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Thousands of people are believed to be missing in the towns of Baleroa and Petobo, where rivers of soil swept away entire neighborhoods in the aftermath of a 7.5-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami on September 28.
The confirmed death toll from the quake has now reached 1,763, with 265 people missing in central Sulawesi’s largest city, Palu, the spokesperson of Indonesia’s Disaster Management Agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, told reporters in Jakarta on Sunday.
Almost all of the dead have been buried in mass graves. Another 62,000 people have been displaced by the disaster, Nugroho said.
The spokesman estimated that 5,000 people could still be missing in Baleroa and Petobo, which had been badly hit by soil liquefaction — a process where the soil becomes saturated with water, causing it to erupt into torrents that topple buildings.
In the days following the quake, more than 1,000 houses in the towns were buried under rivers of soil.
An aerial view of liquefaction in central Sulawesi, taken on October 4.

In the city of Palu, home to about 350,000 people, footage showed people running to find solid ground as structures were destroyed by waves of undulating earth.
“Liquefaction occurs when loose sandy soils with shallow groundwater are subjected to sudden loading such as shaking from an earthquake,” explained Jonathan Stewart, a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Indonesia tsunami: Tears and hope amid the rubble as aid arrives

Indonesia tsunami: Tears and hope amid the rubble as aid arrives

“During the earthquake, water pressure is generated in the soil, which causes a dramatic loss of strength,” added Stewart. “The strength loss can be so great that the soil behaves almost like a liquid.”
The process is thought to have played a key role in other earthquakes, such as those in Japan and New Zealand, both in 2011.
Meanwhile in Sulawesi, 82,000 military, civilians and volunteers continue in the search and rescue effort, even as the island had been rocked by 451 aftershocks since the powerful quake.
North Carolina took the brunt of the storm’s fury amid days of drenching rain and, predictably, lost the most, a pair of analyses show. Lawmakers there are set to meet starting Tuesday for a special session to debate how to undertake and pay for the recovery.
Across the three states hardest hit — North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — the cost to rebuild is staggering. Here’s a look at the devastation’s price tag:

$45 billion

The first heartbreaking step for hurricane survivors: Gut their storm-damaged house

The top-end estimate of property damage reflects the effects of floodwaters and strong winds on thousands of single-family homes across an enormous disaster zone, according to Moody’s Analytics.
“Many of the areas that experienced flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew are enduring similar tribulations this fall, but the footprint appears to be significantly broader following Florence, stretching about 200 miles west from the North Carolina coast and spanning 150 miles from north to south, extending into South Carolina,” analysts Ryan Sweet and Adam Kamins wrote, comparing Florence with the 2016 storm.

$28.5 billion

That’s the maximum estimate of all flood losses across the zone, including from storm surge, rain and rising rivers, an analysis by the firm CoreLogic shows.
Again, North Carolina is thought to have suffered most, with $22 billion in losses, followed by South Carolina with $5.5 billion and about $1 billion in Virginia.
The total is about half the $66 billion, adjusted for inflation, in property lost in 2005 to Hurricane Katrina‘s flooding across five states, most of it in New Orleans.

$18.5 billion

As in Katrina, most homes and businesses devastated by Florence’s floodwaters were not insured for damage from rising water. Those homes account for more than two-thirds of the total estimated uninsured flood loss, CoreLogic’s estimate shows.
In North Carolina alone, floods could cost uninsured home and commercial property owners as much as $14.5 billion, while the figure could reach $3.5 billion in South Carolina and $500 million in Virginia.
Hurricane Florence is the latest setback to struggling flood insurance program

Hurricane Florence is the latest setback to struggling flood insurance program

That compares with some $40 billion in uninsured losses sustained last year when Hurricane Harvey slammed the Texas Gulf Coast, then drenched the Houston area for days.
Most private insurance policies don’t protect against damage from floods caused by storm surge, rain or overflowing rivers. For that, the National Flood Insurance Program, known as NFIP and run by FEMA, provides coverage; in fact, it’s required for federally backed mortgages in areas judged to be at risk of flooding.
But many homes that sustain flood damage every year nationwide lie outside designated flood zones — often because federal flood maps don’t accurately reflect the risk of flooding.
“The flood zone delineations are just wrong,” Chuck Watson, an analyst with the disaster research group Enki Research, told CNN as Florence churned toward shore. “But communities don’t like expansion flood zone, because it makes development more expensive and difficult. So the flood zones really don’t reflect the risk.”
“Losses (in Florence) will no doubt be exacerbated by a lack of flood insurance,” the Moody’s analysts wrote, blaming “outdated flood maps that have allowed many homeowners to remain uninsured despite the risk.”
Property owners also sometimes let their flood insurance lapse because they don’t have a mortgage or because their lender doesn’t check.

