Looking back over the 22 year history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it is hard to find a single fight that has polarized fans in the way that Jose Aldo vs Conor McGregor has. Two contrasting personalities, exciting and repulsing fans in equal measure.
On one side a brash, sharp-tongued Irishman whose fast rise to superstardom has been as much a product of his words as it has his actions inside the cage. That is no sleight on what has taken place when Conor McGregor has stepped into the octagon. His performances have been world class. His victories emphatic. That his mouth has overshadowed that brilliance says plenty about his ability to engage people with his vocal madness.
On the other stands a humble Brazilian who has scrapped his way from the regional circuit in his homeland to the UFC. The only featherweight champion the company has ever known, Jose Aldo is a vicious talent. Through 11 long years there has been no circus, only destructive striking and a refusal to ever consider defeat.
This isn’t a clash of personas, so much as a complimentation of them. The two have played off against each other in a way that no other fighters in the featherweight division could have. Perhaps no two fighters in the UFC.
McGregor has assumed the role of instigator, using his vocal wand to conjure up a tale of a broken down Brazilian, desperately clinging on to what is left of his reign at the top. He has made Aldo seem unremarkable, he has convinced his followers — of which there are many — that a win will be routine. People have believed him. This has been been Conor McGregor’s party. That he might not be the one to determine how it ends seems unthinkable. That has been Conor’s greatest lie. One that will do him a great disservice should he win.
Jose Aldo has tasted defeat only once in his career. In 2005 he fought at lightweight against Luciano Azevedo in Manaus, Brazil. Aldo was submitted in the second round and moved straight back to featherweight. A run of 18 straight wins has followed.
It has seen him win the WEC featherweight title when that strap was held up as the greatest championship in the division. WEC gold morphed into that of the UFC, as the featherweights were given the biggest platform in the sport of mixed martial arts.
The 145 pound division has been cleared out. Chad Mendes — Aldo’s closest divisional rival in the pre-McGregor era — has been beaten twice. Challengers such as Kenny Florian and Frankie Edgar have been dragged down from the division above to ensure the flow of credible contenders did not dry up.
Should Conor McGregor defeat Jose Aldo on December 12 it will be anything but routine. No matter how the fight plays out in the cage, if it is McGregor’s hand that is raised by referee John McCarthy once the bout is over, it will be one of the greatest achievements in UFC history. McGregor will have done something many world class fighters before him could not, he will have beaten an unbeatable champion.
The rise of McGregor, spearheading the faux “Rise of the Fighting Irish”, has been every bit as remarkable as Aldo’s long reign at the top of the 145 pound division. When Jose Aldo fought Mike Brown for the WEC featherweight title in 2009 we knew he was a fighter with spectacular ability. Ahead of Conor McGregor’s UFC debut less than three years ago, Tristen Critchfield wrote on Sherdog.com,
“Marcus Brimage (6-1, 3-0 UFC) vs. Conor McGregor (12-2, 0-0 UFC): Brimage earned the signature victory of his career to date at UFC 152, outpointing the highly regarded Jim Hettes in September. A Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titlist in two divisions, McGregor carries an eight-fight winning streak into his UFC debut. Brimage takes this by decision.”
That this was a prelim on an underwhelming Fuel TV show says plenty about McGregor’s status at that point. The short write-up, and matter of fact prediction that Brimage would win tells even more. McGregor took one minute and seven seconds to dismantle Brimage and earn his first UFC win.
By the time McGregor fought again — against Max Holloway in August 2013 — Critchfield spoke quite differently about the rising star,
“McGregor has generated about as much hype and excitement as (sic) fighter possibly can after one Octagon appearance. The Irishman was plenty impressive in sending Marcus Brimage to his first UFC defeat with a series of savage uppercuts in the opening frame at UFC on Fuel TV 9. McGregor is a flamboyant and aggressive striker, but his opponent, Holloway, also has a considerable array of weapons at his disposal, so spirited exchanges should be plentiful. McGregor wins by decision.”
This time the prediction was correct. McGregor won by decision. He has not gone the distance since. Four more times he has set foot in the octagon. Four times his opponents have been finished well within the distance. Diego Brandao, Dustin Poirier, Dennis Siver, and Chad Mendes. Only Siver and Mendes were able to make it into, but not out of, the second round.
Now we are set for the most enthralling fight the UFC have promoted in years. Both men have been remarkable inside the cage, and the aggressive overtone that has flooded how they have argued outside of it has led us to a pay-per-view that cannot fail to do a huge number by UFC standards.
Through 22 years, the UFC has only ever had one man under 170 pounds that could draw numbers on pay-per-view, B.J. Penn. It should not be forgotten either that Penn’s ability to entice fans into paying to see him fight was as much a product of what he was able to achieve at welterweight, as it was his run in the division below. Featherweights were never supposed to be able to draw, yet McGregor vs Aldo is now expected to outsell every pay-per-view since UFC 100, and that is a testament to the ability and personalities of both fighters.
There is no bold way to predict this fight. The sport’s purists see Aldo as a complete fighter who will have too much for the flamboyant striker. McGregor’s impassioned army of fans think Aldo will be lucky to make it out of round two. Given what we have seen from both men in the octagon in the past, neither outcome is unthinkable.
For what it’s worth, and lets agree that isn’t much, I see Conor McGregor stopping Jose Aldo in the third round to become the undisputed featherweight champion of the world.
If he does, lets hope the false narrative he has told in the build up to this fight is overlooked. Jose Aldo is one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever known. To defeat him will mean everything.