Preview! Breaking Down Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor

jose aldo vs. conor mcgregor

Now that the worldwide publicity tour for July’s UFC 189 championship tilt between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor has begun, it’s time to take a brief, early look at how the champion and challenger stack up against one another in what promises to be one of, if not the, biggest fights of 2015.

While there are countless variables leading up to and into fight night, let’s take a look at three key categories and see how each fighter compares.

STRIKING

In contrast to his time in the WEC, featherweight champion Aldo has evolved into a smarter, more defensive-minded fighter. Still more than capable of ferocious bursts of violence, Aldo has matured into a patient, measured competitor who uses negative space and angles as well as anyone to control the direction of the fight. When his opponent presses forward, Aldo typically controls the space between them to thwart the attack and reset the bout under the conditions he prefers; just out of range, peppering the crippling leg kicks he throws with a consistent jab and powerful strikes to the torso.

In stark contrast, McGregor has evolved from a counter-puncher earlier in his career to that of a more aggressive striker, taunting and stalking his opponent while searching for a finish, usually brought about by his left hand. For all the flash behind the variety of spinning kicks and strikes he uses, there’s more than just sizzle to McGregor’s steak. He combines clear knockout power with killer instinct, ending the night early for fifteen of his opponents to date.

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While there’s no denying that Aldo has more big-fight experience, both men are world-class strikers with intriguingly contrasting styles, making their fight anyone’s guess as to who will win on the feet.

WRESTLING

Let’s call a spade a spade. Neither fighter is a gold medal-winning Olympic wrestler and to date, neither one has needed to be.

Of the two, Aldo seems to hold the advantage in this category. Against Frankie Edgar, he showed great composure and instinctive reactions to “The Answer’s” takedown attempts. In fact, Aldo’s takedown defense is superb, second in the history of the featherweight division.

While not known as an offensive wrestler, the champion has shown the ability to use throws and trips from the clinch, but in general, prefers to use his defensive wrestling skills to keep the fight standing. On the other hand, McGregor has shown a powerful double leg and a serviceable single, yet was taken down twice in his last fight with German kickboxer Denis Siver, hardly a wrestler of the same caliber as Frankie Edgar.

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McGregor was able to scramble back to his feet quickly in both instances but it’s yet to be proven how he’d fare in a fighter against a pressure wrestler like Edgar or Chad Mendes. With question marks remaining about his defensive wrestling skills, it’s clear the edge in grappling goes to the champion Aldo.

SUBMISSIONS

While the majority of McGregor’s fighting career has taken place standing up, it should be noted that he’s a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and trains regularly with formidable BJJ black belt and UFC welterweight Gunnar Nelson. There’s no reason to suspect that he’d be helpless on his back. In fact, evidence is there to suggest the opposite. Against Diego Brandao, he showed excellent submission defense, warding off several leg lock attempts en route to victory.

Offensively McGregor has shown a predilection for chokes, seeming to favor the guillotine, and owns a submission victory by rear-naked choke. He has an excellent guard pass into mount and maintains strong top control when on the ground. Physically, he’s a large 145-pound fighter who uses his extra size and fight night weight exceptionally well to control his opponent.

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It’s sometimes overlooked that Jose Aldo is a black belt in jiu-jitsu, mainly because of his ferocious Muay Thai and use of his defensive wrestling to keep the fight standing. Aldo is far from helpless on the ground; even while clearly fatigued, he showed excellent defense off his back against Mark Hominick, keeping his opponent tied up to prevent an accumulation of damage from ground strikes.

Offensively, the champion possesses all the requisite skills wielded by a high-level black belt in jiu-jitsu. His submissions, guard passing, and ground control are top notch, even if rarely seen.

Again, the advantage in this category would have to be handed to Aldo.

With over four months to go before Aldo and McGregor meet, there is sure to be endless speculation and analysis over this anticipated match-up. On paper, the early advantage would seem to favor the champion, but as has been shown time and time again, anything can happen in a fight. If it’s true that getting there is half the fun, one thing is for sure: we’re in for an entertaining ride leading up to the opening bell.