$5 billion

That’s the upper end of what the NFIP is expected to have to pay out for federally insured losses to residential and commercial property, according to CoreLogic. In all, about 445,000 properties across the three states are covered by the government-backed policies.
Florence threatens more than a million homes without flood insurance

Florence threatens more than a million homes without flood insurance

That kind of payout could strike another blow to the NFIP, which last year got into hot water when it had to pay out $8.7 billion in claims for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the third highest total in the its history.
Those payments would have pushed the program’s finances past its borrowing limits, but Congress forgave $16 billion the program owed the federal government so it could pay out the claims.
The problem still exists, and it boils down to this: NFIP premiums aren’t high enough to accurately reflect risk. But Congress is loath to raise rates and tick off people who live in flood zones. So, the well of money from which to draw claims remains precariously low.

$1.5 billion

Though Florence was known primarily as a rain event, losses from wind damage could cost residential and commercial property owners more than $1 billion, CoreLogic found, noting that such damage is covered by standard homeowners’ insurance policies.
Wilson was 76.
The series’ verified Twitter account remembered the actor on Saturday. “We are deeply saddened to report that Scott Wilson, the incredible actor who played Hershel on #TheWalkingDead, has passed away at the age of 76. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Rest in paradise, Scott. We love you!”
Wilson, whose acting credits date back to the 1967 movies “In the Heat of the Night” and “In Cold Blood,” played a veterinarian turned farmer in the zombie apocalypse drama series.
He appeared in more than 30 episodes of the popular show from 2011 to 2014 before his character was killed in the fourth season.
Wilson’s character “lived at the emotional core of the show,” the network said in a statement. “Like Scott in our lives, Hershel was a character whose actions continue to inform our characters’ choices to this day. Our hearts go out to his wife, family, friends and to the millions of fans who loved him. Scott will be missed.”

Colleagues pay tribute

Cast members and crew posted their own tributes on Twitter.
“All I can say now is that Scott Wilson profoundly impacted my life. I was honored and lucky enough to work with him on #TheWalkingDead & #Damien. He was a great friend, one I loved very much,” said writer Glen Mazzarra.
Actor Khary Payton, who joined the show as Ezekiel after Wilson left, promised to look after its legacy.
“The first time I met Scott Wilson, he gave me a big hug and said that this thing I had become apart of… was a family. He said I had a responsibility to take care of it. I have tried very hard to do that, sir. & I will continue. I promise. See you on the other side, my friend,” Payton tweeted.
Titus Welliver, star of the show “Bosch” in which Wilson also appeared tweeted: “Scott Wilson has departed. I am heartbroken. We are fewer. Go easy into the light brother.”
The NBC sketch series wasted no time addressing the excitement and disappointment felt by Senate members on Saturday. The second episode of the show’s 44th season had Kenan Thompson as CNN’s Don Lemon in a live report featuring Heidi Gardner as chief political correspondent Dana Bash.
Standing in the Republicans’ “locker room,” Gardner’s Bash interviewed several Senate members as they were celebrating Saturday’s vote.
“Republicans read the mood of the country, we could tell that people really wanted Kavanaugh,” Beck Bennett said in his role as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Everyone’s pumped — from white men over 60 to white men over 70,” he added.
Viewers also caught Kate McKinnon reprising her role as Sen. Lindsey Graham and giving Gardner’s Bash a ‘Kavanaugh World Champion’ hat.
“We made a lot of women real worried today but I’m not getting pregnant, so I don’t care,” McKinnon’s Graham said.
And they also took on the protesters who swarmed Capitol Hill disrupting the confirmation vote in the Senate and banging on the Supreme Court building doors.
“They’ve been there for us all week cheering, screaming outside our offices,” McKinnon’s Graham said.
“I’m sorry, you think those were fans?” Gardner’s Bash asked her.
“Oh yeah, for sure and I know that they agree with us ’cause they are shouting out ‘me too’,” McKinnon’s Graham replied.
Heidi Gardner as CNN's Dana Bash interviewed Kate McKinnon in her role of Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The sketch also mocked a subdued Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer during another interview.
“Well, my doctor thinks it might be sciatica,” said Alex Moffat as Schumer.
“Well, the Dems lost another one. We thought this time we would do better than the Anita Hill hearing because Dr. Ford was white, but turned out Brett Kavanaugh was white too and we were completely blindsided by that,” he added.
The cold open ended with Republicans spraying what appeared to be beers all over each other to celebrate Kavanaugh.
“Let’s keep this horny male energy going till the midterms!” McKinnon’s Graham said.
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Conor McGregor of Ireland enters the Octagon before facing Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Conor McGregor bit off more than he could chew in his comeback fight Saturday at UFC 229.

