Ahead of his return to the UFC octagon on Saturday night, here’s a breakdown of his three finest performances.
It’s that time again, folks! The McGregor show has well and truly arrived, although perhaps in a different form to the one we have grown accustomed to seeing it in.
There’s no doubt that the buildup to Saturday’s clash between Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone has taken on a very different tone than ever before but thankfully, the pleasantries will likely not feature once the action gets underway.
José Aldo vs. Conor McGregor – UFC 194
Never before has a fight so short spawned so much intrigue.
The long-time featherweight king José Aldo had carved out a spot for himself as one of the world’s pound-for-pound greats, a fighter as dominant as any champion in the history of the UFC.
At the time, Conor was a brash, outspoken contender, who, while no doubt possessing talent, had yet to shoot his name into the stratosphere with a signature victory.
Of course, it did not take long for that feather to arrive in McGregor’s cap and in thirteen short seconds, a new era would begin with one of the most shocking combat sports moments of the decade.
Those clinging to the possibility of this knockout being a fluke were quickly forced to eat their words when pre-fight footage of the then-interim champion surfaced mimicking the muay-thai stance of Aldo before practicing the exact show that caught the Brazilian dead in his tracks.
It was the perfect shot and a knockout that is as iconic as any to have ever been achieved in the sport.
McGregor quickly probed his adversary with a quick kick to the leg and a half-hearted left-hand shot to gauge distance before reading José’s intentions, slipping back, and changing the face of the featherweight division in one surgically-precise punch.
A fight that is perhaps more relevant here than any other in Conor’s career – given the weight and overall physical dimensions of the opponent – McGregor proved his ability to go five rounds in an instant classic battle against TUF winner Nate Diaz.
After losing out to the same man at UFC 196 in another barnburner, we caught a glimpse of Conor’s ability to adapt and fight intelligently over the course of 25 minutes at UFC 202 – a fight that forced him to dig deeper than we have ever seen him dig before.
Stamina conservation has been the Achilles’ heel of the Irishman at times in the past and in taking another fight with the famously durable Diaz, Conor was forced to accept the fact that the Stockton native’s chin may well hold up to his famed power.
Through that lesson, Conor was able to better pace himself from the get-go while mixing in a variety of body and leg attacks to even the playing sufficiently to see him recapture momentum in the crucial fourth round.
The fight’s decision, in some people’s eyes, was a controversial one but for the life of me, I just don’t see how you could score it any way other than 1, 2, 4 to McGregor, with Diaz taking 3 and 5.
This is the benchmark.
For Conor McGregor, the featherweight champion who had taken a welterweight detour through the majority of the year 2016, the November showdown with Eddie Alvarez was the perfect way to cap off one of the most entertaining 365-day runs in the sport’s history.
Alvarez, who had stunned the former champion Rafael dos Anjos just a few months prior, was as gritty and experienced a veteran as the division had ever seen – an icon who had proven himself on every stage he had found himself on up until this point.
And yet, when the octagon doors closed, the difference between these two men could not have been greater.
It was a flawless victory, one that displayed every aspect of Conor’s game to its absolute fullest and one that was perfectly suited to the unprecedented accomplishment that the Irishman sought to achieve.
His footwork, his counter-shots, his ringmanship, his distance control. All of these attributes stifled the champion from the off and once McGregor started to find his mark, there was absolutely no stopping his momentum.
After scoring three separate knockdowns bolstered by a succession of shots that staggered Alvarez, Conor unloaded a beautiful four-shot combination that ended his opponent’s night in a fight that in all honesty, looked like a forgone conclusion by the time the first round had entered its second half.
So that’s it. Conor McGregor’s history will tell us that he possesses all of the tools necessary to make this a quick and brutal end for his opponent.
Through these victories, it’s easy to pick certain moments, decisions, and gameplan elements that would translate to a competent approach on Saturday night but as we all know, this fight serves a different purpose to most.
Cerrone will no doubt ask some unique questions of the Irishman on the night if given the chance but as things stand, the primary questions that surround this bout’s buildup have been centered around Conor and his ability to recapture the magic that led him to where he once was.
If that’s not a compelling narrative, I don’t know what is.
Thankfully, we are now just a matter of days away from gaining insight into the questions about McGregor’s suitability for the top-flight at this point in time.
And while we might not get all of the answers straight away, there’s absolutely no doubt that a victory this weekend is absolutely paramount to the former two-weight world champion’s progress from here on out.