At UFC Fight Night 26 Saturday night, the Boston faithful bent over backward to welcome Irish hype monster Conor McGregor to their city and the UFC Octagon. McGregor did what he could to justify their adulation, despite possibly injuring his knee halfway through the effort.
In the only fight of his career to go the distance, 25-year-old featherweight McGregor (15-2) didn't score the flashy knockout he's known for, but he did outland and control Max Holloway (7-3) for a unanimous decision victory.
After the fight, McGregor told broadcaster Joe Rogan that his "knee popped" during the second round and then noticeably limped out of the cage. Soon after, UFC President Dana White tweeted an informal confirmation:
Conor McGregor has some type of knee injury and Holloway possible broken foot.— Dana White (@danawhite) August 17, 2013
What we will remember about this fight:
Two things. First, the hype, which reached almost unbearable decibel levels as the contest drew near, and hit its crescendo when the TD Garden lights went dark and "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys issued from the speakers. It was a touch, eh, atypical for a prelim fighter to get the main-event treatment, but it was fitting given the circumstances.
Second was McGregor's full control of the fight. He worked hard in all phases to gain a victory that might have been more convincing to the hardcore set than another first-round TKO. And it only gains more credence in light of the knee injury.
What we learned about Conor McGregor:
He's got ground game. I'm not saying he's the best grappler I've ever seen—Holloway thoroughly thwarted McGregor's attempts to pass guard in the first ground sequence—but he showed he knows what he's doing and is willing to engage down there.
McGregor, who trains with world-class grappler Gunnar Nelson in Ireland, has always insisted he is well-rounded. Looks like there might be some truth to that.
If he did seriously injure his knee, he also showed great toughness and strategic flexibility in pulling out the win.
What we learned about Max Holloway:
At 21 years old, Holloway is still the UFC's youngest fighter. He was game throughout, trading with McGregor and even throwing head kicks at McGregor in the fight's final seconds.
But he showed his grappling and strength need work. He wasn't the best prospect in the cage Saturday night. But he's the first fighter to take McGregor all the way, and he'll have other chances.
What's next for McGregor:
Time for a small but real step forward on the featherweight ladder. I'd suggest the winner between Rony Jason and Jeremy Stephens, who face off in October. Jason is very well-rounded, while Stephens is a knockout artist of the purest order. Could be fun.
What's next for Holloway:
I'd like to see what the young striker could do against a veteran. How about Mizuto Hirota, who is in bad need of a win in his next engagement?