“There haven’t been too many like him in sport, and there certainly have been none like him in Irish sport,” writes Ewan MacKenna of his subject, the MMA combatant Conor McGregor.
Even so, if the sun ever decides to give up the day job, celebrities have all the dependability required for their rise and fall to stand in as a reliable timekeeper. No matter how high the arc, intense the glare, or unique the story, what goes up must eventually plummet past your office window. And McGregor, for all his vast wealth, is somewhere in the latter part of the cycle.
But if you’re here for the standard chronology or fanboy “pages of MMA analysis around each of his triumphs and disasters in the octagon”, the author has some advice for you: “Go away. Get out of here. Be gone.”
This project is much more ambitious than that. Loosely structured around the fortnight he spent in Las Vegas for the build-up to McGregor’s fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018, MacKenna gets to grips with McGregor the megastar “as a representation of the ills of society, but also a creation of those ills. A microcosm of the anger and rage that has seen politics swerve so far to the right. A mirror of the need and the greed in a society where your earnings matter far more than your morals ever could.”
That means MacKenna, a former Irish Sportswriter of the Year, turning a novelist’s eye on the McGregor phenomenon to capture just how rancid the story has turned.
The fame may be global, “In Brazil, if you mention you are Irish, his is the name that comes up,” but the brand is dangerously unstable, from the star’s off-duty attacks on a rival’s bus and an old man at a bar, to his fans brawling in the streets (and one of them being so perplexed that his new tweed suit featured buttons where the zip should be that using the facilities ended in humiliation), to the organized crime his Venn diagram intersects with, and the investigations yet to come (or at least be reported on in Europe).
MacKenna knows the fighting industry and its employees and camp followers from Dublin to Vegas, but is aghast at just how polluted the air around McGregor has become. For while an opponent may eventually rise to smash a king’s face in, it’s nothing compared to what fame can add to the humiliation.
And while the author gives the impression he hasn’t enjoyed producing a single sentence of this book, it’s a superb piece of writing.
“There have always been those who think they can become so big that they can merely step over the chasm,” he writes. “Chaos” deserves to become a foundation text on what that chasm holds.
Chaos is a Friend of Mine, Ewan MacKenna. De Coubertin Books, £14.99