The main event of UFC 194 was pretty spectacular, short but spectacular. I guess the only word that could be used in such cases is WOW.
Even then I think that may be underselling this crowning glory.
For months now the Aldo vs McGregor debate has split many an MMA fan. In McGregor’s favour was the power, use of range, precision and chin. In Aldo’s favour was the BJJ, the leg kicks and lets not forget the stats, such as his long reign of being a champion, not to mention being undefeated for almost 10 years. Aldo had a cult following it appeared. Many fans had simultaneously become huge Aldo fans after he was signed to fight McGregor. Possibly a coincidence, but I’d like to think it’s simply because fans thought he may be the guy to shut the brash Irishman up. Something similar happened in late June too when Mendes was handed another title opportunity. McGregor is that guy though. He can polarise the whole fan base of a sport, to the point where if you aren’t a fan, you are usually a large and rather vocal detractor.
Going into the fight the majority of the debates revolved around Aldo’s kicking game, McGregors stance, Aldo’s unbeaten streak and even the occasional “he didn’t deserve the opportunity” drivel. At this point -and even before the Mendes fight- that was a flawed argument given that McGregor had beat more higher ranked guys to earn his opportunity than multiple time challenger Chad Mendes. Nevertheless some of these debates were of merit. Aldo does have a great kicking game, he was undefeated for 10 years and he had more experience fighting at the top. It’s very much a double edged sword though. Aldo had mileage on his body, he has been injury riddled, he had looked to be slowing down and he was becoming far more porous defensively than he was a few years ago. It was noticeable in the second Mendes fight. A guy with a very short reach was able to hit Aldo and even drop him when fighting at mid range or on the outside.
That Aldo, the one who fights aggressively and proactively, overextends and doesn’t fight in his desired boxing range is a very beatable prospect. Certainly to the right opponent.
Aldo had showed tendencies in his striking which could be taken advantage of. Ones which were ultimately exploited by Conor.
No doubt John Kavanagh had noticed these habits while watching tape on Aldo. To me they seemed prevalent. I’d imagine Kavanagh instructed McGregor to bait Aldo -something which he had also been doing vocally in the build up- , make him lead, overextend and counter with a power punch. I am just guessing sadly, but I feel this is a believable thought. It was a solid game plan for one of the sports best knockout artists.
Conor played his role perfectly when the fight came. He looked relaxed, confident and jovial as Bruce Buffer announced the fighters names. Aldo, for as much as he said the words didn’t effect him, seemed off. Pressure seemed to be at the forefront of his mind. I have no way of actually knowing what Aldo was thinking in those moments prior to the round starting, but whatever it was, could it have made him come out over aggressive?
Aldo generally starts well, but he also fights predominantly as a counter striker when boxing. Him taking the lead in this fight was his eventual undoing. It’s crazy too given that the McGregor we have seen recently has been the fighter who applies pressure and attacks first, as opposed to the counter striker we saw in his UFC debut fight with Marcus Brimage. Thats the beauty of McGregor and his supremely precise striking. He can fight whichever way he is moving. Allow him to pressure you and he overwhelms, take the lead and he counters superbly.
Another point to address is McGregor’s power at featherweight. It’s unrivalled. Even Jeremy Stephens can’t hold a flame to the power in McGregor’s hands. Which really is a testament to how hard he hits.
The evolution we have seen in McGregor’s striking is truly magical. His timing, precision, power, use of range, pressure, counter striking and shot selection have been second to none. To dismantle a fighter of Aldo’s quality and striking ability it has to be. He showed the world he deserves to be in the position he is in. He got there on merit.
Hopefully we see the McGregor naysayers become a little more humble -something which eluded Aldo in the post fight interview- and accepting of McGregor. The guy is truly legit and I look forward to what he will bring the sport in the future.
It really is a great time to be a fan of Conor McGregor.
Photo credit: Getty Images, mmanews.com, BBC.com