With Conor McGregor now set to make his pro-boxing debut this weekend against the legendary Floyd Mayweather, the time is perfect to take a look at his three definitive performances as he attempts to achieve the impossible on Saturday night
Meteoric. Unprecedented. Compelling. These are just some of the many words used to describe the truly phenomenal rise of the ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor. From his UFC debut on the undercard of a UFC on Fuel TV event in Sweden all the through to his historical masterclass at UFC 205’s sold out Madison Square Garden, McGregor’s every move has been near-unmissable and whether you align with those who love him or detract from his achievements at every turn, he has already solidified himself among the Anderson Silvas, the Royce Gracies and the Georges St-Pierres of this sport.
In other words, Conor McGregor is simply unforgettable.
So with him now attempting to replicate his extensive success in MMA inside the boxing ring in what could well be the most high-profile combat sports event of all time, the time is perfect to take a closer look at his three definitive performances and marvel at the often-ridiculous things he has been able to achieve inside the octagon.
Conor McGregor vs José Aldo at UFC 194, December 12th, 2015
This one was the one that was supposed to catch the brash and outspoken Irishman out. He had defeated some relatively big names at this stage but in José Aldo, he was set to meet a man who was considered to be all but unstoppable at 145lb.
Aldo’s reign atop the WEC and later UFC featherweight divisions maintained him as one of the world’s top-5 pound-for-pound fighters for quite some time. His unbreakable takedown defence, brutal muay-thai and genuinely frightening leg-kicks were only surpassed by his genius fight IQ and with the heads of Chad Mendes, Kenny Florian, Urijah Faber and Frankie Edgar already in his closet, McGregor – despite his clear talent – went into that matchup as the underdog.
Mental warfare can play a serious factor in this game but the manner in which Conor slaughtered Aldo over the course of their near-one year media tour was truly a tour-de-force in the art of intimidation. When they finally met at UFC 194, color-commentator Joe Rogan famously remarked that Aldo looked as though he was feeling the pressure of the occasion, in contrast to McGregor, who flowed along the canvas effortlessly like a coiled cobra, ready to strike.
And strike he did, and boy, was it a memorable one!
Thirteen short seconds later and an entire legacy was toppled. A swift left-hand flattened the Brazilian and though the bout was a short one, this knockout will be seen in decades to come as one of the most iconic and ultimately impressive wins in the history of the sport. There was no bu*****t to it, it was quick, it was brutal and it was merciless. McGregor left the octagon that night with the type of legendary win needed to ensure his inclusion on highlight reels for eternity and a UFC title to boot.
Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor at UFC 202, August 20th, 2016
You’d be hard pressed to name a more compelling rivalry in this sport than the one found between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor. Ever since their riveting first encounter at UFC 196, fans had been salivating at the prospect of seeing these two in close proximity of each other, no matter what the circumstances.
Nate, of course, came out on top in their first meeting but when the pair rematched at UFC 202, the tension in the air was palpable, hell, it was completely intoxicating. For Conor, a loss like that, on a stage so massive, gave his naysayers several months worth of ammunition (ammo they are still firing from to this day) but the manner in which he overcame that pressure and forced his way to a unanimous decision victory earned him more fans than perhaps even his already-impressive string of knockouts did in the leadup to this fight.
The adjustments made between UFC 196 and UFC 202 were noticeable from the get-go as a more patient McGregor chopped down the lead-leg of boxing-heavy Diaz before knocking him down three times over the course of the opening pair of rounds.
This time, however, stamina management and an overly eager mindset didn’t cause the Irishman to punch himself out and after a rough patch in round three, Conor regained his composure, winning the fourth and coming out three round to two when the judges made their final call.
His ability to sway and counter Diaz whenever he lunged in with his freakishly long arms was the decisive factor on the feet this time around and though it was indeed he who did the pressuring during his best moments, that counter-left looked sharper than ever and he ended up battering the Cesar Gracie fighter as badly as we’ve ever seen done before.
Eddie Alvarez vs Conor McGregor at UFC 205, November 12th
If his win over Aldo proved his power and his war with Diaz proved his heart, it was his victory over the legendary lightweight Eddie Alvarez that proved that Conor McGregor is on another level.
Madison Square Garden played host to its first ever MMA event and even without the inclusion of some of the sport’s biggest stars, there was a real sense in the air that something special was about to happen. Sure, the contests that preceded the main event were absolutely cracking for the most part but when Conor McGregor walked out to a packed out crowd full of his home-countrymen and a vast array of others, there were no doubts about who the fans had come to see.
Eddie Alvarez is one of the most decorated fighters on the UFC’s roster right now. As a champion in virtually every organisation he has ever fought in, he came into this one as a true test of McGregor’s capibilities at 155lb. Sure, Nate Diaz at 170 was a challenge but the one-time title-contender had always fallen short of that elite level, despite the fact that his size, reach and endurance made him a tough talk for anyone.
Again, it was Alvarez who claimed that he would reveal the truth about McGregor but like so many who had doubted him before, he was on the receiving end of an absolute masterclass in which every single facet of his game was shut down from the start. Even from the very opening minutes of round one, Eddie could do little else but resemble a pig for the slaughter as Conor outclassed him at every single time of asking. He was a mere spectator to his own demise throughout and when the time was right, a beautiful four-shot combo put him out of the fight and earned Conor his second consecutively-held UFC championship belt.
It was a Silva/Griffin, Dillashaw/Barao-level thrashing and probably the most impressive performance of Conor McGregor’s career to date.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena