It was a night designed for one thing, and for one thing only: To cement Conor McGregor as a superstar and to set up the biggest featherweight championship fight in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
McGregor received unprecedented promotional hype leading up to the fight. His visage dominated UFC airwaves, with very little mention of opponent Dennis Siver. He was all over Sunday's NFC Championship game on Fox, which is pretty much the kind of advertising you cannot buy. His face plastered billboards all over Boston.
UFC events are, on occasion, known as one-fight cards. UFC 182 earlier in January was the perfect example: People purchased the pay-per-view to see Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, and that is the only reason they tuned in.
UFC Fight Night 59 felt more like a one-man show, and for good reason. McGregor has taken the UFC by storm since his debut just under two years ago. He has talked a very big game, but has backed it up in the cage. He is one of the most marketable fighters to hit the UFC in recent years. And after his destruction of Dennis Siver in the UFC Fight Night 59 main event, it's probably time to start asking a big question: Is McGregor the UFC's biggest current star?
It is impossible to answer that question, of course. McGregor has zero experience as a pay-per-view headliner. All of the qualities are there. He resonates with the audience, or at least a large percentage of them. He has charisma oozing from his pores. And he is a clean, technical fighter who hits like a truck and who has a killer instinct.
No, he hasn't faced a wrestler the likes of Chad Mendes or Frankie Edgar. Not yet. But Siver possesses some wrestling chops, and McGregor mostly shook off his takedown attempts with limber ease. Standing, McGregor was loose and relaxed between firing off devastating straight left punches that Siver, short arms be damned, had no answer for.
And really, the question of whether or not McGregor can beat a wrestler is inconsequential. Right now, what matters is that he will face Aldo for the featherweight championship. Lorenzo Fertitta told ESPN's Brett Okamoto that the fight will likely take place in Las Vegas in May, which means it will headline the UFC's traditional Memorial Day card. That is an event usually reserved for special fights, and Aldo vs. McGregor is a special fight.
McGregor might beat Aldo. The odds (not the betting kind; those will likely swing in McGregor's favor due to heavy-betting Irish fans) will not be in his favor, but he certainly possesses the kind of power that can put any man, Aldo included, down for the count. The problem is that Aldo is so good, and the problem is that we always forget just how good Aldo is. McGregor is the real deal, a superb fighter who brings plenty of excitement to a division that has sorely lacked it. But however good McGregor may be, Aldo is that much better. It's why he has ruled the featherweight division for so long.
But it doesn't matter if McGregor beats Aldo. I'm sure he'd like to take that UFC championship back home to Dublin. But if he doesn't, he has still accomplished what nobody else has been able to do: Bring real fire and excitement and anticipation to a fight below 155 pounds. McGregor has single-handedly placed the featherweight division on the same level, if only temporarily, with the bigger divisions in the UFC.
And that is the importance of McGregor. Win or lose, he creates anticipation. And though his ultimate dream of headlining an event at the 95,000-seat Croke Park in Dublin is gone due to a plethora of logistical issues detailed by Dana White at the post-fight press conference, McGregor has a date with destiny.
"We are going to do big business in viva Las Vegas," McGregor said at the post-fight press conference. "One more head will be collected."
Collecting Aldo's head is a long shot. The featherweight champion is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. But no matter who wins on that night, Aldo will owe McGregor a note of thanks, for making him relevant and for making people care. In fact, much of the UFC roster owes McGregor a note of thanks, because he is creating the kind of buzz that the UFC has sorely been missing for years. And it won't be long before fighters are clamoring to appear on the same cards as McGregor, because the McGregor business is good and good business, well, it's good for everybody.
But in the meantime, McGregor puts on another spectacular performance, dispatching a top featherweight with ease. He may not be able to do the same thing against Aldo, but just getting there was the important part.
The rest of the walk? It's a casual stroll to the bank.
All quotes were obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.
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