UFC champion Conor McGregor.ConorMcGregor.com

Conor McGregor has caught heat for allegedly racist rants aimed at Floyd Mayweather in the run-up to their boxing match in Las Vegas next month.  Debbie McGoldrick argues that hero is a far more accurate label for the Irish UFC superstar.

Is Conor McGregor a racist?  I’ve never met the man, but I really doubt it.

Is the 29-year-old UFC superstar Ireland’s latest national shame?  You would think so given the hysterical coverage back home of his four-city press tour last week with Floyd Mayweather.  How could such an appalling, outlandish, bigoted creep sully Ireland’s pristine reputation on the world stage?

The haters and holier than thou brigade need to settle down.  Or maybe not. After all, their mortification and outrage is helping to hype the fight of the decade – Mayweather vs. McGregor in Vegas on August 26 – and sell pay-per-view buys that will make all involved even more fabulously wealthy.

Read more: Ex-boxers say Conor McGregor is dreadful, knocked out by sparring partners

Facts are a good thing, so let’s just stick to them.  McGregor and Mayweather embarked on an international press tour last week not to play nice with each other, but rather to generate publicity and controversy which will culminate in a boxing ring after many years of yapping back and forth about it.

Floyd Mayweather and McGregor stand off!

Floyd Mayweather and McGregor stand off!

Shock and awe tactics to generate fight heat are hardly new.  Muhammad Ali, probably the most revered sportsman of all time, was a master showman and trash talker.  He’s also credited with lines that qualify as far more racist than anything McGregor has ever spouted, calling his great ring rival Joe Frazier an Uncle Tom among other slurs.

Ali knew well how the media worked…and so does McGregor.  More confident plus more outrageous equals more headlines which leads to more moolah.  Mayweather and McGregor are expected to bank nine figures each, which will pay for many more Rolls Royces for Conor and maybe some of what Floyd owes Uncle Sam.

McGregor’s “dance for me boy” line at the first press event last week, made while Mayweather was actually prancing around and shadow boxing on stage?   Iconic rap stars such as Jay-Z who populate their lyrics with niceties about bitches and hos -- all while making liberal use of the n word -- would LOL at that one.

Read more: Why Floyd Mayweather was afraid to come to Dublin for press conference with McGregor

Rappers are also fond of grabbing their crotches and boasting about their manhood, so they’d likely be proud that Conor defended himself against racism claims by saying he was “half black from the belly button down.”

The point is, McGregor and Mayweather have something to sell.  And that’s exactly what they’re gonna do, like it or not.  And if you don’t, well, just go on your merry way.

Tagging the Irishman as the latest poster boy for white privilege, or racist of the week is ludicrous.  There are many more important concerns surrounding race to be worried about – Conor McGregor sure isn’t one of them.

Mayweather and McGregor putting on a show at one of their four-press conferences.

Mayweather and McGregor putting on a show at one of their four-press conferences.

Here is what we can say with certainty about McGregor.  He’s a working-class Dubliner who was a trainee plumber for a while, but he decided that wasn’t the way he wanted to make a living.  So, he re-dedicated himself to becoming a champion of mixed martial arts, working 24-7 to transform his body into a perfectly tuned machine.  No messing, no cutting corners, just 110 percent commitment.

He rose through the ranks of the UFC, biggest MMA outfit in the world, to become a double champion and its most marketable star.  UFC sold last year for an eye-popping $4 billion, largely because of McGregor’s efforts (and Ronda Rousey’s) to insert themselves and their sport into the mainstream.

He’s stayed true to the same people who were with him from day one, led by his coach back home, John Kavanagh.  He’s in a committed relationship with his long-term partner Dee Devlin, with whom he just had a son, and he’s ensured that his family never have to worry about money for the rest of their lives.

In fact, McGregor still lives in Dublin. The full-time lure of Hollywood or New York apparently doesn’t mean much to him when he’s done showboating or dropping wads of cash on Fifth Avenue.

There’s not a hint of personal scandal surrounding McGregor: no messing around with groupies, no using women as punching bags as his upcoming opponent has.  He hasn’t snorted or drank the millions he’s made, though okay, we’ll concede that some of his clothing choices have been garish. (The bold [and ugly] Versace prints are soooo 1990s, Conor.  You’d do way better in Macy’s.)

And last, but by no means least, McGregor has never, ever forgotten where he came from.   This guy is Irish to the core, and he’s been nothing short of inspirational to his legion of fans around the world who set their travel schedules around his fights, and who use those occasions to gather and celebrate their Irish pride.  There’s never a problem with the “ole, ole” singing McGregor army.  They’re a credit to themselves and their country.  One of my friends who was at the press event in Brooklyn last week told me the action was actually better outside the Barclays Center than inside, as a huge number of fans waved the Tricolor through the streets and engaged in friendly banter with the bemused NYPD officers looking on.

McGregor draped in the Irish flag after a fight.

McGregor draped in the Irish flag after a fight.

But in many corners of the media in Ireland, this is not to be celebrated.  Looking up to a preposterous, ignorant clown like McGregor is horrifying, these leading lights think.  Who needs an international superstar proudly waving a Tricolor and representing little Ireland?

Take this from The Irish Times last week. “His bigotry is a national embarrassment now and if someone from the mainstream field sports or athletics or boxing spoke like McGregor of an opponent – of anyone – there would be an outcry and sponsors would walk,” columnist Keith Duggan wrote.

Mr. Duggan must not be too familiar with the NFL, where fathers who whip their kids (Adrian Peterson), animal killers (Michael Vick) and wife beaters (too many to name) are welcomed with open arms and multi-million-dollar contracts.  How do those offenses stack up against a “dance with me boy” line from McGregor? Give me McGregor over Peterson any day of the week.

The Irish have a well-earned reputation for whacking their own success stories.  Bono is a prat because he’s sanctimonious and he doesn’t pay taxes; Michael Flatley turned Irish dance into a cheesy Vegas-style act; and now McGregor has sullied his home country because he’s a hard-core racist and cringe-inducing fool.

Well, the good news for the bombastic, supremely confident McGregor is that way more people are listening to him than the easily offended members of the media police.  I’m no fan of the UFC’s brutality, but I am a big fan of McGregor and his rise to the top against all the odds. 

For every Conor McGregor, there are thousands of hopefuls who will never reach his heights or anything close.  He’s aspirational, and given the rise in MMA popularity in Ireland, he’s no doubt inspired many kids to get off the streets and into a gym in the hopes of emulating his success.

“I am boxing!” McGregor boasts in his characteristic style.  I hope he proves that against the convicted abuser he’ll face in Vegas next month.

Read more: Is Conor McGregor a bigot? US columnist slams his pre-fight racist tirades