Written by Faiz Khan
The featured image above was taken by me at UFC 189 as I stood in awe after Conor McGregor won the interim title dispatching Chad Mendes in the 2nd by TKO after José Aldo pulled out 1 week before fight night. While impressive, questions were left unanswered due to the late replacement and the upper hand Mendes had until he gassed. Even with the win, people still needed McGregor to pass the Aldo test, one that no one has passed, as he has been the company’s only Featherweight Champion who hasn’t lost in over 10 years.
I will tell you right now, being able to watch UFC 189 live is an experience that I will never forget. My first live event dates back to UFC 114: Evans vs. Rampage and since I have been to 9 total events. The last two have been spectacles I have never seen before. The magnitude and build up are unlike anything I’ve been a part of and I am so grateful.
At UFC 189 we saw the first live walkout music performances. We saw the brilliance and absolute determination deep in the souls of Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler, who stole the show and provided immediate satisfaction had it stopped there. Then came the “Notorious” one. They said the Irish were crazy. When Sinead O’Connor was belting out her song and McGregor appeared on screen looking into the camera giving his traditional Mystic Mac stare/smile, that is borderline unsettling because of his calm demeanor, it is his personality that shines through with his pure mentality of brash confidence. As soon as that glimpse of him appeared, the arena was shaking from the noise of the Irish faithful. It was then, that I knew McGregor had that “greatness” about him that only a few have accomplished in the fight game. I was an immediate fan of Conor McGregor after he dismantled Diego Brandao and called his shot against Dustin Poirier. While Chad Mendes implemented a great game plan, which admittedly gave me some doubt, Conor didn’t seem to be phased from his top game. He seemed patient. For Conor, it was a matter of time. Something he had already seen many times over. Every time McGregor was on the feet he was punishing Mendes to the body at will and keeping constant pressure, cutting the cage off never letting Mendes rest on his feet. Mendes’ gas tank faltered, as Conor knew would happen, and he capitalized with his signature left straight winning the Interim Title. Though, the adversity left some questions that 5 months later he would strive to put to rest.
UFC 194: The Breakdown
UFC 194 live topped UFC 189, not by the results where 189 easily beat 194, but because it was a historic event on all accounts. The immensity and anticipation finally coming to fruition of the headlining bout between the Irishman and Brazilian were propelling the sport of MMA to new heights. While the main card started with an uncharacteristic decision ending result between the equally electrifying Jeremy Stephens and Max Holloway, the fans were treated to a beautiful display of MMA grappling at its finest in the next bout. World-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and journeyman, Demian Maia, showed just how dominant his game plan can be even when everyone knows his strength is his ground game. His relentless approach and the pressure of knowing just how dangerous he can if he gets the fight to the ground gives Demian Maia a mental edge. Although Gunnar Nelson is an incredible grappler himself, he now knows what it’s like to be in there with, in my opinion, the sport’s best BJJ practitioner. Maia was stuck to Gunnar like glue, attempting multiple submissions to no avail. On the feet, Maia disguised his takedown attempts well and utilized his signature single-leg takedown, dragging Nelson into his world at will. Gunnar showed his skill as well, reversing Maia a handful of times, but ultimately Maia’s superior skill found him advancing to better positions after scrambles on route to a 3 round Unanimous Decision (30-25, 30-25, 30-26) dominating win. While some fans around me may have found it boring, my friends and I watched in pure awe at the skill displayed during that fight that hasn’t been seen in a long time. I applaud the resilience of Gunnar and I am sure his potential will be realized after this loss. Demian Maia is a force and everyone should be on notice. Moving on, Chris Weidman fought a game Luke Rockhold for the Middleweight Championship. Though somewhat even through two, Weidman made a critical error leading to Rockhold capitalizing, taking him down and advancing position on the ground to full mount. He pounded Weidman’s face into the canvas to end round 3, where it should have been stopped. Rockhold finished him off in the 4th to become the new Middleweight Champion, silencing doubters in the process.
Now, let’s take a look at the main event that everyone has been talking about.
UFC Featherweight Championship:
(C) José Aldo (24-1 MMA, 15-0 WEC/UFC)
(#1) Conor McGregor (18-2 MMA, 6-0 UFC)
A snap of that signature “Mystic Mac” maniacal look started the Irish faithful once again, this time even louder. Walking out to his usual mashup of Sinead O’Connor and Notorious B.I.G, the energy in the building was overwhelming. Chills ran over my body as I realized the magnitude of the fight I was witnessing. Calm and loose, McGregor looked like he had been visualizing this moment day in and day out. He didn’t seem hindered by the aura of the threat that would be standing across from him. A man that hasn’t lost in ten years stemming from 18 wins 10 title fights and 9 title defenses, as well as being the #1 pound for pound fighter in the world. The pressure that a challenger would normally feel in such a moment seemed fleeting and almost nonexistent in the mind of Conor McGregor. José Aldo seemed to be in his own head like we haven’t seen before. The mental games looked to have taken its toll and hindered José, making him emotional in a game where emotions can make you falter. McGregor’s confidence in himself allowed his mind to be clear of self-doubt. When the fighters met in the middle for the referee’s instructions, Conor looked down on José without an ounce of fear and José didn’t look up at Conor once until the fight began. As the anticipation and tension built inside the building, they were finally released. After one exchange, albeit brief, Aldo overextended on a right hand that McGregor slipped just enough. While slipping the punch, taking a glancing blow from the right, he delivered his own devastating left hook going backwards sending the Brazilian to the canvas, knocked out for the first time in his illustrious career. For a small moment, as Aldo hit the canvas, the arena went silent in shock as the former pound for pound King was dropped like no one had ever seen before. Then, an eruption of pure joy and reverence from the Irish faithful and McGregor fans ushered in a new era and the changing of the guard. McGregor followed up with academic hammer fists, but Aldo was out after the Irishman connected on his chin with his precise counter. José Aldo woke up in shambles that led to tears, realizing his hard work had come to an end in just 13 seconds. I watched on in pure shock. One second they are meeting in the middle and the next, Aldo is out cold on the canvas. You couldn’t write a better script for the transcendent superstar that is Conor McGregor. He “talks the talk and walks the walk.” You can’t deny the allure of such a talent and I am so glad I’m around to witness all the glory.
In his own words, read how Conor is far ahead of others when it comes to the mental approach to the game, as transcribed by Chuck Mindenhall & David Doyle for MMAFighting:
“I felt when we stared down, I felt his right hand was clinching, which was a subtle tell for me. He is ready to unload that right hand and I feel that could be a downfall for him. If he lets that right hand go, I will not be there. I simply enter the way I enter, and that is enough. They either over-extend, or they shrink away. Either way it is not good for them. I will create traps and dead space inside that Octagon, and I will either rock him into that dead space, but all of a sudden he will be in danger. If you can see it here [pointing to head], and you have the courage enough to speak it, it will happen. So, I see his shots. I see his sequences. And I don’t shy away from them. A lot of times people believe in seeing things, but they keep it to themselves. They don’t put it out there. You truly believe it if you become vocal with it. It actually will become reality.
I knew he would overextend. And I knew I would catch him, so, ‘Mystic Mac’ strikes again.”
“Mystic Mac” did strike again. He goes on in the press conference and briefly nods to the Law of Attraction stating,
“A lot of times, people believe certain things, but they keep to themselves. They don’t put it out there and truly believe it and become vocal with it. You’re creating that law of attraction and it will become reality.”
It’s this type of intellectual thinking that has given him his success along with his undeniable talent. This new age philosophical way of thought sheds light on the way McGregor’s frame of mind is at a higher level.
The Law of Attraction philosophy of thought is one that many athletes strive to pursue, mainly visualizing positive outcomes so that they come to fruition. However, few have truly visualized the outcomes the way that Conor McGregor has, and most likely don’t believe in it as deeply as Conor does. His belief in this philosophy is pure and it could be the difference that separates him from his opponent, paired with his talent. The snippets in UFC 194: Embedded of him envisioning his wins before they happen is almost supernatural. His mental approach is as fascinating as he is a fighter and showman. Strip down all the self-indulgence and business persona of McGregor, he is a born and bred student of the mind-body connection as well as the physiological limits of the human body, as highlighted with his training with Ido Portal. He states,
“You know when you have something that’s hurt, it’s in your brain and it travels down. I didn’t have that. I was just in complete freedom, because that was the training. It paid off for me.”
He expands on it in his post-fight interview on FS1:
“Your body is in the same spot all the time,” McGregor said. “What happens is people jump out of bed, brush their teeth, stuff their faces with food, make their way to the gym, barely warm up, do 10 rounds, go home, rest, eat, go back to the gym. You can just feel that body locking. I’m waking up and the first thing I’m doing now is spinal waves. I can actually hear it. … It’s like you’re loosening the cobwebs. And it’s been paying off for me.”
Transcribed by Marc Raimondi-MMAfighting.com
He believes in it deep within his soul and his confidence is derived from that belief, giving him the allure of being unbeatable because his will, will not break. His mind will not allow it because his mind cannot be broken. This is how Conor McGregor thinks and it is the most intriguing aspect about the new Featherweight Champion.
Congratulations to Conor McGregor on walking the walk. I hope to see José Aldo come back from this because all the greats do. I wish him a speedy recovery. Though a rematch is warranted, I feel it is not the right time. Max Kellerman said (paraphrasing), “If you immediately rematch an opponent after you get knocked out in the first fight, you will get knocked out again, only sooner.” However, I don’t know if Conor can beat his record-breaking, 13-second demolition of the former champ, but anything is possible. An incredible week of fights that I’m still letting it sink in.
Welcome to the McGregor Era.