Martin Smith column: Why we’re drawn to brutal attraction of the UFC

Conor McGregor kneels on the mat after defeating Chad Mendes during their interim featherweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 189 on Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas.
Conor McGregor kneels on the mat after defeating Chad Mendes during their interim featherweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 189 on Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas.
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He couldn’t be more different to look at but there’s something about him...

Maybe it was the waking at 4.30am, the hype, the pre-fight posturing and a lingering hint of Saturday night refreshment on my part, but it stood out a mile as we watched UFC’s world title clash on TV in the early hours of Sunday.

Naseem Hamed

Naseem Hamed

Conor McGregor is the new Naseem Hamed.

Without disrespect to the Queensbury Rules’ history of boxing by comparing it with The Ultimate Fighting Challenge’s mixed martial arts clashes you couldn’t fail to see the likeness in the way the two men carry themselves.

Gifted, full of energy, bristling with arrogance and radiating a total belief in his own ability McGregor has the same instinctive aggression and a love of his work that Naz had in his prime. Both men show that same unquenchable combination of desire and talent, both are the fighting phenomenon of their generation.

It was a first viewing of a live UFC fight for me and It sort of felt a bit wrong to even be watching it.

The semi-respectable offspring of cage fighting, MMA is a brutal experience to watch let alone take part in and there is a huge debate over fighter safety. That argument is for another column another day but the growing popularity and apparent legitimacy of UFC - BT Sport screened the McGregor fight on Sunday - doesn’t look like diminishing any time soon.

McGregor, a 26-year-old former Dublin plumber, had around 8,000 Irish and Irish Americans backing him in his featherweight fight against Chad Mendes in Las Vegas.

Those that look to celebrate and emulate mankind’s higher achievements and have hopes for a more cultured and less violent world will be appalled by the growing popularity of UFC and mixed martial arts.

There are conflicting statistics on the extent and frequency of long-term damage caused by blows to the head in all sports and these are hugely important issues. But as a spectacle UFC is compelling, thrilling.

People love to take risks of all kinds from sky-diving to smoking but there is a whiff of by-gone brutality about these mixed martial arts clashes.

A hint of Victorian sideshow tainted by the same base hunger for thrills that gave us bear-baiting and dog fights.

But that’s why people like it.

And it’s also why the meteoric rise of fighters like Conor McGregor still captures the popular imagination.