way into Mixed Martial Arts and established himself as a dominant force in fighting. He’s held multiple mixed martial arts titles in featherweight and lightweight categories, and even became the first fighter to hold titles in two different weight divisions simultaneously. In 2018, he crossed back over into boxing and took on Floyd Meriwether, Jr., who defeated him.
It takes moxie to punch your way to the top, and McGregor has it.
Moxie knows when and where to fight.
But even in the midst of wild success, McGregor has struggled to control his pugnacious, pugilistic impulses.
Last year just days before an event in New York, McGregor hurled a hand truck at a bus, injuring some of his fellow UFC fighters inside. The injuries were serious enough that two of the fighters were forced to cancel subsequent matches. McGregor was charged with assault and criminal mischief.
Earlier this month, McGregor again found him hot water, this time after swatting a phone out of a fan’s hand when he attempted to snap a picture outside a club. McGregor then walked away with the phone, and walked into charges of strong-armed robbery and criminal mischief.
But these incidents pale in comparison to the seriousness of the allegations McGregor now faces.
All of these incidents are recent, well into McGregor’s success. It begs the question: why now? McGregor has built an empire in and out of the ring, raking in millions for his fights and millions more in his outside business ventures. Why threaten all of that with impulsive foolishness and destruction?
A lack of focus, discipline and self-control can quickly undermine moxie.
Does our culture reward moxie, or mayhem?
Then again, will McGregor’s controversies actually undermine his empire, or do his fans actually revel in it?
McGregor turned up to a promotional event for the Meriwether bout in 2017 neatly turned out in a perfectly tailored pinstriped suit. Close examination of the suit revealed that the pinstripes were composed of tiny print spelling out a profane epithet. (warning: NSFW)
The suit became a sensation, and the creator quickly began producing custom orders at $6500 a pop.
I’m trying to imagine the customer who has $6500 to sink into a suit adorned with NSFW language. I can’t, but that customer does exist. That customer must exist, because McGregor now has a whole clothing line with the same designer who made the infamous suit.
It’s hard to tell what’s ahead for McGregor, but I wouldn’t count him out. For better or worse, there’s as much of a market for mayhem as there is for moxie.