With the biggest featherweight fight in UFC history hurtling towards him Conor McGregor remains the coolest man in the MMA room. In a chaotic few weeks “The Notorious” has had to digest not only a change of opponent but also shoulder a momentous PR burden as, in effect, the chief promoter of the most high profile card of the year.
As Saturday’s date with fistic destiny approaches its clear that the SBGi star’s constant proclamations that “its the McGregor show” were more than simple hyperbole. The change of foe from the pound for pound champ to one of team Alpha Male’s primates has been as close to seamless as possible given the circumstances. McGregor insists that the opponent is immaterial whilst Chad Mendes is chomping at the bit to dish out some humble pie to a man he believes has insulted and disrespected him ad nauseam. Make no mistake this one is going to be must see tv for as long as it lasts...
It’s important to eliminate the elephant in the room right off the bat. Long standing featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo did not withdraw from the biggest fight of a decorated career because he was afraid. Anyone who would put credence in such a theory clearly knows little in terms of the mental fortitude to not only become a UFC champion but simultaneously rise to the apex of the pound for pound rankings. In a promotion littered with men and women of an ilk altogether different from the majority of the viewing population Aldo remains one of the most gifted exponents of mixed martial arts. As Chael Sonnen has highlighted in recent days “Scarface” is a large featherweight and the prospect of cutting considerable weight given such a painful injury so close to fight time was simply not practical. Even though the biggest payday in his glittering career beckoned Aldo knew that making his way to the cage on Saturday night was a proverbial step too far. Facing a young, hungry pretender with such an openly acknowledged weakness would be foolish, naive and could irrevocably tarnish a legacy a long time in the making.
Enter from stage left Chad “Money” Mendes. The fact that Mendes is making the walk without a moment’s hesitation speaks volumes. A veritable wrecking ball at the weight the two-time NCAA All-American holds little fear of challenging once more for UFC gold in what is essentially a win-win scenario for him. There is infinitely less expected from Mendes as there would have been from a fully prepared Aldo. The 5ft 6in powerhouse is, however making an altogether different walk than his Brazilian nemesis. It is a walk without a world tour, without facing the deafening roar of a ravenous Dublin fan-base (a gauntlet Aldo has ran) and without preparing for the biggest fight of your career with a master of mental warfare like McGregor continuously taunting and questioning you.
The effects of McGregor’s psychological prowess should not be underestimated. A case in point is Dustin Poirier. “The Diamond” is a solid, relatively accomplished fighter who’s own game looks set to flourish following his recent move up to 155lbs. Against McGregor at UFC178 however he appeared defeated before he had even entered the octagon. He simply hadn’t been exposed to the media bubble and slick sound bites that McGregor bouts entail. Whilst the methods somewhat differ the effects are not dissimilar to Mike Tyson in his prime. Not having to endure such a torrid build up may favour Mendes. Indeed if he walks around in the type of physical condition that he has boasted of this week then accepting a joust with the organisations poster boy on less than a fortnights notice may prove to be a master stroke.
In terms of the outcome of UFC189’s main event I can’t help but recall a conversation I had with SBGi head coach John Kavanagh shortly after his star pupil’s title tilt was initially announced. I had surmised that perhaps McGregor’s biggest opponent could be himself or rather more accurately the trappings that being a modern day UFC star can bring. Kavanagh was unequivocal in his response. He stated that “being the best is what makes McGregor tick, not money or adulation”. The unswerving focus that he witnessed each and every day in the gym is he believed the reason why fame and fortune won’t derail the rise of the former apprentice plumber. Kavanagh himself has been a game changer where Irish MMA is concerned and I have no reason to doubt him. McGregor appears to be meticulously prepared for this weekend’s main event. He will enjoy a significant height and reach advantage over Mendes and is an expert at controlling range. Dana White revealed this week that McGregor attempted to place a wager with White and UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitia of $3million on himself to emerge victorious via second round knock out. Whilst the promotion’s president refused the bet, McGregor’s prediction may once again prove to be unerringly accurate.Reuse content