Saturday, Dec. 12
MGM Grand Garden Arena | Las Vegas
You might not be “Mystic Mac,” but I hope you could have predicted this thing.
Conor McGregor ran roughshod over showcase opponent Dennis Siver on Jan. 18 in Boston, knocking him out in just under seven minutes before diving into the crowd and screaming like a wild-eyed lunatic in the face of Jose Aldo. For the almost 11 months that followed, the MMA world watched countless fights right in front of its face, all while keeping its gaze fixed on the horizon for Aldo-McGregor. When a rib injury nixed Aldo from their slated UFC 189 headliner in July, McGregor responded in kind by stopping former two-time title challenger Chad Mendes in Aldo’s stead, intensifying the Aldo-McGregor hype to an unprecedented degree, especially for a sub-welterweight fight.
After all that -- the world press tour, the trash talk, the rib injury, the most dramatic and expensive MMA prefight build-up we have ever seen -- we finally witnessed the biggest 145-pound fight in this sport’s history and Sherdog.com’s 2015 “Knockout of the Year.” All 13 seconds of it.
At UFC 194, McGregor needed one left hand and less than a quarter of a minute to knock out the greatest featherweight of all-time and one of the 10 greatest MMA fighters to live, ending Aldo’s 10-year unbeaten streak and six-year reign over the division. No legendary champion in this sport’s history has ever been dethroned and deposed in such an inglorious, summary fashion -- not Matt Hughes being humiliated by Georges St. Pierre in their rematch, not Fedor Emelianenko getting suckered straight into Fabricio Werdum’s triangle choke, not Anderson Silva clowning himself face first into Chris Weidman’s left hand.
The fact that McGregor knocked out the historically iron-chinned Aldo at all is an outrageous accomplishment in itself. That Aldo did not even make it out of the first exchange is something else entirely. We are talking about Aldo, one of the most technically and defensively savvy fighters to ever enter a cage. It was as if one of the greatest swordsmen in all the land tripped, fell on his sword and died while heading into battle. What are the odds?
No matter how many Aldo fans or McGregor detractors wail to such effect, to call the Irishman’s handiwork a fluke is downright ignorant.
Go take a look at McGregor’s April 2011 bout with Paddy Doherty at Immortal Fighting Championship 4. Doherty leads with a right hand, the “Notorious” one sidesteps and crushes him with a left hook; he even gets in the same coffin-nail hammerfists to seal it. The whole thing takes literally four seconds.
Then have a peek at McGregor winning the vacant Cage Warriors Fighting Championship lightweight title against Ivan Buchinger in December 2012: Hurt from a McGregor knee, Buchinger tries to fire back, feints a jab and looks to unload a right hand, only to get cut off and crushed by the Irishman’s left hand. Same weapon, multiple victims. He did not knock them out with it, but Marcus Brimage and to a lesser degree Dustin Poirier were rocked by this same sequence, as well.
Speaking of Poirier, when McGregor knocked him out in his first Las Vegas appearance, we could never have imagined the surreal accuracy of McGregor proclaiming “I don’t just knock them out, I pick the round.” Days before he took the featherweight crown, McGregor announced free cover to his after-party at Foxtail Nightclub to any patron who had a betting slip to show they threw coin on him to win by first-round knockout. During the UFC 194 media day, he even said he had seen Aldo’s right hand trembling during their staredowns, and that he expected the Brazilian to swing, miss and get starched.
Now here we are, with a featherweight division ruled by a sharp-dressed soothsayer, cartwheeling and bear crawling his way through “movement” workouts while trainer Ido Portal accosts him with a broomstick. He philosophizes that “talent doesn’t exist and all humans are equal in potential,” telling Floyd Mayweather Jr. he was going to be the new king of Las Vegas, all while attributing his otherworldly success to the law of attraction, which most certainly is not a law. McGregor portrays himself as the most preposterous charlatan in a sport full of them on every level, and yet somehow, he manages to be the most candid and prescient of them. As big as his brass ones appear to be, McGregor’s crystal ball is most impressive of all.
One of the conceptual selling points of this sport is that it is akin to “real pro wrestling,” so if you somehow find the predetermined and choreographed nature of wrasslin’ to be unappealing or childish, MMA can offer you a more legitimate sport and violent drama. McGregor’s posturing and braggadocio, the “Mystic Mac” persona and all that goes with it, are so sensational that they seem to profoundly substantiate the “real pro wrestling” idea.
In kayfabe actuality, McGregor’s title capture would be a terrible pro wrestling gimmick: A really talented athlete pretends talent does not exist and publicly ascribes all of his success to snake oil and hocus pocus while simultaneously accurately predicting how he will dispatch his foes with startling clarity? If he is psychic and can tell us how he is going to win, why would we ever watch? Not to mention, if a McGregor-type won the World Wrestling Entertainment world title by hitting his finisher in 13 seconds to pin a long-reigning world champion in the main event at “WrestleMania,” the wrestling community would have a collective existential meltdown.
No, McGregor -- and more specifically his conquest of Aldo -- does not represent the “real pro wrestling” at all. McGregor’s shtick as a pro-wresting gimmick is melodramatic, hokey and juvenile; in the kayfabe world, psychics can exist, so of course a great athlete would be able accurately call his shot before every big match. However, MMA happens in the real world, where the competitive difficulty and volatility of almost unrestricted hand-to-hand combat should preclude athletes from consistently predicting the outcomes of their own fights, especially with startling detail and especially against hall-of-fame fighters.
McGregor knocking Aldo flat on his face in 13 seconds only fascinates and compels us in the real world, the nasty and brutish one we actually inhabit. We live in a world where a challenger’s pre-fight trash talk and bluster is not consequentially bound to a script and predetermined outcome, where losing is both an ever-present threat and the actual measure of your worth, where embarrassing parts of your backstory cannot get retconned. In this world, fallen champions do not necessarily die with dignity; the grand finale might not be a spirited swordfight but rather the king being stabbed in the throat as he sits on his throne. There is no promoter or scriptwriter that can make sure their character “stays strong” or “maintains their heat” with a well-written vignette.
When unbelievable events unfold, people often say, “You couldn’t write this” or “You can’t make this stuff up!” In the case of McGregor and Aldo, you would not want to write this narrative. The two principle characters finally meet, as the young hotshot kills the old lion in a shockingly abrupt climax and then inspires his toxically inebriated countrymen to take over an entire casino and several city blocks with drunken, singing revelry? McGregor clobbering Aldo was a promotional wet dream made real for Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. Yet even if they were able to carefully plan and script Aldo-McGregor to their tastes, I doubt it would have been a 13-second one-hitter quitter.
Eleven months spent waiting for 13 seconds, all for a legendary king to get thrown into a pauper’s grave; it is not just bad fiction but downright silly. However, this is not a storybook and it is not pro wrestling. If there are any cosmic forces governing MMA, they are spiteful and indifferent. This is the real world, where cruel, senseless and violent things happen. McGregor does not just predict these things. He does these things.
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