Less than a month ago, UFC fans were witnesses to the biggest upset in the young sports history as Holly Holm defeated the then seemingly unbeatable Ronda Rousey.
Fast forward to Dec. 12 and the UFC is back on pay-per view with several of mixed martial arts biggest stars and biggest national fan bases.
The pride of Ireland Connor McGregor returns to the octagon to face Brazilian Jose Aldo in a title fight to prove who the undisputed best at 145lbs is. The fight was originally supposed to take place July 1 at UFC 189, but was put on hold when a rib injury forced Aldo to pull out on June 23.
With only two weeks until a major PPV, UFC President Dana White scrambled to find an opponent for McGregor. The last thing White wanted to do was pull McGregor off the card after a convergence of prideful Irish fans purchased tickets and travelled from Ireland to Las Vegas. On short rest and without a full training camp, Chad Mendes agreed to fight the charismatic, trash talking and power punching McGregor.
Mendes forced McGregor to the ground with his superior grappling skills, doing enough to earn the round on the judges’ scorecards. White, sitting cage side sat potentially terrified that his golden goose McGregor may lose and prevent any future Aldo-McGregor fight. A loss by McGregor could have cost the UFC tens of millions of dollars. A victory by Mendes would set up a trilogy fight between himself and Aldo. A fight that would do poorly on pay-per view in comparison to the potential million plus buys that UFC 194 is expected to do.
The second round followed a similar script to the first. As the second round inched closer to conclusion, Mendes had again taken McGregor down and was on his way to winning the second round. As Mendes made an attempt at ending the fight with a submission, McGregor was able to escape. As soon as McGregor got to his feet, he land a thunderous blow to the head of Mendes, followed by several other big punches. The referee ran in, waived his hands and awarded the victory to McGregor by knockout. A sense of joy and relief entered the mind of White, as he wrapped the interim Featherweight title around the waist of McGregor. It was at that moment, White knew his organization was guaranteed a multimillion dollar payoff at UFC 194.
In the lead up to the first fight, McGregor took every opportunity he could to become the centre of attention. Wearing expensive suits and aviator sunglasses, McGregor is a heat generating machine, in the model of pro wrestler Rick Flair. Like Flair, McGregor believes he is the best there is and will look into every camera and tell you so, if you like it or not.
In the promotion leading up to both pay-per views, McGregor’s garnered excessive attention for his sound bites and camera stealing antics. None of McGregor’s antics garnered bigger eyeballs than when he stole the title belt from Aldo and raised it above his head. In front of a pro-McGregor crowd, he received an enormous cheer. The events provided a complete contrast to the prior week in Brazil, when he was booed relentlessly.
In the press conference to promote UFC 194, McGregor’s comments garnered a seven-minute YouTube video produced by the UFC. One of McGregor’s comments made mention of how happy he believed Aldo’s girlfriend must be to know that Aldo is hitting the jackpot by fighting McGregor. McGregor proclaimed himself the biggest box office draw in the sport and a multimillion dollar paycheck to anyone who fights him.
As hard as Aldo tries to no-sell all of McGregor’s antics, it is easy to see that he has become agitated by McGregor. Aldo has not lost a fight since November 2005, when he stepped up in weight to lightweight. As a featherweight, Aldo has never lost. However with McGregor’s work on the mic, Aldo has lost his cool on multiple occasions. There may be nothing Aldo hates more than being forced to sit there and listen to McGregor run his mouth. When the fight finally arrives, there will be a sense of relief for Aldo. At that point, Aldo will finally be able to get his hands on McGregor and leave him speechless.
There may not be two people in sports who dislike each other as much as Aldo and McGregor. Aldo can’t wait to execute his technical advantage on McGregor. However, it is McGregor that possess the great equalizer. McGregor undergoes one of the biggest weight cuts prior to his fights to make the featherweight limit. After weigh-ins, McGregor rehydrates and enters the octagon the bigger fighter by a large margin. The extra size of McGregor makes his power advantage even bigger. If he can land his punches, he can finish any fight.
On Dec. 12, the wait for both will be over. Both fighters have something to prove. McGregor is trying to prove he can fight as well as he can talk. Meanwhile, Aldo is trying prove his reign atop the featherweight division will continue. Both will be backed by massive fan bases that have flown in from separate continents to get to Las Vegas to support their fighter. In the Octagon, Aldo will have the edge grappling, while McGregor will be the bigger man, with superior power. By the end of the night, the winner will exit the Octagon as the undisputed Champion. In the days that follow, White will be sitting in his office counting the millions he has generated.