Picture this: it’s the year 2025. Harry Styles has just posted an Instagram video in which he’s thumping a boxing punchbag. He is shirtless, naturally, but wearing Reebok shorts and UFC-branded gloves.
After scratching the bag’s leather with an awkward-looking three-punch combo, he turns to the camera, his eyes bulging slightly more than his neck muscles.
He bellows: “Matt Damon. I want you in the octagon!” all said with a stony straight face.
The clip – apropos of completely nothing – goes viral. The news spreads quicker than wildfire and suddenly the fight is being endorsed by the world’s leading sports figures. Matt Damon, well into his fifties, has no idea what to make of those apples.
Sound odd? A grim glance into a dystopian future almost too comical to ever be realized? Well, it’s actually more like a glimpse at the present. A tweet on Sunday from wide-eyed pop heartthrob Justin Bieber called out 56-year-old movie legend Tom Cruise for a cage fight sanctioned by the UFC.
“I wanna challenge Tom Cruise to fight in the octagon. Tom if you don’t take this fight your scared and you will never live it down. Who is willing to put on the fight?” the ‘Baby’ singer tweeted, tagging in UFC boss Dana White, without any sign of irony.
If that wasn’t outlandish enough, Conor McGregor then quoted the now-viral post, and offered to personally host the bout, bringing legitimacy to the fight and oddly discrediting his own name at the same time.
The Irishman responded: “If Tom Cruise is man enough to accept this challenge, McGregor Sports and Entertainment will host the bout. Does Cruise have the sprouts to fight, like he does in the movies? Stay tuned to find out!”
Cruise, star of legendary 80s action drama Top Gun and the Mission Impossible film franchise, is yet to make a comment.
The Notorious then turned his attention to Cruise’s fellow Hollywood actor and former rapper Mark Wahlberg, offering to fight The Departed star on the same prospective card as the Bieber bout for his UFC shares. McGregor has earlier demanded part control of the UFC, something he believes he is entitled to as a reward for becoming the ‘face’ of the promotion.
McGrgeor proclaimed that if Wahlberg was still his hip hop alter ego ‘Marky Mark’ he would have “slapped the ears off him”and taken back his UFC shares, following up on a call out from a few months ago.
But Wahlberg isn’t ‘Marky Mark’ any more; known for his well-built physique, he carries far more credibility as an opponent, especially after having played boxing legend ‘Irish’ Micky Ward in the 2010 biopic ‘The Fighter’. Despite this, does anyone really want to see McGregor versus Wahlberg any more than they want to see Maverick from Top Gun versus the guy who sang ‘Baby’ in a cage fighting match? My guess is no.
We have become accustomed to seeing those with the most tenuous connections (in most cases only their celebrity status connects them) can invent a ‘beef’ between them that forms the basis of an essentially money-spinning fight, but that beef is becoming harder to swallow for fight fans – from those which the money is spun
For the last few years, the momentum of Conor McGrgeor’s phenomenon and meteoric rise to combat sports’ upper echelons has blurred the line between fight icon and superstar, transcending his position as the UFC’s ‘champ champ’ and opening doors to the world’s elite celebrities, socialites, politicians. He has moved in the same circles as movers or shakers from all corners of the globe from Mike Tyson to Vladimir Putin.
After a heavy loss to Russian champ Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC lightweight title in October last year, and a subsequent sharp decline in his stock and interest, the Irishman is desperately clutching at straws to remain in the limelight – and that means taking his ultra-provocative attitude to the world of pop music, Hollywood and beyond to get his fight fix.
Does this attack on the silver screen indicate McGregor has gone too far? Is he finally cracking up? Has the Dubliner’s time spent in the superstar stratosphere finally caught up with him? Each publicity stunt that stretches further from fighting and into fads and fake beef seems to suggest so.
Danny Armstrong is a British journalist based in Moscow, Russia, who has worked for RT since 2016 as a sports writer, reporter and presenter.