Conor McGregor’s 13-second knockout win over Jose Aldo was every bit as surreal as any of the other all-time great sports conquests. Though his face brimmed with complete joy, McGregor wasn’t at all surprised by the outcome. His mission has been clear since the very beginning. He didn’t just come to take part. He came to takeover.
Irish fans invaded the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night for what was being touted as the biggest fight in featherweight history. McGregor, the pride of Dublin, finally faced off with the only featherweight champion in UFC history — a man who hadn’t lost a fight in more than a decade.
Aldo was seen as the Alpha and the Omega of the 145-pound division, as it was hard to envision him ever losing. But McGregor’s eyes were unobstructed by the aura of invincibility Aldo had spent his entire career building. He burst onto the scene with confidence riding on such a high that it came off as brash and egotistical.
The featherweight division had grown into one of the most competitive weight classes in MMA, but McGregor wasn’t impressed by any of it. He was an unranked fighter who literally went down the line cutting down and crossing out all of the top fighters in the division.
It all seemed like abhorrent nonsense until McGregor stepped into the octagon and began putting words to action. His unusual southpaw tactics were an anomaly for opponents and a treat for fans. In his second UFC fight, a preliminary bout against Max Holloway at TD Arena in Boston, he stole the show on a fight card headlined by Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Chael Sonnen.
He then went on to sell out the O2 Arena in Dublin in his first ever UFC main event with Diego Brandao. Three fights later, he was fighting perennial featherweight contender Chad Mendes in the headliner of a blockbuster pay-per-view card that featured live performances from legendary musicians Sinead O’Connor and Aaron Lewis.
Marcus Brimage, Max Holloway, Diego Brandao, Dustin Poirier, Dennis Siver, Chad Mendes — they all fell like dominoes just as McGregor predicted, leading to a dramatic title fight with King Aldo.
UFC 194 was every bit as massive as expected, and all of it rested on the shoulders of McGregor. Staring at the sea of excited fans surrounding the octagon, it was astounding that all of it came to fruition from one man’s vision and seven fights in the UFC.
But the media hype train could have all ended with a loss to Aldo.
McGregor had talked enough trash to fill the Pacific Garbage Patch landfill. In an interview with BT Sport’s Gareth A. Davies, he vowed to knock Aldo out in the first round, an asinine prediction by most accounts:
“If [Aldo] shows up, I feel I will KO him inside one. If he makes that walk, I feel every single movement I make will get an overreaction out of him because he is emotionally invested in it. There is too much in it for him. The whole country of Brazil. It’s all piling on him. I feel [if I make a slight movement] he will react a million times. That’s how I feel the fight playing out. I see him overreacting, overextending and then being [knocked out] unconscious.”
But as always, McGregor delivered the goods in emphatic fashion.
A crushing left hand that caught Aldo reaching buckled the longtime champ and left him stiff on the canvas. McGregor followed up the punch with a couple of strong hammerfists to finish the title fight in record time.
You don’t have to be a fan of McGregor to appreciate and respect what he’s accomplished. Anyone can run their mouth, but not everyone can back up the talk.
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali told the world that he was the greatest even before he knew it was true. He was the fighter making good on boastful predictions in his rapid climb to the top of the boxing world.
McGregor still has a long way to go as champion, but he might be the best example of Ali in MMA history. He has done everything he said he was going to do.