In the latest edition of Truth or Trash?, we put former champion Conor McGregor’s argument to being an all-time pound-for-pound great under the microscope.
Earlier this week, we delved into the commonly held notion that Khabib Nurmagomedov’s record is puffed and padded and with UFC 229 fast approaching, this time around we’re going to turn our attention to his opponent, Conor McGregor.
Strong emotions lie on both sides of the Conor McGregor debate – emotions that bring about the type of mindlessness that can make participating in this sport’s community a chore at times.
I think Conor was summed up well by Joe Rogan in the past. His persona is built on the notion that he is the greatest mixed martial artist to ever do it and for a lot of people, he is held to different standards and marked under different criteria to most fighters.
He brings this on himself to a certain extent, don’t get me wrong, but based on his achievements to date, is it fair to say that he stands among the pound-for-pound greats of this sport?
Such an honour is subjective – to a point.
I think it’s also important to make the note that there’s a distinction to be made between legends and all-time greats.
There are a lot of people who would call the likes of Diego Sanchez, Mark Hunt, and Chris Leben ‘legends’ because of their style and their involvement in some of the most memorable fights the sport has ever known.
And these legends deserve every bit of praise they get and believe me, McGregor is going to go down as the most legendary of them all but in the case of this piece, we’re talking about his status as an all-time great – something that does not take into account how exciting you are to watch, your personality, fame, and several of the other factors that have caused some of our favourites to live long in the memory.
With UFC 229 now just a matter of days away, we’re going to take a moment to reflect on Conor’s career to date and attempt to take a balanced view on what he has been able to accomplish and how he stacks up against some of those who are undoubtedly in that G.O.A.T conversation.
So what are the factors that go into considering someone an all-time great? And how exclusive is that bracket?
Obviously, talent and skill are two of the big ones.
Guys like Royce Gracie, Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, and Georges St-Pierre were able to display incredible grappling ability – the type of ability that redefined the manner in which fighters utilised their skills up close and personal, helping to evolve the sport as it progressed into the modern era.
But on the merits of talent and ability does that mean the likes of Demian Maia, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza and Khabib Nurmagomedov have earned their status as all-time greats?
If we go a step further down the ladder do we have to include slick practitioners like Brian Ortega, Ryan Hall, or Manny Bermudez in there?
The level of skill you bring into the octagon does certainly have a bearing on your status in this conversation but talent clearly has to be backed up by results that illustrate those talents.
In the case of Conor, there’s not much else he could have done to date (bar KO’ing Nate Diaz) that could serve to making his striking appear deadlier than it already does.
Only Diaz and Max Holloway have managed to survive being finished and it’s important to remember that the Irishman was forced to take a grappling-heavy approach when facing Holloway due to a mid-fight ACL tear.
He could well be the greatest and most devastating counter-puncher the sport has ever known and whether you love him or loath him – the results speak for themselves.
What sets Conor apart from the likes of Demian Maia is his ability to impose his game on his opponent. As we saw with Maia at both UFC 214 and UFC Sao Paulo, facing Tyron Woodley and then Colby Covington, when he wasn’t able to control the flow of the fight he looked very ordinary.
This has been the case during his run at 185lb also.
So while talent and skill are important, the ability to impose your will is what separates the GSP’s from the Maia’s.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is a man who fits that mould, though, but when you think about it, it’s far too early to consider him an all-time great – even if he has the talent, skill, and ability to impose his will to make him a seemingly viable candidate.
It’s clear that there are more factors in play.
So we turn to records and championship successes.
This one can be a funny one. Records are incredibly misleading as we all know.
If you showed a newcomer to the sport the records held by Dan Henderson, Randy Couture, or BJ Penn and told said newcomer that these guys were considered within that ‘all-time great’ discussion, you’d likely confuse them.
But none of us will deny of those guys their place on the pantheon of the greats.
Conor McGregor’s record of 21-3 is lot easier on the eyes than the ones possessed by the fighters mentioned above and with wins over José Aldo, Eddie Alvarez, Nate Diaz, Chad Mendes, Dustin Poirier, and Max Holloway he brings to the table a stronger resumé than the aforementioned Nurmagomedov.
Championship successes cannot be understated here and as the promotion’s first dual-weight world champion – he will forever hold one of the sport’s most prestigious records.
But as great as Henderson, Couture and Penn are, they aren’t in that G.O.A.T discussion because of the absence of one crucial ingredient.
Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, José Aldo, Jon Jones, and even Daniel Cormier and Demetrious Johnson to a certain extent. The thing that sets them apart is longevity and dominance.
Most would take three out of those six names as their own personal top-three to ever do it and if that is indeed the criteria necessary to cross the barrier and become known as an ‘all-time great’, it’s clear that McGregor has some work to do.
But his story is far from over.
To be included in the exclusive club that contains the likes of GSP, Aldo, Jones and more, I think that all of these factors need to be fulfilled to some degree.
Ability To Impose Your Will Inside The Octagon
Record/Depth Of Resumé
A short-notice loss to Nate Diaz isn’t enough in my view to put any sort of blemish on his career overall but all things considered, it wouldn’t be fair to place Conor amongst the all-time greats just yet.
I’m not saying he won’t reach that level, in fact, I believe that he has a better chance than most.
For now, though, the distinction between recognising his undoubted status as a legend and making his argument for G.O.A.T honours is an important one.
He’s just not quite there yet.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena