MMA fans everywhere will finally witness the culmination of over two years of hype and buildup when Irish featherweight superstar Conor McGregor gets his first UFC title shot against Chad ‘Money’ Mendes in the main event of tonight’s (Sat., July 11, 2015) UFC 189 pay-per-view (PPV) from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
McGregor was originally supposed to face off with his heated rival, longtime champion Jose Aldo, in the main event, but that bout infamously fell apart when ‘Junior’ suffered a broken (or bruised, depending on who you ask) rib in training. Mendes promptly replaced the Nova Uniao standout, and in reality, ‘Notorious” first UFC title fight may have got a lot more interesting in the process.
The reasoning for that is the fact that we’re going to find out just what McGregor is truly made of when he’s faced with his first legitimate top-ranked challenge in the octagon. Yes, McGregor beat surging contender Max Holloway with a largely one-sided decision in his second UFC bout at UFC Fight Night 26 in August 2013, but it’s clear that ‘Blessed’ was a shell of the fighter he is now after six straight wins since.
His best win, a UFC 178 knockout over former top five contender Dustin Poirier, was no doubt wholly impressive, but it came against a fighter who loves to stand and bang and admittedly let McGregor’s trash talk get to him while fighting in a division that severely drained his body in order to make weight.
Are those excuses that detract from McGregor’s greatness?
Maybe, but all of his critics would simply have you believe that he hasn’t been tested against a top-level wrestler, of which the UFC featherweight division is in no short supply of.
Ever since his thoroughly impressive debut against Marcus Brimage at UFC on Fuel TV 9 in April 2013, McGregor has basically been anointed as the UFC’s heir apparent to the PPV thrones that former champs Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre left behind. He can’t do that unless he beats the grinding mat technicians available at the top of the featherweight food chain.
He’s got his shot to do just that in emphatic fashion tonight, and if McGregor does win the interim title, then his hype train will have arrived in full force as he becomes arguably the UFC’s biggest star overnight.
The only problem with that storybook scenario is the possibility that he loses to the nonstop wrestling pace and power striking of the No. 2-ranked Mendes, which would undoubtedly create a scenario where McGregor is deemed one of the more over-hyped combatants in UFC history.
He’s simply talked himself up so much and talked down to all of the top featherweights that he has little to no margin for error. He has to win tonight to keep his hype running and avoid becoming a Chael Sonnen-like character, a fighter who talks an absolutely massive game but simply can’t deliver the goods when he faces truly elite competitors in the Octagon.
That’s not to say McGregor can’t go into the MGM Grand and demolish Mendes tonight. He certainly could. He’s got the size, reach, and diverse striking advantage that could conceivably keep Mendes at range while picking him apart on the way to a finish or a decision win, and if he can do just that, we’ll know he’s arrived.
However, the pressure of an entire country is weighing on his shoulders, and while ‘Notorious’ thrives on that pressure, it’s win or succumb to the hype tonight.
That makes it one of the most interesting MMA bouts of all-time, and it also makes it one of the most telling ones.