Irish media hailed Dublin’s Conor McGregor for a gritty display on Sunday following his 10th-round loss to Floyd Mayweather in their Las Vegas super-fight.
The pundits focused on the mixed martial arts star’s endurance and bravery in managing to stay upright for 10 rounds with an opponent of Mayweather’s calibre, particularly as it was his first bout in a boxing ring.
“This was, after all the hype and trash talk, a man entering a new sport and taking on the best and while it was a comfortable win for Mayweather, McGregor has been lauded for the effort he put in,” wrote The Irish Independent.
Online sports website Joe also talked up McGregor’s ability to hang in, having been clearly outclassed after the first three rounds.
“There was to be no almighty shock, but McGregor earned plenty of respect (as well as a helluva lot of money) and can walk away from the encounter with his head held high,” it said.
Other crumbs of comfort were to be found in tabloid newspapers, who knew their readership would be firmly backing the former plumber from the wrong side of the tracks who has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom.
“Conor McGregor landed more punches on Floyd Mayweather than Manny Pacquiao — in two fewer rounds,” noted the Irish Sunday Mirror.
But McGregor also polarises Irish public opinion like no other athlete.
While many people are enthralled by his working-class hero credentials, some regard him as a loud-mouthed thug from an obscure sport parading crass views and garish bling.
McGregor wears his Irish identity with pride and trooped into the ring draped in the national flag of green, white and orange in front of thousands of his supporters, who had spent vast sums of money to fly to Las Vegas.
Ahead of the fight, The Irish Times broadsheet attempted to explain McGregor’s popularity.
“The poster child of an on-demand generation weaned on Sky Sports, raised to believe marketing hype about instant classics, Super Sundays and routine title defences that are fights for the ages,” wrote veteran journalist Dave Hannigan.
“Through no fault of their own, their first language is hyperbole, their default setting exaggeration.”
RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, gave a nuanced account of the event.
It hinted that a $100 million (Sh10 billion) payday would more than likely soften the blow for McGregor, who had been forced to rely on state welfare benefits before becoming a superstar in the mixed martial arts world.
“The biggest fight in combat sports history was no disappointment, but it didn’t provide fireworks worthy of all the build-up, anticipation and of course all that money.”
The 29-year-old Irish mixed martial arts star began bravely.