Make no mistake, however: McGregor remains the center of the UFC’s multibillion-dollar universe.

Once the dust settles from his fourth-round submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov—and the brawl that spilled out of the cage following the bout at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena—McGregor will likely still be the fight company’s brightest promotional light.

In retrospect, it was unreasonable to expect McGregor to return from nearly two years away and go toe-to-toe with Nurmagomedov. The undefeated champion was too dominant, suffocating McGregor with his grappling and even winning the lion’s share of the striking exchanges throughout their 18 minutes together.

We knew all along this was a risky matchup for McGregor to take upon his return. He came in as the slight underdog, according to Odds Shark, and on paper, Nurmagomedov’s relentless takedowns and top control appeared to be the krytonite to McGregor’s athletic, stand-up-oriented style.

It turned out that way in practice, too.

McGregor taps to Nurmagomedov's crank.

McGregor taps to Nurmagomedov’s crank.Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Yet it was a lift to the sport just to have McGregor back. Fans had last seen him in the Octagon in November 2016, when he became the first fighter to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight classes by defeating Eddie Alvarez for the 155-pound belt at UFC 205.

In the interim, McGregor made nearly $100 million and established himself as a crossover superstar by taking on Floyd Mayweather Jr. in their August 2017 boxing match.

Headed into this bout, UFC President Dana White was forecasting as many as 3 million pay-per-view buys for McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov, per TMZ. Unless his fans desert him in droves following Saturday’s tap-out loss via neck crank, his next fight figures to be just as big.

What McGregor will do next is open-ended, of course. With a new six-fight UFC deal in hand, he’ll continue to call the shots regarding his career, even in the wake of this loss.

There are still plenty of good, lucrative options for McGregor. The truth is, the lay of the UFC landscape was going to look much the same for him win, lose or draw at UFC 229.

Perhaps the only new option is this one: a rematch with Nurmagomedov.

It’s possible that by going over the Octagon fence to attack McGregor teammate Dillon Danis in the stands Saturday, Nurmagomedov only stoked interest in a second fight against the 30-year-old Irishman. After all, the UFC used footage of when McGregor stormed into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and tossed a metal hand tuck through the window of a bus containing Nurmagomedov to sell UFC 229.

Now that the bad blood between Team Nurmagomedov and Team McGregor has escalated, are we so naive to think the UFC won’t double down? Yeah, right.

If not Nurmagomedov, a third fight with Nate Diaz remains viable—especially now that McGregor needs to get back in the win column.

That pair’s first two bouts held down the top spots on the list of the UFC’s best-selling PPV events prior to UFC 229. Given that Diaz and McGregor split their previous meetings, conventional wisdom has long dictated they’d stage a rubber match.

Perhaps it makes more sense now than ever.

There has also been open speculation that a superfight between McGregor and former two-division champion Georges St-Pierre might be in the offing.

St-Pierre returned from his own lengthy sabbatical to defeat Michael Bisping for the middleweight title at UFC 217 in November 2017. His comeback was short-lived, however, as St-Pierre relinquished the 185-pound belt just 34 days later and announced he was moving back into semi-retirement because of ulcerative colitis.

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Conor McGregor of Ireland reacts after tapping out and being defeated by Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas,

Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

If booked, a bout between McGregor and GSP would have the potential to rewrite every financial record in the UFC’s ledger. The feasibility, of course, hinges both on the French Canadian superstar’s health and McGregor’s vacillating interest.

Last week, the Irishman told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani he doesn’t think a St-Pierre fight will take place right away.

“We’ll see what happens, but I don’t think [GSP is] next,” McGregor said. “He doesn’t really have anything for me, personally. I’m not going to shut the door on that down the line.”

Instead of St-Pierre, McGregor put forth the notion of fighting 43-year-old former middleweight champ Anderson Silva. That matchup seems too far-fetched to happen, but we learned in lead-up to the Mayweather fight never to doubt the power of McGregor’s whims.

McGregor has also talked of challenging Tyron Woodley for the welterweight crown. Woodley is coming off a quick dismantling of Darren Till at UFC 228. His schedule might sync with McGregor’s, and Woodley has long pined for a big-money fight.

But Woodley would be another dangerous matchup for McGregor and might pack less promotional punch than any other realistic option.

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia punches Conor McGregor of Ireland in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LL

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

If it’s another championship McGregor is after, the idea of the UFC’s opening a new 165-pound division is one of the most enticing possibilities. There were rumors that the upcoming UFC 230 bout between Dustin Poirier and Diaz would be for the inaugural title in a new weight class.

The UFC has balked at that idea and, indeed, starting a 165-pound division would necessitate a lot reshuffling. It might involve moving the welterweight class up to 175 pounds, which would create numerous logistical headaches for matchmakers.

On the other hand, it might create a viable, exciting division where UFC lightweights and welterweights could meet in the middle. It might also be McGregor’s most natural weight class.

We all have to wait for the UFC to sort its mess with Nurmagomedov before finding out what’s next for McGregor.

Whatever it turns out to be, however, you can bet it’ll still be the biggest news and the most lucrative night for all involved.

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia points to Conor McGregor of Ireland corner in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Khabib Nurmagomedov beat McGregor on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 229.

“He bludgeoned him” is probably a more accurate way to describe it. It went precisely how most of the sport’s followers predicted it would go: If McGregor could not keep his back off the canvas, he was in big trouble. You know, like every other Khabib fight.

And it was like every other Khabib fight, right up to the part where it became unlike any other UFC fight in the history of the sport.

After three rounds of battering McGregor and putting him on the canvas, Nurmagomedov applied a rear-naked choke—the more painful variety, where Khabib’s arm was crushing McGregor’s jaw—and forced the Irishman to submit in the fourth.

That Nurmagomedov had to be physically pried off McGregor by referee Herb Dean should’ve been a warning sign that this would not be our usual post-fight scene. And it wasn’t. Nurmagomedov shouted at McGregor teammate Dillon Danis, which is understandable; Danis can be infuriating. But Nurmagomedov didn’t stop with the yelling. Instead, he vaulted over the cage and went after Danis.

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia leaves the octagon at the end of his UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuff

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Bedlam ensued. The cageside area resembled a riot scene, and the chaos spilled back into the Octagon as the UFC production team pulled back into a wide shot so as to not endorse or highlight what was happening. Commentator Dominick Cruz spoke in hushed tones, telling us they couldn’t endorse what we were witnessing.

Of course, this is the same promotion that built an entire marketing package around McGregor assaulting a bus in New York City.

In another unprecedented move, UFC President Dana White sent both fighters to the back before the official announcement was even made, explaining to Nurmagomedov that he was afraid of what would happen if he put the belt around his waist.

Look closely enough and you could see the glimmer in White’s eyes. He was a man who just realized how much money he’ll make off the rematch.

Nurmagomedov was long heralded by plenty of very smart people as the best fighter in the sport, and that was before he won the UFC lightweight title.

Even teammate Daniel Cormier—who has won UFC championships in multiple weight classes and who thus knows a little something about greatness—just shakes his head when you ask him about Khabib.

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Conor McGregor of Ireland is held by Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia before submitting in defeat in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

“People just don’t get it, man,” Cormier told me recently. “They don’t understand. He’s different than everyone else.”

The whole bear-wrestling thing? It’s a funny anecdote, sure, and it makes for easy branding. It looks good on a T-shirt. But wrestling bears as a kid hardly has any sort of correlation to athletic performance as an adult.

Or maybe the whole bear thing is important; maybe it tells us all we need to know about Khabib and how he started preparing for this life when he was just a kid growing up in Dagestan.

Maybe Dagestan and the environment that shaped him tells us more about Khabib than we realized. This guy is different than anyone else in the fight game. He cuts a great promo, and we all laugh and talk about how entertaining Khabib is, but the thing that we never took into account is how he might’ve been serious when he said those things. 

Like when he said, “Honestly, this is for me more than just defend my title; for me, it’s more than just fight for the title. For me, it’s personal.”

Maybe it wasn’t just trash talk.

