Pariah Champions: The Price for Being the Best

Pariah Champions: The Price for Being the Best

I Did It My Way

Soh Rui Yong – pariah, or honourable champion of truth? His dispute with the Singapore National Olympic Council is well documented in various mediums and whichever side you are on, it is an unfortunate episode for Singapore’s sports scene. For a talent like Soh to be left out of the SEA games squad, it is nobody’s loss except our nation’s.

The two-time SEA Games marathon gold medallist and current national record holder is not the first athlete who marches to his own beat, and he will not be the last. Here are three talented sportsmen who didn’t adhere to the adage, “conform or die”.

Diego Maradona

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Argentine firebrand Diego Maradona is undoubtedly one of the greatest football players in history. He almost single-handedly won two Serie A titles for Napoli and the World Cup for Argentina. However, El Pibe de Oro is also notorious for his off-field behaviour.

While with Napoli, he responded to the rumours of the possibility of him being sold to French club Marseille by calling the fans as well as the press, cretins. The talented Argentine also missed training sessions as well as matches because he was suffering from “stress”.

After serving a 15-month ban from football for testing positive for cocaine, Maradona eventually signed for Spanish club Sevilla. However, he was never the same brilliant player again.

Maradona is revered in spite of his misdemeanours, proving that having a little talent can go a really long way.

Conor McGregor

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Contrary to what UFC President Dana White thinks, Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor IS the UFC. Besides, McGregor has made the organisation a lot of money, headlining four of the six biggest-selling pay-per-view events in the organisation’s history.

He’s a talented fighter for sure, but it was his mouth and abrasive behaviour that attracted a cult following and a new wave of fans to the sport. Most definitely, the UFC has changed since his emergence.

He threw water bottles at his opponent, Nick Diaz, at the UFC 202 pre-fight press conference, smashed the window of a bus that had fighters, officials and managers in April 2018 and mocked the Islamic faith in the lead-up to his fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov in UFC 229, to name just a few.

He had been slapped with fines and suspensions as a result, but life goes on swimmingly for the brash Irishman.

It is worth noting, in light of all that Macgregor had done, that British fighter Paul Daley was banned from the UFC for life after throwing a punch at his opponent, Josh Koscheck, following the bell at the end of the final round.

Then again, Daley was nowhere near McGregor’s influence and draw.

LeBron James

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There are super teams galore in the upcoming NBA season, with all-star players ditching their inflated egos and lowering salary expectations to form potentially championship-winning combinations. Gone are the days when players stick with their teams for better (Michael Jordan with the Bulls), or for worse (Charles Barkley with the 76s).

LeBron James is widely credited for setting this trend in 2010.

Back then, he most infamously ditched his beloved Cleveland Cavaliers to join fellow all-stars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade at the Miami Heat. James was inevitably labelled a villain and many commentators were talking about his lack of loyalty and him bringing disrepute to the sport. However, James stuck to his guns.

It took a couple of seasons, but the audacious move paid dividends as King James proceed to win two consecutive rings with the Heat in 2012 and 2013. Perhaps, not one to burn bridges, he returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 and even led his team to their first-ever championship in 2016.

Goes to show that if you’re gonna have an attitude in sports, you’d better be the best. And we don’t mean just in Singapore.

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