It’s crazy how one massive win can change everything. Just prior to his UFC 205 win over Eddie Alvarez UFC dual-weight champion Conor McGregor was still wrestling with his naysayers, in need of a performance of the calibre of his most recent one to prove his mettle to his detractors.
Sure enough, Conor did exactly what he has done on several occasions in the past and defied expectations by completely obliterating his opponent. Alvarez was dispatched early in the second round, and for many this performance signalled a shift in the conversation surrounding McGregor.
Now the Dubliner’s abilities have been elevated – in the minds of many – to that elusive next level, into the realms of the discussion reserved for the true greats of the sport. Whether McGregor lives up to that benchmark in the long-term remains to be seen, but in truth it is getting harder and harder to deny the high level abilities that the Notorious Irishman possesses.
One man whose tune has changed somewhat in recent times is famed coach Mark Henry, who, having prepared for Conor as a key member of Alvarez’s team, has more cause than any to put McGregor’s skills into perspective.
Speaking to the Daily Star, Henry spoke of his views on the Crumlin native’s path to greatness and what he must do to establish himself as an all-time great.
“I’d say he’d be the greatest if he beat Frankie and Khabib. Then I’d put him as the greatest. But until he does that, I still think he’s one of the greats.
“He’s never defended the featherweight title. He says he’s cleaned out the division, but until you fight Frankie, you haven’t cleaned it out.”
Frankie Edgar recently bounced back from a one-sided interim title loss to Jose Aldo by defeating Jeremy Stephens at UFC 205, and in Henry’s view the former lightweight champ is still someone who Conor will need to defeat to achieve his goals.
“If he fought Frankie he’d be able to say that as he’s already fought Holloway, he’s already fought Aldo and he’s already fought Mendes.
“But he’s never fought Frankie. I think Frankie has been a staple as one of the best fighters ever. And he’s definitely a staple at 145lbs.
“It doesn’t matter that he beat Aldo and Frankie didn’t because you could say, ‘whoever beat Nate Diaz can beat McGregor’ and that’s not true. That’s just stupid even saying that.”
With the future of the legendary Aldo currently about as unclear as McGregor’s future at featherweight, Henry went on to suggest that – if McGregor does indeed stay at lightweight – there are more than enough tantilising bouts to keep himself, and the fans interested in the coming years.
“I’d love to see him fight Frankie, I’d love to see him fight Khabib, and I’d love to see him fight Edson Barboza and Ferguson.
“If he did well against those guys I’d definitely say he’s one of the best ever. But he’s still kind of young in his career.”
An interesting change of tone from the man who had once slammed the skills of the double champ, but indeed his grounded views on McGregor’s talents make for interesting reading, especially when they come from a man with as much top level experience as Henry.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena