Irish hopes rising alongside Conor McGregor

Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor made their grand arrivals in Las Vegas Tuesday for Saturday night’s superfight.

Conor 'The Notorious' McGregor's rise is more than just a sporting tale to his compatriots.

John Locher / The Associated Press

Conor 'The Notorious' McGregor's rise is more than just a sporting tale to his compatriots.

I’m on a plane to Las Vegas for the big fight thinking about the number 188. It’s a well-known figure to Irish people who dealt with the 2008 recession, a crippling and lengthy economic downturn that sent numbers comparable to the Irish famine exodus fleeing to greener, foreign pastures.

“The 188” is also the name of Conor McGregor’s luxury yacht.

While I mostly view this title as distasteful, I somehow begrudgingly respect the Irishman’s moniker for his on-sea vessel. It’s a personal reminder of tougher times. One hundred and eighty-eight was the amount in euros unemployed citizens of Ireland received weekly on social welfare during those lean recession days.

McGregor needed it back then, and so did I. Just the essentials, few luxuries. Now, I’m living in Canada contentedly working for Metro having joined the emigrating masses in 2012. And Conor? Well, he’s about to dance around the ring with a boxing legend for somewhere around $100 million. Not bad for two former doleheads from Dublin.

McGregor’s rise to superstardom instills hope. Financially supported by his girlfriend Dee Devlin as an unfulfilled plumbing apprentice, his obsession with body movement and combat commenced. His humble mixed martial arts debut in 2007 led to his UFC debut in 2013, where he famously shouted “60 Gs Dana!” (his payment for that bout) after soundly beating Marcus Brimage.

His partnership with Dana White, president of the UFC, has blossomed more than anyone (minus Conor, undoubtedly) could’ve envisioned. White, after all, is the impresario who eventually finessed negotiations to push through McGregor’s ambitious bid to fight 49-0 Floyd Mayweather.

Since his UFC debut, McGregor’s flamboyant, explosive fighting style and accurate, concrete fists steadily earned him legions of fans in Ireland and abroad as he sliced through UFC weight classes. “The Notorious” — as he is known — defeated 145-pound champion Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds after the Brazilian’s impressive 10-year reign with the belt.

Moving up a division, he then knocked out the 155-pound champ Eddie Alvarez to become the organization’s first fighter to hold titles in two weight classes. Predictably, this wasn’t enough for McGregor; in his mind, there always seems to be a higher plain to which to ascend in a limitless and money-filled sky.

With his star rising at speed, McGregor-mania has swept across Ireland with noticeably more beards, cocky attitudes, and puffed-out chests on the country’s streets.

His brash, often offensive antics are unquestionably an acquired taste, but I for one welcome the sight of an Irishman with the bit firmly between his teeth.

Achievements like his can change perceptions of entire nations, a nice change from those with narrower minds seeing us Irish as twinkly-eyed, drunken folk with luck on our side.

McGregor’s astonishing ascent also poetically coincides with Ireland gradually pulling itself out of financial strife. It’s as if he’s leading the Irish charge into a brighter era while allowing our small, green isle to dream that little bit bigger.

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough,” he once said.

McGregor's opponent Saturday, Floyd Mayweather, is 49-0 in professional boxing.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

McGregor's opponent Saturday, Floyd Mayweather, is 49-0 in professional boxing.

An unerring confidence, a knack for predicting the outcome of his fights, and countless entertaining soundbites only draw more fans to him in their droves, usually to a chorus of “Ole, Ole, Ole”. However, undefeated defensive genius Mayweather is the ultimate dream-crushing villain and any true boxing fan can only agree with his red-hot favourite tag on Saturday in Vegas.

But that fact won’t stop The Notorious' fans, Irish or otherwise, from dreaming that little bit bigger.

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