French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic weren’t the only noteworthy people taking in the World Cup final Sunday alongside Vladimir Putin. Conor McGregor was also on hand as a guest of the Russian president, and afterward he offered Putin very high praise.
“This man is one of the greatest leaders of our time,” McGregor said of Putin on social media, following France’s 4-2 win over Croatia. The mixed martial arts star added that he was “honored to attend such a landmark event” with Putin.
McGregor ended his note with a rendering in Cyrillic of the phrase, “Go, Russia!” Earlier in the day, he had posted a photo of himself in a seat at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, exclaiming, “A truly amazing spectacle!”
McGregor, of course, is no stranger to controversial commentary. In the past, he has offended some observers with his sharp insults of opponents, in addition to comments considered to be racist or homophobic. This time, more than a few social media users took exception to his praise for Putin, with one writing in reply to the Irishman, “You may be my favorite fighter of all time but no, man, Putin is not a great leader. Unless you consider leading by fear and murder is considered great. Then yeah I guess he’s great at murder.”
“You can fight, but praising a murderous dictator who oppresses & exploits his people, bullies neighboring nations, plots cowardly acts of cyber warfare & actively denies people their basic human rights is unforgivable,” another wrote. “F— you.”
The BBC’s Tom English simply replied to McGregor with, “Puppet.”
Some MMA fans may have been happy to see McGregor at the game if only because of the chance it bodes well for a possible showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov, the UFC’s lightweight champion. Nurmagomedov, who is Russian, was also at the game Sunday, and he said of his presence at the event, “Childhood dream come true.”
If McGregor and Nurmagomedov actually crossed paths at the stadium, it hasn’t been reported yet, but it would have been the first time since the fiasco at Barclays Center in April. At that time, McGregor, apparently upset because Nurmagomedov had been involved in an altercation with a member of his camp, attacked a bus transporting the Russian and several other UFC fighters and staffers away from the arena ahead of UFC 223.
Some of the fighters suffered injuries in the incident that forced them off the card, which was headlined by a fight in which Nurmagomedov defeated Al Iaquinta for the UFC lightweight crown that had been held by McGregor. UFC President Dana White has said that he won’t discuss McGregor’s future with the organization until after the latter’s court date later this month on charges related to his Barclays rampage, but there’s little doubt that White would like nothing more than to set up a lucrative match between the former and current lightweight champions.
McGregor has not fought in the UFC since November 2016, when he won the lightweight belt by defeating Eddie Alvarez. At the time, that made McGregor the first UFC fighter to hold two titles simultaneously (Daniel Cormier has since matched the feat), but his inactivity in the Octagon has caused him to lose both the lightweight and featherweight belts, with his only action in the interim an August 2017 boxing match that he lost to Floyd Mayweather.
McGregor may have been a loser in the ring, but he was a big winner at the bank, taking in a total amount reported to be around $100 million. That gargantuan sum, far more than he ever made in MMA, combined with his lack of fights this year, has raised speculation that McGregor might actually never set foot in the Octagon again.
Thus many MMA fans simply want to see McGregor fight almost anyone, ideally but not necessarily Nurmagomedov. It remains to be seen if that happens, but in the meantime, McGregor showed Sunday that he has not lost his talent for provoking outrage.
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