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UFC 194 Brings Gravitas to MMA

Conor McGregor, UFC
Photo Courtesy of AP

With UFC 194 literally right around the corner, questions that have been posed and from there fiercely debated will finally be answered, to the delight of us all.

There is nothing quite like a really big MMA event to get the blood flowing and the nerves on edge. Anticipation of the event keeps us anxious and watching the clock in a constant state of both glee and dread; the fight game has always been unpredictable and investing too much of one’s self promoting any given fighter can turn disastrous if they lose.

But invested we become anyway, going all in on many occasions, no matter how much we try to restrain ourselves. This looks to be especially true for UFC 194 due to one man — Conor McGregor — and how he has inflamed the MMA masses to the point of near riot, either for or against his black flag.

McGregor has really been the only one talking in the months leading up to his bout with current champion Jose Aldo. He’s been a tireless and relentless promoter of his greatness, quick to diminish the worth of everyone else in the division. Forget that he’s brazenly proclaimed that he will KO Aldo, then move right up to lightweight and claim that belt as well; when asked if he could beat Jesus Christ in a fight, McGregor claimed he’d “whup that ass.”

It’s the kind of comment that was clearly spoon fed to McGregor, and like a true promoter, he happily took “the bait.” In doing so, he proved that he is always on the clock, which is why the UFC loves him and is rewarding him with a lot of money. It’s also why UFC 194 is probably going to be one of the biggest events the UFC has ever had.

Granted, it probably won’t break the pay-per-view numbers generated by UFC 100, but it will still be huge.

As a card, in total, it is an excellent one, giving us two title fights between four men in their primes, a likely No. 1-contender fight in the middleweight division and nine other fights that have potential to be excellent.

But when you look deeper than the numbers and how good the matchups look on paper, you see something else that emboldens this card with a kind of gravitas MMA fans have not witnessed for some time. You see a final reckoning that has been building since McGregor signed with the UFC early in 2013, when he began to assign labels to the other fighters of note in the division, well before he had proved himself.

This, of course, got everyone screaming in no time, and from that point on, McGregor has been a one man promotional army. Everything that has been associated with him gets his full and constant endorsement and everything associated against him gets the opposite.

The response has been the same among the fans; you are either for McGregor or against him and there really is no middle ground.

Those in the Irishman’s camp have been incredibly loud in their proclamations of his greatness and growing louder with each victory he secured, giving him the kind of adoration and support usually reserved for movie stars or religious figures. His detractors are legion as well, coming from all over the place, watching and waiting, watching and hoping, watching and praying for McGregor to fall hard from the mountain top.

That’s one of the reasons why McGregor and UFC 194 might do bigger numbers than anyone imagines; both sides are incredibly invested. McGregor has shown his promotional brilliance in that he never left his detractors cold; he’s always given them something new to fume about, knowing that their money and numbers are every bit as important as those of his fans.

That’s never really happened in MMA to date, at least on this level. Chael Sonnen came close and, in many ways, set up the blueprint that McGregor followed in the beginning, but in the case of the Irishman, the singer has officially outdistanced the song.

Now, with the talk finally winding down, the reckoning is at hand; McGregor will either be every bit as good as he has always said, or Aldo will be the better man, taking the gold from the Irish and leaving them cold.

The last time the stakes seemed so high and so terribly personal was, ironically enough, 100 pay-per-view events prior, when, in the lead up to UFC 94, B.J. Penn openly proclaimed he was going to try and kill Georges St-Pierre, and that he was in no way joking.

Yes, McGregor said the same thing to Aldo, during one of their face-offs in Brazil to promote UFC 189, but that was done more for the sake of promotion; when Penn said it, it seemed he meant it all the way down to his bones.

In retrospect, there are more than a few similarities to be found in both events. Both had champion vs. champion bouts that were boiling with bad blood, both enjoyed a great promotional push by the UFC (for UFC 94, Zuffa invested over one million dollars creating the “Primetime” series) and both had a great deal of national pride on the line that saw two markets willing to open their wallets for large PPV numbers.

UFC 94 sold 920,000 buys back in January of 2009, when the sport had not been introduced to larger numbers thanks to the partnership with FOX. To make a contemporary comparison, UFC 189, which sported a massive crowd for nothing more than the pre-fight weigh-in, sold 825,000 PPV buys.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zn6GMrj7QvI&index=1&list=PL0F6F29D1E7CDF68D

McGregor has been just as happy to wear the black hat in his upcoming bout with Aldo — perhaps happier than anyone to wear the black hat in the history of hats of any color — as Penn was when he gave constant air to his aim to injure and possibly kill GSP. Aldo, for his part, has been just as reserved as GSP was back in 2009; both men seeming content to let their bitter rival stir the fires.

Where UFC 194 seems to trump UFC 94 is the realization of an incredibly good card. Fans will indeed tune in to see a bad blood fight alone, but when they can also see Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Yoel Romero for top contender honors in the middleweight division, grappling aces Demian Maia and Gunnar Nelson plus eight additional bouts that include fighters like Max Holloway, Jeremy Stephens, Urijah Faber and many others, it goes from being a one-man show into a true event not-to-be-missed.

UFC 94 was a very good card, as it gave us St-Pierre defending his title against the lightweight champion in Penn, Lyoto Machida looking to secure a shot at the 205 crown, Jon Jones making his second appearance in the Octagon against fan favorite Stephan Bonnar, but UFC 194 just gives more, over all.

When you accept that the sport simply wasn’t as big back then, and there has probably never been a fanbase as rabid and devoted as the Irish are to McGregor, it is clear that this coming Saturday night is going to be magical.

And the great news for fight fans is that this is the best kind of theatre, because the blood is real. I still have a hard time deciding who I think will win between Aldo and McGregor because their styles, while rooted in striking, are both similar and different.

McGregor is an unpredictable southpaw with a wide-open style that dazzles and destroys, yet he has a severely lacking ground game and for some reason has shown little interest in leg kicks. Aldo is a very experienced fighter with a conventional stance and a Muay Thai striking base to compliment his underrated ground game yet he has never faced anyone as confident as McGregor.

Both men are very fast, accurate and explosive; McGregor will be the bigger man with the greater one-shot power, but Aldo will be the man that can take the fight to the floor if need be in order to win points and keep McGregor guessing.

Aldo vs. McGregor is so many things: confidence vs. experience, bravado vs. resolve, conventional vs. southpaw, white hat vs. black hat, Irishman vs. Brazilian and it is going to be simply epic.

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