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia is escorted out of the arena after defeating Conor McGregor of Ireland in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Ne

Harry How/Getty Images

It’s commendable that McGregor even attempted to beat Nurmagomedov after two years away from the sport. Instead of coming back and looking for the fight that would give him the biggest payday for the least amount of work, McGregor waltzed back into the UFC and stepped in the cage with perhaps the most terrifying lightweight of all time.

Critics will always find new and creative ways to denigrate McGregor’s accomplishments; that trend would’ve continued even if McGregor had knocked out Nurmagomedov in less than a minute after stuffing five takedowns.

But the fact is, McGregor didn’t have to fight Nurmagomedov. Hell, he didn’t have to come back at all. He has money and business ventures and a family. What could he possibly accomplish by coming back to the UFC that would top the stuff he’s already done? And why put yourself through the sheer torture of facing someone like Nurmagomedov?

He did it for competition and for sport, but it wasn’t much of a competition.

And what followed certainly wasn’t sport.

Daniel Cormier @dc_mma

Hey guys, two wrongs don’t make it right. Conor didn’t deserve that. No one did. But some things aren’t for fight promotion. Religion, family, country. Throwing stuff in Brooklyn. For Khabib it wasn’t fight promotion, it was really personal. Diff culture man. Sucks

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 06: Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia points to Conor McGregor of Ireland corner in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event inside T-Mobile Arena on October 6, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Khabib Nurmagomedov scored a career-defining win over Conor McGregor at UFC 229, and then things went off the rails. 

After forcing McGregor to tap to a rear-naked choke in the fourth round of their bout, Nurmagomedov stormed towards his foe’s corner and had words with members of his team, particularly McGregor’s grappling coach (and Bellator MMA fighter) Dillon Danis. From there, Nurmagomedov hopped the fence and got physical with his team.

The UFC broadcast cut away from scenes of the melee, but fans in attendance snapped plenty of videos to show what happened.

Busted Coverage got a great shot of the beginning, with Nurmagomedov jumping the cage and literally diving towards McGregor’s crew, which led to some brief fisticuffs with Danis. From there, Nurmagomedov was dragged away by security (as captured by ESPN’s Arash Markazi).

Things escalated from there, however, as McGregor (who was sitting in the cage watching things unfold) was jumped from behind by members of Nurmagomedov’s team. According to Tony Jones of The Athletic, this resulted in three members of Nurmagomedov’s team being arrested following the event.

Security and UFC officials swarmed the cage and surrounding area from there, with McGregor being escorted out. After an on-camera conversation with Dana White, Nurmagomedov was also sent out of the cage with a security detail as he had bottles and garbage thrown at him. After both men exited, the official decision was read by Bruce Buffer to a chorus of boos from the remaining fans.

The buildup to this fight was a particularly nasty one, including the infamous bus attack in April and a pair of ugly press conferences in the last month. While one can deflect some of the blame for this from Nurmagomedov, there’s no denying that this puts a black mark on what should have been a star-making night for him.

Expect a fine and a potentially lengthy suspension to be leveled against him at some point in the near future.

Conor McGregor participates in a news conference in New York, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. McGregor is returning to UFC after a two-year absence. He fights undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, a bout certain to shatter UFC pay-per-view view records. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)


You can be forgiven if Conor McGregor doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of the world’s savviest and most sophisticated athletes. You might even, at first glance, dismiss him as just another swaggering buffoon, a symptom of society’s continuing decay toward idiocracy.          

His list of lowlights is longer, even, than his list of victims inside the Octagon, everything from calling African American boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. “boy” to using outrageously misogynic language to launching a dolly through the window of a bus in an ill-fated attempt to confront his next opponent, Dagestani wrestler Khabib Nurmagomedov.

But trust me: McGregor has levels, has multitudes and, as a result, has millions.

He’s the highest-paid fighter in a sport that traditionally produces paupers. Something, whether you’re willing to embrace it or not, is working in a way UFC fighters’ acts don’t traditionally work in the broader mainstream culture. 

Wrestling icon Jim Cornette knows a thing or two about gimmicks and how to talk a crowd into seeing a fight. Twelve times, the readers of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter voted him Manager of the Year, and in his 35 years in the business, he’s worked with a who’s who of top talent, helping launch WWE’s famous Attitude Era in the late 1990s. 

And he stands in awe of McGregor.

