This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s August 21 Fighting Issue. Subscribe today!
Just before Christmas, the drug dealers hanging on a north Dublin corner saw Conor McGregor’s white BMW turn down their dead-end road.
They couldn’t believe it. Sheriff Street was among the worst streets in the city, blocked off at one end, the area controlled by one of the two local gangs. The Hutch family ran this part of the north side, while the Kinahans operated mainly in the neighborhoods south of the river dividing the town. Some of the Kinahan bosses and foot soldiers lived in Crumlin, where McGregor grew up. The two gangs were in a bloody feud that had Dublin on edge and the newspapers keeping score: 10 killed by the Kinahans, two killed by the Hutches. McGregor started to slow down. The dealers stepped out into the street, blocking his escape.
A woman is telling me this story, standing in the corner store on a street that a local crime writer calls the Hutch family’s “Alamo.”
“He’s from the south side,” she explains. “He’s not from this side.”
Down the road, there’s a festival going on. An organizer there unloads crates of bottled water and, when asked, gives more details about what happened next. “I’m telling him about the night McGregor drove into Sheriff Street by accident,” he says when a woman joins him.
“Yeah,” she says.
“… and he couldn’t wait to get out,” he says.
“He took a wrong turn …,” she says.
“… in a white Beamer,” he says.
“And all the kids was running,” she says.
“All the gang was standing outside the chipper selling gear,” he says. “When he drove past the chipper, all the youngsters said, ‘Hey, McGregor!’ And when he got to the end of Sheriff Street, he realized there was no way out and he done a U-turn. And when he was doing a U-turn, three or four of ’em got out in the middle of the road. The feud was up and running.”
McGregor hit the throttle and roared down the street. Drug dealers scrambled to whatever safety they could find as he sped through the intersection. A wise move in practice for a Crumlin native, but McGregor had underestimated the mania sweeping the projects and the lower-class quarters of Dublin. The dealers didn’t want to confront him.
They all had a phone in their hands.
They wanted to take his picture.
He’s a working-class hero in a working-class city. However he’s viewed around the world — a race-baiting trash-talker, say, telling Floyd Mayweather to “dance … boy” — he is beloved in…