NEW YORK – Conor McGregor is all it takes to turn people against an otherwise pretty decent human being. Going back to his days of holding the WEC featherweight belt, Jose Aldo has always been strikingly unhateable. One might even use the word "innocent." He doesn’t do drugs, or smite his chest, or commit misdemeanor crimes, or disrespect women, or crack a bunch of wise, or even fight with any annoying sense of self-preservation. He just goes out there and silently dominates his division.
He’s done that for years.
But at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan on Thursday, waves upon mutinous waves of people who turned up for the "UFC 189 World Tour" couldn’t resist the urge to remind Aldo that he’d soon be dead. Or that, as a roundabout coward who also happens to be a non-finisher, a p*ssy and a fight-dodger, he would in the very least be better off dead. The sentiment was that he shouldn’t get overly snug with the fit of his head on his shoulders, because pretty soon -- on July 11, to be exact -- that head would be forcibly removed.
Afterwards, children were invited to the stage to pose with their heroes.
How is any of this possible? Conor McGregor: The fight game’s gleefully materialistic dandy in the $10,000 suits.
Maybe it’s because he’s still so new, but for one day the Beacon became the Theatre of the Foreboding. It’s just a damn good thing Aldo -- the part-time feel good story who rose up from impoverished circumstances in Brazil to realize his dream as a UFC champion -- doesn’t speak very good English.
Because, brother, McGregor has the New York vote. All he had to do was chew his gum with good intensity and talk about the UFC coming to Madison Square Garden in December to make Aldo feel like a wad of hamburger wrappers. If you don’t know by now, McGregor has a gift for pushing all the right buttons. He did it in Rio de Janeiro last week as the tour kicked off. He blew kisses through the chants of "Uh vai morrer." In New York, he merely needed to be Irish.
In fact, at one point an authentic Irishman in the crowd asked if McGregor would be up for some whisky drinking when the formalities were done. McGregor assured him that he would on any other occasion, but with a private jet waiting and a tour stop in Toronto the next day, better to take a pass for now.
Soon, mere peasantry. Soooon.
And you know how this sort of one-sided hysteria felt? Awesome. Fantastic. Exactly as it should.
Jose Aldo could never garner this kind of hate if it weren’t for McGregor. McGregor is the galvanizing force behind the pandemonium. He’s the first fighter who can bury Dana White’s contributions to a press conference. During this particular stop, a member of the media asked Dana a question about boxing blah blah blah, but was quickly drown out by chants of "U-F-C, U-F-C!" White turned bright red with his good fortune. McGregor has made people lose their heads a little bit. See for yourself.
When Aldo was cruising along beating up the Chan Sung Jung’s and the Chad Mendes’ of the world, people tried to care. But now, with McGregor making his way to Aldo, it matters. It matters a lot. It’s as if everything else is secondary. Even Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald, the welterweights who were added to the New York stop, just shrank in their seats. They were incidental.
But Aldo wasn’t.
Suddenly people are hating on Aldo if for no other reason than they don’t want McGregor to lose. It’s become a concerted effort to get into Aldo’s head. That’s big fight feel. That’s unprecedented for the featherweight division. That means an unprecedented payday for Aldo, who was never going to see purses like he will against McGregor. Hate is an extra zero on the paycheck. Hate is something to be thankful for.
Yet if Aldo was grateful for it, he didn’t show it. He just kept an even gaze through all the unsolicited admonitions and took whatever was coming his way. He was all business. Big business. The kind of business that only McGregor could provide for him.
And when somebody asked White what it was like having McGregor as a showpiece to center a tour like this around, the UFC president pulled out an ancient proverb.
"It doesn’t suck," he said. No, no, he’s right. It far from sucks.