Just a few days removed from the biggest victory in his professional career, Conor McGregor is on top of the world.
One left hand to Jose Aldo’s chin and “The Notorious” one justifiably cannoned himself into the stratosphere, joining Ronda Rousey in an all-too-exclusive table for two for UFC athletes who’ve transcended beyond the Octagon.
Like Rousey, McGregor has made truckloads of cash by whooping some of the best fighters on the planet.
Like Rousey, McGregor has also likely made some considerable scratch for prompting folks to download video games onto their mobile devices.
Like Rousey, McGregor has become the latest commodity for Hollywood filmmakers.
Like Rousey, McGregor has accepted one of those roles, scheduled to get some screen time in the latest installment of Vin Diesel’s “xXx” movie series.
And a wise venture he’s made, to say the least, considering — like Rousey — it all stands a good chance of disappearing if he’s to be defeated in the very cage that’s afforded some of the greatest luxuries this life can offer. But here’s where we come across the double-edged sword of being known as a full-time athlete and part-time celebrity; because as soon as one focuses more time on the latter, the two careers slowly start to trade prefixes — and there’s no way McGregor can stay atop either the featherweight or lightweight division (or both) by becoming a part-time athlete.
It was just a couple weeks back that McGregor offered his take on what went wrong for Rousey, who, after dominating the women’s bantamweight division for several years, was decimated by a relatively unsuspecting challenger in Holly Holm. After collecting 12 stoppage victories over some of the best female fighters available at 135 pounds, Rousey was stopped dead in her tracks. It’s likely the only reason McGregor’s KO victory over Aldo won’t go down as the most memorable knockout over the year; that accolade belongs to “The Preacher’s Daughter” and her left high kick from UFC 193.
“If I was going to take something away from Ronda is – maybe just push everything away,” McGregor said to the media prior to UFC 194. “I can’t really see her situation. I don’t know her situation. From looking from where I was at, I could see that maybe she’d done a little too much on the media side.”
In the lead-up to her bout with Holm, Rousey maintained a schedule capable of breaking a human being of lesser capacity, according to ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne. Promoting and training for a five-round fight likely proves an exhausting task. Add in the idea that the promotion is marketing the event as the latest of the biggest shows they’ve ever done, and you’ve got a recipe for a headache or two — something McGregor likely knows all too well.
In reality, it’s difficult for any one fighter of Rousey’s or McGregor’s magnitude to push the media away. The less interviews they do, the more time they dedicate to training for Aldo’s leg kicks or Holm’s jabs, the less we — as human beings — start to care. Out of sight, out of mind, if you will.
It’s a balancing act of great implication. A fighter needs to win to be relevant; a fighter needs to be relevant for those wins to matter.
So McGregor begins welcoming Hollywood with relatively open arms, willing to strike while the iron is hot.
Naturally, we worry.
For all the same reasons we find concern in Rousey’s ability to close the gap between herself and Holm in a presumed UFC 200 rematch all while starring in two feature films. Another loss to the “Rowdy” one and she may never step inside the Octagon again. Another loss for Rousey and those movie roles likely start to dwindle.
You can’t have one without the other; having neither is a daunting reality.
It’s clear he’s far and away better than most of the featherweights the UFC has to offer. The same could possibly be said if he moves up to 155 pounds, as well. But that gap grows smaller with every waking minute he spends rehearsing lines while the rest of the division rehearses ways of avoiding his power left hand.
Will the Irishman continue to be the Clubber Lang of this real-life “Rocky III” situation, taking to the alleyways to better his already-elite skillset to further the distance between himself and the next best contender? Or will he take the all-too-inevitable Rocky Balboa tumble to the depths of human despair after becoming the next great fighter’s stepping stone to the top?
Only time will tell, but you can almost guarantee McGregor is up for the challenge.