While this Saturday’s mammoth showdown between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor will undoubtedly see two of the most skilled martial artists in combat sports in battle, a clash of styles could see the bout be decided by will rather than skill, with one punch potentially being all the difference.
Of course, there are so many different possibilities and outcomes in mixed martial arts to ever be sure of the outcome, but the favoured techniques of both Aldo and McGregor may collide in a way that leads to a number of explosive exchanges before one man’s chin can take no more. Conversely, if they both choose to take a more cautious approach, they may cancel each other out completely, forcing them to take the fight into more uncomfortable territory.
The most dangerous and publicised weapons Aldo possesses are his dangerous leg kicks. As seen in previous fights against Urijah Faber and Kenny Florian (notably the last southpaw Aldo faced before McGregor), the power and frequency with which Aldo throws them gives him the ability to both severely detriment his opponents movement, making them a stationery target for Aldo’s constant barrage of Muay Thai strikes. It’s a strategy that hasn’t always worked to perfection, but has done enough to see him win by decision at the very least.
This threat is amplified in the case of his fight against McGregor for several reasons. Given his wide stance he uses when pressuring his opponents, it makes his inside leg the perfect target for Aldo’s infamous kicks. More importantly though is the way in which McGregor uses his own kicks as part of his offence.
Whether it be the body kicks that drained Chad Mendes in their interim title fight, or the multitude of spinning kicks he uses to constantly keep his opponents guessing his next move, McGregor’s chances of inflicting damage on Aldo would be damaged significantly if Aldo’s leg kicks managed to take The Notorious’ own kicks out of his arsenal.
However, in this case the old saying “when one door closes, another opens” very much applies. As a southpaw, Aldo’s kicks are more than likely going to give McGregor multiple openings to land the left straight that have seen Brandao, Siver and Mendes all crumble. Often McGregor will land several big shots on his opponent before this cross sends them to the canvas. Expect to see McGregor try and use his reach to distance Aldo at first, throw several kicks to disorientate him before closing the distance with the fully extended left.
However, like Aldo’s own go-to technique, this left straight will also provide openings for the champion, in particular the counter right hand. If Aldo can pressure McGregor and close the distance like Mendes was able to do on occasion and land this, he will make it a very difficult night for the interim champion.
There are also slightly more unknown factors to consider, particularly how big a role grappling will play in the bout. A black belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu, Jose Aldo definitely has the advantage on paper but has gained his reputation as a stand-up fighter. Given McGregor’s supposed disadvantage in wrestling and grappling, Aldo may fancy his chances more by avoiding McGregor’s size and power advantage on the feet by looking to take him down and work for a submission (although given he has never submitted anyone in the UFC or WEC, it’s unlikely).
Assuming Aldo and McGregor stick to their original game plans, their stylistic clashes can turn what is a multi-faceted fight into a simple case of who has the best chin. McGregor has shown throughout his six UFC fights that he can take a good punch and keep moving forward. Likewise, Aldo has also shown considerable heart and stamina throughout many of the five-round wars he’s had to go through as champion (whereas McGregor has never been outside the second round in his UFC career).
Given his size advantage and high TKO percentage, McGregor may find himself with the advantage if it turns into a stand-up contest, but Aldo has shown time and time again he is able to inflict enough damage to dominate the fight and negate his opponents’ strengths. Whether it be via crushing leg kicks or a barrage of hooks and knees, if McGregor fails to respect the champion’s striking credentials, he will pay for it.
Fans of McGregor may be used to fights ending in a matter of minutes, but if these factors are anything to be worth considering, the main event of UFC 194 is set to be a battle of epic proportions coming down to who can take the hardest punch.
Daniel O’Connor, Pundit Arena