“Here’s this guy who’s a real live Ric Flair, complete with that cool-ass f–king accent from over there across the pond,” Cornette says. “He’s not just beating people up. He’s f–king ragging on everybody and cuts a f–king promo for the ages. He’s living the f–king gimmick in a collection of expensive suits. He’s winning at life.” 

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Fans can’t decide if the cocky, dolly-hurling hooligan is the UFC’s top villain or a beloved icon. And that confusion, the gaping divide between stalwart fans and braying haters, makes perfect sense—and is perfect for the UFC’s business. It’s a feature, not a bug.

“He’s embracing entertainment the same way I did,” Bellator fighter and ESPN MMA analyst Chael Sonnen tells Bleacher Report. “But he’s taken it to a new level. Conor is outstanding. I love what he’s doing.”

“One thing I’ve learned watching Conor leverage his opportunities so successfully is that passion is a good thing,” UFC star Elias Theodorou says. “Love or hate are both OK emotions as long as the crowd cares. Indifference is the worst option.”

Like Flair, the original limousine-riding, custom-suit-wearing icon, McGregor’s sometimes buffoonish bullying has divided audiences into competing camps. While created to be a bad guy, Flair’s persona was just too cool to truly hate. McGregor presents a similar dilemma, outsmarting and then outfighting everyone the UFC puts in front of him.

McGregor isn’t merely a man—he’s an archetype, the kind of antihero people are now used to seeing in popular culture. His character seems to have been created with broad strokes in order to be immediately recognizable, more icon than reality. The real McGregor has been buried beneath so many handlers, public relations professionals and carefully crafted branding opportunities that it’s hard to know where the man begins and the character culminates. He might not even know anymore. At this point in his hagiography, he has more in common with fictionalized superheroes and villains than he does you or me.

He’s even reportedly being used as a template for the unhinged antihero Venom in an upcoming movie. It’s art influencing life, influencing art again in turn.

Comic book artist Keith Giffen recognizes it when he sees it. As the creator of the hilariously toxic Lobo and the swaggering Guy Gardner version of Green Lantern, Giffen helped launch what became an overwhelming influx of similar characters, like Deadpool, who blur the lines between good and bad.

“Sometimes the difference between the villain and the antihero is that we know a little bit more about the hero,” Giffen says. “Bruce Wayne, he becomes the Batman. He goes and beats people up in the poor part of town. If I was in Gotham City right now, I’d park my car and look around real carefully for a sign that says ‘No Parking.’ Otherwise, I’ll get beat up by some jackass in a bat suit. He’s a f–king psycho, right?

“Except, oh, his parents were killed outside a movie theater; he’s traumatized. He put all his money into helping people, he built himself up, and he’s Batman. We know more about him, and it doesn’t seem quite as bad.”

McGregor, though not quite Batman, presents a similar conundrum for MMA fans. With his constant trash talk and problematic language and behavior, he’s certainly no hero. But as a rags-to-riches story and an exciting striker who never shies away from a tough fight, he tends to be looked to by MMA fans as a leading man, not a villain. To them, he exists in a gray area, the scoundrel everyone longs to love.

“When you see this guy come out,” Giffen says, “this antihero, and he blusters and he throws his weight around and he’s smacking people around the ring, there’s that little bit of wish fulfillment, you know? You just sit back and say: ‘Hey, let’s enjoy this. Look at him, he’s being an assh–e. Yeah, let’s go!’ It’s like you’re pissed off at your boss and you watch Conor McGregor go through his bit, and, after a while, you’re not as pissed off as you were.”

Take, as a representative sample of his oeuvre, McGregor’s recent performance at a press conference promoting his bout with Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, a blood feud so compelling that you can practically see the cartoon dollar signs spinning in UFC President Dana White‘s eyeballs. Using Nurmagomedov mostly as a 155-pound prop, McGregor proceeded to command the room for 37 mesmerizing minutes.

“This was amazing,” Sonnen said on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “This was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in mixed martial arts. Listen, the punches and the kicks are not enough; they haven’t been enough for a very long time. We have to know why. We have to know that these guys are fighting for something, for a reason.”

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Some of it was standard press-conference prattle, your typical boasting and bragging that has become background noise, for the most part as believable and creditable as the professional wrestling promos it’s borrowed from.

McGregor, as you might imagine, does this exceptionally well—his Irish brogue, softened for American ears, a lilt that immediately lifts his gloating and crowing above the din, inviting you to listen in for a bit as he describes basically two things: his vast wealth and what he’s going to do to his opponent.

“Professional wrestling and fighting right now are some of the best superhero movies you’ve ever seen,” Giffen says. “They do it better than The Avengers movies. They do better than the Justice League movie. Because they’re primal. It’s all put out there, and they are like comic books in real life. …

“How are they going to solve their differences? Are they going to sit down and talk? Are they going to negotiate? No, they’re going to beat the s–t out of one another. Did Batman ever stop to think the Joker, tell him you know: ‘You might want to get some help there, pal. You’re a little crazy.’ No, he just knocks the s–t out of him.” 

Not all of it is Shakespeare or even Tom King. At one point, he got a big laugh simply saying “Mer, mer, mer, mer” in mocking imitation of Nurmagomedov’s thick accent. Later he implored a reporter to “Ask these nuts” a question. Not all of it made sense, not in the slightest.

Here’s the thing, Cornette contends: It doesn’t have to.

“If you wrote down what some of the top promos in the business said, word for word, and read it, it’s complete f–king gibberish,” he says. “But when they are saying it, when they’re the ones looking you in the eye or looking the camera in the eye and saying it, it makes sense, and you get it. They make you interested.

“It’s the force of the personality. It’s the attitude and that he believes it. You can tell he believes it. … Sincerity is the key. When you can learn to fake that, you’ve got it made.”

It’s a truly enthralling one-man show, one seemingly sponsored by his own brand-new whiskey, Proper 12, which became a supporting player during the production as McGregor offered the devout Muslim Nurmagomedov a drink and then called him a “mad backwards c–t” when he refused.

McGregor’s Proper No. 12 Whiskey was featured prominently.

McGregor’s Proper No. 12 Whiskey was featured prominently.Seth Wenig/Associated Press/Associated Press

After his fight with Mayweather, McGregor came out with a drink. Over the years, we’ve watched him fall in love with custom-made suits. For this event, he’ll have his own whiskey brand on the Octagon canvas and be doing his media appearances bedecked in his own line of high-end clothing

“Thankfully,” McGregor told the press, “I’m such a crafty individual with my other entities and my entire game as a whole, I don’t have to fight for money no more.”

McGregor is evolving, taking time to shill his own products while also eviscerating the opposition in the media. It’s the kind of multitasking few in MMA history have ever managed, as most fighters are the kind of people more comfortable letting their fists do the talking.

“Khabib was in way over his head,” Sonnen says. “Conor McGregor is in a class of his own. He is a master on the microphone. He knows when the cameras are rolling. He knows how to sell.”

During his extended monologues, you can hear the wheels spinning—can almost see McGregor work his way deeper and deeper into Nurmagomedov’s head. He references his opponent’s strained relationships in his native Russia, mentioning specifically a partnership with Russian oligarch Ziyavudin Magomedov that has suddenly become fraught with peril.

Later, he called Nurmagomedov’s father a “quivering coward” for not standing up to Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov. Even Nurmagomedov’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, took heat, with McGregor calling him a “terrorist snitch.”

Ali Abdelaziz (r) backstage at a UFC event.

Ali Abdelaziz (r) backstage at a UFC event.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

It’s situations like this, Giffen believes, that could create issues for the UFC as it attempts to launch this fight beyond the MMA hardcores and into the mainstream consciousness. 

To put something like an antihero out there for the mass market, for the greatest amount of people, you’ve got to sort of pull back and play within the parameters,” Giffen says. “You don’t want to alienate your audience. If you’re working for a small audience or you’re just doing niche marketing, you can push the limits.

“But [the UFC] is trying to appeal to as many people as possible. And when you’re trying to appeal to as many people as possible, you’re being torn. Is this guy going to find this offensive? Is he going to find this racist? Is this guy going to find this too much? It’s the kind of weird game.”

In an age of increased scrutiny over word choice, he’s seemed mostly immune to repercussions from social justice pushback. So far, McGregor has managed to walk the edge without ever fully falling into the abyss. It’s a dangerous game—and, after signing a new six-fight contract with UFC, one it appears he’ll continue to play and win for some time to come.

“Any top-level athlete, it’s always the same. There’s always that hint of arrogance there. … It’s hard to be humble when you’re the best,” McGregor told Bleacher Report in a 2015 interview. “It’s as simple as that. If you are surrounded by your competition and you are outworking these people, outmaneuvering these people, it’s hard not to let your confidence take over. It just builds and builds and builds.”


Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.