Conor McGregor is accustomed to dealing with critics. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
During his meteoric rise to UFC superstardom, Conor McGregor has faced one consistent criticism: That his opponents have been handpicked to showcase all of his strengths and none of his weaknesses.
Yes, it is true that despite a string of impressive victories, the “Notorious” has yet to be tested by the top wrestlers in the featherweight division. None of his first five opponents – Marcus Brimage, Max Holloway, Diego Brandao, Dustin Poirier or Dennis Siver – posed a serious takedown threat, and the brash Irishman was able to flaunt his considerable striking skills with impunity as he rose to the No. 1 contender’s spot behind a heavy push from the Las Vegas-based promotion.
That didn’t figure to change in McGregor’s title bid at UFC 189, because although Jose Aldo’s takedown and top game are underrated, the Brazilian champion makes a living punishing foes on the feet. That McGregor initially had a chance to ascend to the top of the weight class without facing at least one pedigreed wrestler seemed to irk many in the MMA community, not the least of which included a number of contenders who made their name on collegiate wrestling mats.
All it took was an errant kick for McGregor’s fate to change. Aldo suffered a broken rib in sparring and eventually had to withdraw from the UFC 189 headliner. Fortunately, the promotion had a pretty good back-up plan in place, as Chad Mendes was tabbed to face McGregor in an interim featherweight title tilt.
Mendes, a two-time NCAA All-American at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, has exactly the type of credentials that of McGregor’s previous foes have been lacking. The funny thing is, McGregor doesn’t sound like a guy who spent his entire UFC tenure trying to avoid dominant grapplers. In fact, the Dublin native seems to relish the opportunity to quiet the naysayers come July 11. Doing so only figures to benefit McGregor’s bottom line.
“This is part of the business. People want questions answered,” McGregor said during a recent conference call. “That’s what makes money. People are interested to see. I’m happy that people have questions. If they didn’t have these questions, it wouldn’t generate as much interest. It’s part of the game, and I’m OK with it.”
He added: “I am very confident that if we exchange in any grappling sequence I have the ability to dominate him.”
While Mendes is capable of landing takedowns in bunches -- he has landed five or more on four different occasions during his UFC/WEC career -- his knockout power has become more prevalent in recent years. In his last outing, “Money” dispatched ex-title challenger Ricardo Lamas via technical knockout in less than three minutes at UFC Fight Night in Fairfax, Va. Of Mendes’ last six Octagon triumphs, five have come via KO or TKO.
Still, McGregor views his short-notice opponent with relative disdain.
I think Chad is the substitute, the B level. I think he’s a wrestler with an overhand that gasses,” McGregor said. “I think his body weight to his height -- his body is in disproportion. I think that’s why he gasses. That’s why when I’m pressing him in these exchanges and these scrambles, his body is going to be screaming for oxygen and I’m going to be still there in his face cracking him with everything I have-- the heel, the knee, the elbow, the fist.
“Eventually, he will give like they all do.”
While Mendes-McGregor can’t match Aldo-McGregor in terms of hype and prestige, the Irish star believes that his presence is the driving force behind ticket sales and pay-per-view buys. In the “McGregor Show,” adversaries are interchangeable; as long as the protagonist remains the same, interest will not wane.
“This is prizefighting; it’s about the money,” McGregor said. “But I feel this is the ‘McGregor Show.’ People are showing up to see me. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Jose or Chad. It would’ve been nice if Jose didn’t p---y out, but we’ll take the substitute. We’ll take the B-level guy, and we’ll still break records with this.”
In relatively short order, McGregor has emerged as the UFC’s favorite son. Whether that means partying with Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta in Las Vegas, fulfilling a multitude of high-profile media engagements or appearing as the subject of yet another TV special, the “Notorious” Irishman is clearly the promotion’s biggest star this side of Ronda Rousey. With that status comes jealousy, bitterness and doubt.
McGregor is all too aware of the negativity, but once again, like questions about his ability to sprawl on a double-leg, it comes with the territory. If he takes out Mendes in familiar fashion, he knows skeptics will find a new focus.
“They’ll always say something to try and discredit what I am doing here. There’s always gonna be a question,” McGregor said. “Every fight there’s a question. Now it’s the wrestling question. [Next] it’s gonna be the interim question. Then when I smoke Chad, [It’s going to be] ‘He’s only had two weeks.’ There will always be something to try and discredit me, but at the end of the day, cash beats credit every day of the week.
“And that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to shut this man down, break that pay-per-view record and cash a big fat check. And f--k everybody that doubts.”