Conor McGregor gave the world of MMA another masterclass in the early hours of Sunday morning when he decimated Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 to become the lightweight champion.
Hi defeat of Alvarez sees McGregor stand alone in the UFC. No man or woman has ever held two division titles at the same time. BJ Penn and Randy Couture have been two-weight champions. Neither however have been so simultaneously.
Since arriving in the UFC in April of 2013, ‘The Notorious’ has created waves. He has fought ten times and in that time has record seven TKO’s, nine victories and two championship belts, three if you include the interim featherweight belt.
What McGregor has done in the sport of MMA is simply unparalleled. Fighting roughly every four months, his willingness to fight anyone, at any weight, has made him a target for fighters across three weight classes, featherweight to welterweight. No other fighter has ever been able to make such a claim.
His abilities and achievements in the octagon are comparable only to the persona he has created for himself. Loud, flamboyant, offensive, abrasive, unapologetic- all these adjectives have been used to describe McGregor. He would surely be a hated and derided figure if he wasn’t able to back up his trash talk to stunning effect in the octagon.
Following his epic battle with Nate Diaz in August, when he sought and found retribution for his sole UFC defeat back in March, it was suggested that it was time to start comparing the Irishman to Muhammad Ali. Considered premature by some and blasphemous by others, the comparison, based up the two fighters’ respective influence on their sports, was undeniable.
Post-UFC 205, it is high time the comparison is made again and this time with more conviction.
Both men changed the way fans and fighters viewed their form of combat. Ali was the godfather of trash talk. In a time of socioeconomic and racial upheaval, he was outspoken both about his abilities, his opponents, as well as the political and social landscape of the time. He transcended the boundaries of boxing and became an authoritative figure of conscience. He captured the hearts and minds of a generation, not just with his boxing record, but with his personality.
In today’s world, while society continues to face challenges, sport has become a forum less accepted as a medium to make the political and social statements of the day. Finding a comparison in that regard today is, therefore, impossible.
However, when you speak of their status within their respective sport, the parallels are striking. Both outspoken, both brash, both innovators, both divisive, both champions, both the biggest names ever to put it all on the line.
Muddying the waters between boxing and MMA is guaranteed to bring out the purists who will shout that Ali is incomparable, that McGregor is too arrogant, too brash and shows no humility. They seem to forget that Ali was only too keen to extol his own greatness, to mock and insult his opponents, to make it all about Ali.
Back then, while ‘The Greatest’, had a legion of fans, he was not without his detractors also. His self-promotion and deprecation of opponent were not to everyone’s liking.
Today McGregor faces similar criticisms. However, being the biggest name in your sport requires more than what you deliver in the ring or octagon. You must be larger than life, ruffle feathers and be controversial. Being the greatest means you back it up. ‘The Notorious’ has done just that.
We are living in a time where the UFC record book is being re-written by the Irishman. First simultaneous two-weight champion, fastest ever championship victory (Jose Aldo at UFC 194), first to actively fight across three weight classes, dominating the list of top pay-per-view events in the promotion, his has so far been a career of highlights.
Being the greatest often means being notorious. Ali was both then and McGregor is both now.
The Dubliner is nailed-on for the UFC Hall of Fame. With each fight he changes the way MMA is perceived and practiced. It has become more lucrative, more mainstream, more popular. What he has done for the sport can easily be compared to the influence Muhammad Ali had for boxing.
Like it or not, they are comparable. Rather than object by default, dare we simply accept how lucky are we to live in a time when MMA has it’s very own Ali in the form of Conor McGregor?
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena