The Ultimate Fighting Championship closes out its 2015 pay-per-view campaign with a doozy, as UFC 194 features two of the most anticipated title fights of the year on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Longtime featherweight champion Jose Aldo meets Conor McGregor in the main event, while middleweight titleholder Chris Weidman faces Luke Rockhold in the co-headliner. The combined record of the four participants is a ridiculous 70-5.
The rest of the card features a number of other intriguing matchups, from Ronaldo Souza-Yoel Romero and Max Holloway-Jeremy Stephens to Demian Maia-Gunnar Nelson and Warlley Alves-Colby Covington.
Let us take a look at each UFC 194 “Aldo vs. McGregor” matchup in greater detail:
UFC Featherweight ChampionshipJose Aldo (25-1) vs Conor McGregor (18-2)
THE MATCHUP: Aldo is the only featherweight champion the UFC has ever known. Since the division’s induction in 2011, he has ruled not only with an iron fist but a couple of iron shins and a pair of knees, as well. His dominance extends back even further, with his last -- and only -- defeat coming in 2005, just over 10 years and 18 fights ago. Since Aldo’s domination of World Extreme Cagefighting star Urijah Faber in 2010, it has seemed that no one on earth could beat him, until now.
McGregor is not, as his many detractors would have you believe, just the loudest man to challenge for Aldo’s throne; he is almost certainly the most dangerous. A thunderous puncher, the Dubliner has sent 16 of his 20 opponents into oblivion, often with a single, precise blow. Unlike many punchers, there is real craft to the way McGregor creates and identifies his openings. The 27-year-old touts himself as a “movement specialist” and, as pointlessly intangible as that sounds, there is a mesmerizing fluidity to McGregor’s movements. Sliding effortlessly into range, he gives almost no indication of his intentions until the moment he spears a lead left straight through his opponent’s guard with flawless timing.
Aldo’s experience is the most obvious counter to this kind of devastating striking, but it is the mental war that sets apart this matchup from the rest. McGregor, brash and arrogant, has the more obvious self-belief, but Aldo’s own confidence has thus far been unmatched. McGregor is used to running over opposition, but Aldo has proven singularly unbreakable. In fact, he had his best moments in the back-and-forth rematch with Chad Mendes shortly after being hurt. When Mendes raked Aldo’s eye in the first round, Aldo smashed him to the canvas with a left hook. When Mendes staggered him with a brutal uppercut in the third, Aldo ended his onslaught with a counter right that sent him down again. Often criticized for his lackluster fights, it seems that Aldo has a level of competitiveness that only comes out when he is pushed to the edge.
Likely as a result of his knockout power, McGregor has drifted away from the slick, forward-moving counterpuncher he used to be and developed into a far more aggressive stylist, throwing upwards of 50 punches per round. These numbers held up even when McGregor was held on his back for minutes at a time by Mendes; he simply resumed attacking the moment he regained his footing, upping his work rate as if in defiance of Mendes’ takedown threat.
Still, Aldo is the more dynamic fighter. No matter how much McGregor prizes his unique brand of movement, Aldo has tighter, more consistent footwork, which he uses to set up counterpunches and kicks. Aldo’s kicks are legendary for their power, but it is the deftness with which he sets them up with punches and feints that really stands out. Aldo is a superior defensive wrestler and, when the mood takes him, a very capable offensive wrestler, as well, though he has rarely been put in the position to shoot for takedowns. Aldo’s positional grappling is sublime, particularly in the way that he applies his striking sensibilities to wrestling and grappling exchanges, never clinging to one position or angle longer than necessary and always looking to stay one step ahead of his opponent.
THE ODDS: McGregor (-127), Aldo (+107)
THE PICK: There are layers and layers of possibilities to this fight, the technical details only heightened by the personalities of the combatants. Aldo is the more variable and in many ways the more technical striker, but McGregor is by far the harder hitter and possesses enough determination to beat a concrete wall into submission. He is nowhere near as skilled as Aldo defensively, but his willingness to eat punches means he will not have to avoid Aldo’s counters to land shots of his own. Still, there are too many avenues for Aldo to take in this fight. Should McGregor pressure him, Aldo can pivot, counter and escape. Should McGregor step backward, Aldo can chop away at his legs. Should McGregor get the better of the striking, Aldo can put him on his back and slice through his guard with ease. McGregor is a great featherweight, but Aldo is the greatest of all-time. He unifies the title with a fourth-round submission.
Next Fight » Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold