On January 23rd MMA fans will see the return of by far the most polarizing figure in the sport, the appropriately titled The Notorious Conor McGregor. We all know about his life outside of fighting; the man parties hard and has done some questionable things especially after the Mayweather fight. Unfortunately his personal life has overshadowed what is really important which is his fighting career. It’s at a point where there are two extremes to how people view him as a fighter. Some people say he is already the greatest fighter of all time and no one can ever beat him. Some say that he is overrated and only has a good left hand and the second he is put under pressure he quits. Between these two exaggerations there is a reality which is that Conor McGregor like other fighters in the UFC has an elite skill set but also has weaknesses and like every single fighter in the sport of MMA is capable of being defeated.
The greatest of all time argument is a very futile one as people can judge greatness in a number of ways. Some people happily just judge based on the accolades. I prefer to remember the fighters who entertained me most in the octagon or who amazed me and provided me with memorable moments. Conor McGregor’s career has yet to be over so it’s possible that these next few years will tell us how great he truly is but already Conor has done some incredible things in the octagon. At Featherweight, Conor was an absolute beast. This is one of the most legendary runs we have witnessed in the UFC as he was quickly and easily dispatching elite level competition, before all of the money took full effect. Nothing will ever taint the memory of the Jose Aldo fight which is still to this day one of the most shocking and memorable moments in MMA history. You really have to think back and remember how great Jose Aldo was at this time. Now because he never defended the title I can’t say McGregor is the best Featherweight of all time, that honor still goes to Jose Aldo who had a long title reign at the top. Despite being the first fighter to receive double champ status, McGregor has still never successfully defended a title which is a major hindrance to his career although this does not erase the fantastic wins and performances of his career.
The other Hindrance to his career in the eyes of many are his submission loses especially to Diaz and Khabib. So, in regard to Diaz, a loss is a loss and McGregor was beat by the better man on the night but at this point it needs to be understood that the nature of this loss was down to a number of mistakes made by Conor. Don’t get it twisted, this is all part of the fight game and Diaz still had to successfully capitalize on these mistakes to get the win. His second fight against Diaz was incredibly close but McGregor 100% won that fight. If anything, the major concern from that fight should have been that McGregor was having extremely close fights with Nate Diaz who realistically is not an elite level talent. The true defining loss of his career has become the loss to Khabib. Here’s what I will say in the build-up to this fight it was the only time I would say McGregor went way too far with his trash talk as he talked about Khabib’s family and religion. As a result, and I’m certain McGregor understands this, he rightfully received a lot of backlash and criticism from fans and really this has increased as McGregor has made some fairly delusional claims about the fight claiming that he was winning which is a ludicrous statement. At the same time this loss was to an undefeated fighter who is arguably the greatest grappler ever seen in MMA. Particularly considering nobody could beat Khabib before or since, so does it really matter that he got submitted to such a high-level grappler?
Now McGregor is returning to a lightweight division that is seemingly devoid of Khabib forever. While I’m certain he would love that rematch, and take it above anything, the fact is there are some incredibly great and competitive matchups for Conor right now. The thing that his haters will really be scared of is the fact that in the majority if not all of these matchups McGregor has to be favored to win. Why is this? Well its simply due to the elite skill set which he holds.
Again, the most forgotten thing in all of the McGregor debate is regardless what anyone believes the fact of the matter is that Conor McGregor is an elite level fighter and easily one of the greatest and most influential strikers ever seen in MMA. In the first two rounds, Conor McGregor is one of the scariest fighters to be in the octagon and one of the best starters in the UFC. McGregor takes no time to warm into a fight and is switched on right from the start using perfect footwork and precision striking to offset his opponents and do serious damage. You know his striking is great as fighters are taking elements from his style and applying it to their own. Is McGregor the best grappler? No, of course not. But to say he has no grappling skill is simply not true. McGregor on numerous occasions has been matched with elite level grapplers and has shown fantastic defensive grappling skills. The fact is if you can go into the octagon with Khabib and not got submitted in the first round you are a great grappler. Not to mention we have seen him pass the guard of Nate Diaz, an incredibly difficult feat, and in their younger years managed to wrestle Max Holloway to a decision with a torn ACL, his grappling is good guys. If anything, the biggest weakness of McGregor is his stamina which naturally occurs due to his fast twitch body type and style of fighting.
Has McGregor made some mistakes outside the octagon? Of course he has, and to try and justify some of his actions would be ignorance of a high level, but the fact is most sports stars are always clouded with issues. We all look at Mike Tyson with rose tinted glasses forgetting some of the dark issues in his past which led to a prison sentence. The fact is Conor isn’t perfect and can make mistakes like anyone but the fact is this should not cloud judgement of what he has achieved in the octagon or the elite skill set he holds. Already McGregor has created some memorable moments in the sport. Over the last couple of years he has had a high rate of inactivity. Being honest, the Cowboy fight was a gimme fight as anyone with any knowledge of the sport should have known that McGregor was going to run through Cowboy with minimal effort required. Also, it must be said for those who like to overly fixate on the negative aspects of McGregor’s personal life, just don’t forget the man has done plenty of positive things also but ultimately when it comes to fighting none of this really matters, what really matters is what we see inside the octagon.
On January 23rd at UFC 257 Conor McGregor makes his return after a yearlong lay off. The difference this time is McGregor is not getting a gimme fight but is instead fighting the man who may very well be the current number 1 or at least 2 in the division without Khabib around. Dustin Poirier is an elite level fighter who since moving up to lightweight has run through most of the top fighters with the exception of Khabib and has been putting on some of the most entertaining fights ever seen in the promotion in the process. The two men fought before, both incredibly young in their careers, so one should not judge their prediction of the fight based on the previous one. Dustin Poirier was clearly weight drained during this time and was nowhere near the skill level he is at now, McGregor has also developed so much and added new aspects to his game.
The most important aspect of this fight is that it marks McGregor finally fighting a fellow elite level fighter and if he wins it will be another amazing win to add to his legacy. Hopefully it will be the start to a more positive phase of his career that can possibly wake up his haters to the fact that he is an elite level fighter who despite all the stuff outside of the octagon still deserves a level of respect. As someone who personally above anything in MMA appreciates and loves the art of striking, McGregor is always a pleasure to watch and I truly hope that when he fights Poirier (who we will discuss further in a future article) we get to see new elements to his striking and see what he has done to further improve his already elite skill set.