Who wins the Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor main event at UFC 194, and how?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A division gets cleaned out by a champion so dominant, it runs out of legitimate challengers and the promotion has to manufacture one behind inflated records and undeserved hype. We recently saw this when Bethe Correia was thrust into a slaughtering with then champ Ronda Rousey behind a big mouth and victories against no one of consequence. While the general public may have bought into Correia as a real threat to the champ, those in the know saw it for what it was.
When Conor McGregor burst onto the scene in 2013, he was a relative unknown outside of his native Ireland, and was so broke he was collecting welfare. A relatively tattoo-free McGregor knocked Marcus Brimage out in under a round, and has never looked back. His exciting fighting style and over-sized personality caused the UFC to promote him so hard it often felt like they were forcing him down our collective throats. The talk of a potential title shot for the Irishman emerged waaaaaaaaay too quickly in his UFC career.
Many expected McGregor to be a flash in the pan, with his hype to be soon exposed as only that when he ran into top tier competition. Indeed, it did seem that the UFC was trying to protect McGregor, handpicking opponents who posed little danger in exposing any holes in an unknown ground game and ones that would also allow McGregor to put on a show on his feet. McGregor not only passed every challenge, he did so with flying colors, sending each opponent to the canvas in exciting fashion. The hype train didn’t derail. If anything, it picked up speed, and a TKO over perennial contender Chad Mendes for an interim title legitimized him as an elite fighter at 145 pounds.
How popular, hyped, and relevant is McGregor at this point? It’s only into the fourth paragraph of this that Jose Aldo is even getting mentioned. You know, the guy that hasn’t lost in ten years. The fighter that’s won 18 straight fights. The champion that some think is the greatest pound for pound fighter currently alive. Yeah, that guy. Thoughts of Aldo are often lost in the swirl of all things McGregor.
The truth is, Aldo benefits greatly from the attention McGregor is bringing. He stands to make his biggest payday by far in his MMA career. More people know who he is now than ever, although he still tends to be “the other guy” in the upcoming fight. Aldo’s talent has long gone under appreciated, and while his run in the UFC hasn’t been quite as awe-inspiring as his time in the WEC, he’s beaten everyone put in front of him, and usually convincingly.
Aldo is violence personified. Already a large featherweight, his powerful leg kicks further allow him to dictate distance and throw his opponents well off their offensive game. Aldo employs a variety of knees and punches well, able to generate power with numerous strikes at all times. Someone asked me once who the last person I’d want to step into the Octagon with would be. Aldo was right at the top of the list due to fear of not being able to walk again after getting hell kicked out of my legs. Even when he’s not throwing them, the thought that a cripple shot to the lower appendages keeps a fighter from getting comfortable. He’s nearly impossible to take down, although that doesn’t figure to factor much in Saturday night’s fight.
If Aldo is a large featherweight, McGregor is downright enormous. It’s hardly a stretch to think he could move into the lightweight division. He’s first and foremost a striker, with his most effective weapon being the straight left jab. He punches with pinpoint accuracy, and almost inconceivably packs enough power in his straight punch to put his opposition on the floor. McGregor mixes his strikes up well and is able to attack from a variety of odd angles. He’s only gone the distance in one of his 18 wins, giving him a ridiculous finish rate.
It will be interesting to see if Aldo tries to utilize a jiu-jitsu game that we never see anymore. It seems unlikely. While McGregor does have a reach advantage, Aldo can negate a lot of that with his kicks. McGregor is pretty quick getting in and out though, and he’d be wise not to test his chin anymore than he has to. This fight has the potential to be a standout striking affair, with two fighters who are among the best in the world on their feet.
While McGregor may have been forced upon us at first, he’s proven he belongs in this fight. If he were to unify the titles, it wouldn’t be the first time an opponent who was seemingly created just so the champ had someone to fight did the unthinkable. Chris Weidman, who will be defending his title in the co-main event, was only nine fights into his career when he took down the greatest of all time in Anderson Silva. His signature victory at the time was Mark Munoz, and no one gave him a chance to take the title. While Bethe Correia may not have been able to look competitive against Rousey, another challenger that seemed to be forced on us shocked the world when Holly Holm knocked Rousey out with a kick most will never forget.
It’s hard to pick against one of the best in the world. It’s stupid to pick against Aldo. Picking against Aldo makes you scared you’ve been duped, that you’ve drank the Kool Aid and been blinded by the hype. But that’s what I’m doing here. Everyone gets beat. Silva. Rousey. Georges St-Pierre. Aldo goes down in the third round and the featherweight division continues to be one of the most relevant in the UFC.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I have to go with Aldo here. He hasn’t lost in 10 years, that’s not supposed to happen. McGregor showed with his win over Chad Mendes that he’s for real, but Aldo is perhaps the best fighter in the world. McGregor could be better than he’s ever been and still lose. Aldo is an extremely rare fighter, and I don’t think that McGregor will beat him. I think there’s only 3 things that can beat Aldo. Time, injuries, and Aldo himself. Aldo is still young, he’s apparently injury-free, and I think he wants to beat McGregor so badly that he won’t allow himself to make any mistakes. I don’t think there’s anymore pressure on Aldo in this fight than in any of his other fights. All the pressure in this fight is on McGregor. That’s how he wants it, though, as it seems to bring out the best in him. I don’t think that will be quite enough, though.
I think the fight plays out as an incredibly close decision, and one that Aldo wins. I think it’ll be a controversial decision in the eyes of some. I think this fight plays out like Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jon Jones fight did. I think there will be a fair amount of people who think McGregor won, and there will be clamor for an immediate rematch. Something tells me the UFC will be fine with that.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
DAN MOORE, MMATORCH UK COLUMNIST
I haven’t stayed up to watch a live UFC event in over six-months but I’ll be watching this fight in the one true time zone early Sunday morning. This fight is the icing on the cake of what looks like a phenomenal main card. It’s been a while since I was this excited for a UFC event so fingers crossed it lives up to expectation and beyond. Hype for this fight reached its plateau long before UFC 189 yet it’s still considerably higher than any other fight we’re still to see.
In terms of who I think is going to win, I’m struggling to come up with a decisive pick. McGregor proved his doubters wrong in the summer, but Jose Aldo is Jose Aldo. Key for me is McGregor not taking too much damage from Aldo’s relentless body and leg kicks. His stance is traditionally wide ranging and easy to counter-strike which is music to the ears of someone like Aldo. If McGregor fights with tactical nous he’s got a great chance. If he allows himself to get caught up in the heat of battle, Aldo is going to walk right through him. I predict McGregor will take the sensible option of the two to win via TKO in round three after surviving a big scare.