OPINION: Conor McGregor's success has caused a generational divide in Ireland

The Dubliner's success seems to have caused issue with fans of boxing

OPINION: Conor McGregor's success has caused a generational divide in Ireland

Conor McGregor, left, reacts after the referee stopped his fight against Eddie Alvarez. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Walking in and around New York's 7th Avenue last weekend, it was very noticeable how young Conor McGregor's fans actually are.

Ahead of Saturday's fight, which eventually happened in the early hours of Sunday morning, almost every tricolour or Ireland jersey that was flown or worn by some in their thirties, or younger. 

23 years to the day since UFC 1, the organisation reached its zenith by holding an event in Madison Square Garden. While MMA had taken hold of the American west coast, especially in Las Vegas, the east still belonged primarily to boxing. 

Fighters like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Rocky Maricano, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis had all graced the famous Manhattan ring. When it came to combat sports, New York belonged to boxing. That may now change.

Even before Saturday's event, the UFC had already announced their second card in New York City. UFC 208 will take place on February 11th in Brooklyn, and having waited for so long to enter New York state, the organisation are wasting no time in wanting to lay some roots.

Is the demographic of McGregor supporters something to do with his mass appeal to younger markets, along with the ever-increasing popularity of the sport?

As MMA continues to take hold in the psyche of millennials and younger fans, boxing's mass-appeal continues to wane, in Ireland especially. Despite the attention given to Michael Conlan, Katie Taylor or Paddy Barnes, and as popular and Andy Lee and Carl Frampton (Ireland's last two world champions) have been, the appeal of their fights has failed to land with the average sports fan.

If asked to name Lee or Frampton's last few opponents, only staunch boxing fans could would remember who they were, without turning to Google or Wikipedia. Conversely, Jose Aldo and Nate Diaz both became household names in Ireland due to their association with McGregor.

In Monday's Irish Times, Dave Hannigan (who has written two excellent books on Muhammad Ali), said that; "the more offensive [McGregor] is, the more that the curious and the intrigued are tempted into splurging on tickets and ordering pay-per-views".

After Saturday's event, UFC President Dana White said the event was on course to be the biggest in the history of the company. McGregor's previous three fights all topped one million buys, and UFC 205 will surpass that level again, by a large margin. 

Does that merit a place among the greats? He is undoubtedly one of Ireland's greatest sports stars, and possibly the best combat fighter to ever grace these shores. After his win, Jamie Heaslip called McGregor "the greatest sports star of our generation". That's very telling, from a player who had the pleasure of seeing Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll up close.

Heaslip was not the only one to give such praise to McGregor. On social media, in the early hours of Sunday morning and into the following afternoon, the 28-year-old was being compared to Roy Keane, Padraig Harrington and AP McCoy.

In concluding his article, Hannigan spoke of the relatively short history of the UFC and its title lineage, noting that it would need to be taken into account for any consideration of McGregor's place in the Irish sporting pantheon. 

"Of course, some perspective is needed. UFC’s lightweight division only started in 2001 and the featherweight belt he owns was awarded for the first time six years ago. This is history alright, of the just-add-water variety."

He is right in saying the UFC featherweight belt was only first awarded in 2010, but its lineage goes back to 2001. When the UFC bought the WEC, and amalgamated the two companies, Jose Aldo was in possession of the belt, before being promoted to the title in the UFC.

McGregor's persona, however unsettling it is for some, is grabbing the attention of younger generations, of that there is little doubt. The sport remains young, but every sport was at one point.

MMA's advantage is that almost all the elite fight in the UFC, making the fights the fans want to see happen frequently. In boxing, where promoters and world bodies call the shots, the potential fights that fans dream often fail to reach the ring. That is partially to blame for the way in which it has lost appeal to the UFC.

Boxing has undoubtedly the history over mixed martial arts. Ali had come and gone as 'The Greatest' and Mike Tyson was 'The Baddest Man on the Planet' before MMA even existed.

Fans cannot comprehend how boxing is being challenged by MMA. Both mixed martial arts and boxing can live in harmony together, but it's looking increasingly likely that they belong to different generations.

When it comes to boxing's dismissal of MMA, it's fair to say that fear is the sincerest form of flattery.

There's nothing wrong with that. It's simply reality.