Two things were immediately apparent on Saturday, after Conor McGregor dusted Diego Brandao via first-round TKO at UFC Fight Night 46.
First, McGregor has “it.”
The 26-year-old Dublin native possesses charisma for days, all the potential in the world and very much looks the part of a major player in the UFC’s international expansion plans.
Second, he’s still got a long way to go to prove he’s as good a fighter as he says he is.
McGregor dispatched Brandao in the expeditious and effective fashion befitting his Bovada status as a 6-1 favorite (h/t Fight Parrot) in their main event bout. He weathered the 27-year-old Brazilian’s best shots, reversed his one attempt at a throw and eventually used his superior striking game to finish him off with just 12 seconds on the clock in the opening stanza.
The victory advanced McGregor to 3-0 in the Octagon and 15-2 overall. Such a body of work would amount to a stellar first 15 months in the UFC for an ordinary up-and-comer, but McGregor is far from ordinary.
His ascendance from unknown Irish prospect to full-on UFC luminary has been fairly astonishing. In his short time on the big stage, he’s proven to be a master of self-aggrandizement, with his dapper get-ups, carefully curated facial hair and pervasive blarney.
McGregor claims to have visions—one of them involving him wearing UFC featherweight gold by the end of 2014—and so far his prophecies have mostly come true.
“I said I was going to put [Brandao] away in the first round, and I put him away in the first round,” he said to UFC color commentator Dan Hardy in the cage when this fight was over. “It would take someone special to come into my hometown and [take me out]. There’s not a man alive who can come on this soil and beat me.”
When you set the bar for your own performance as high as McGregor does, anything less than perfection will be cast as failure. And right now that’s the problem.
After watching him put away Brandao this weekend, we know McGregor is good. We still have no idea if he can be great.
He’s yet to fight anyone even remotely resembling a contender in the 145-pound division. He’s yet to fight anyone who hasn’t spent the bulk of their time together doing exactly what McGregor wanted him to do. Heck, he’s yet to defend a straightforward double- or single-leg takedown inside the Octagon.
As a result, McGregor’s UFC resume is still very much a work in progress. Despite all his bluster about being the best in the world and winning the title during the next five months, he’s still fairly wet behind the ears.
His unorthodox striking stance appears to make his legs ripe for the plucking, and as he motors around the cage firing off pretty punching and kicking combinations, he’s usually flying his chin straight up in the air like a signal flag.
As yet, nobody’s really been able to make him pay for either. Someday, somebody will, and how he responds will give us a much better idea of what we’re dealing with here.
A good place to start might be for the UFC to next book McGregor against Dustin Poirier, who publicly campaigned for a bout with the Irish phenom in the wake of his win over Brandao according to Bleacher Report's Duane Finley.
Poirier is 8-2 since dropping to featherweight in 2011 and is No. 6 on the UFC’s official 145-pound rankings. He could likely match McGregor for size and athleticism, and his well-rounded skill set would give the newcomer the stiffest test of his career to date.
If anything, McGregor proved on Saturday that he’s ready for bigger things. The Irish crowd—one of the most boisterous on record—ate from his hand. His personality and confidence have him poised to be among the next wave of UFC headliners.
If his fighting acumen ultimately proves as good as his gab, he could wind up as the featherweight division’s first true crossover superstar.
But it’ll take more than just visions of his own greatness to get him there.