From the beginning, Conor McGregor was sure he would win the featherweight championship, end the 10-year reign of Jose Aldo and take over the mixed martial arts world. He talked trash about nearly everyone within 20 pounds of him along the way, making sure he was in the cross hairs of anyone who mattered. The extra pressure he placed upon himself would have crushed most.
It is difficult to quantify how much extra stress he put upon his journey by being so vocal about his perceived place in the fight world. He had much of it plotting his demise, sending private little hexes his way and sometimes openly cursing him. The attention at times had to be oppressive.
That's what happens when you promise to take over countries and conquer multiple divisions.
But for McGregor, his words were never a prediction. They were a vow. And on Saturday, at UFC 194, he delivered what he had always promised: UFC gold. It took McGregor only one punch to fulfill the bold words he had stated so many times in the past. In the opening exchange of the fight, he dropped Aldo with a left cross and finished him with hammer strikes from the top.
Most of those were cursory. By the end of the first punch, it was over. Aldo was felled and unconscious. It was only up to the ref to catch up to the situation. The king was slain, and the UFC Featherweight Championship had changed hands.
One thing is clear: It's McGregor's world now. With Ronda Rousey's recent loss, he becomes the most in-demand name in MMA, its top headliner.
In his home country of Ireland, he is fast becoming an idol. He has stumped for a headlining date in Dublin's Croke Park, a Gaelic Athletic Association stadium that holds upwards of 80,000, and given his increased bargaining power, he may be able to push for it and shatter UFC attendance records.
With McGregor Mania in full swing, it doesn't seem that far-fetched. Actually, it seems downright probable.
That is what happens when you do these kinds of things, when you surpass expectations and leave the audience breathless.
The whole thing was a blur, lasting only 13 seconds, making it the fastest title fight in UFC history. It was so quick that the sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd barely reacted to the finish. Most everyone had braced themselves for something long and drawn-out, something grinding and violent.
After all, these guys were both just too good. Aldo hadn't lost in a full decade, not since he was 19 years old. He had beaten a murderers' row of opponents, from Frankie Edgar to Chad Mendes to Kenny Florian, and had done so sometimes devastatingly, always decisively, rarely pushed and seldom challenged.
Aldo was largely considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time, and while McGregor had flashed stunning power and rolled through everyone he'd faced, by the time the fight went off, it was considered a toss-up in the betting line.
So when the opening bell went off, everyone was prepared for a battle, a seesaw type of fight with momentum swings. When the end came on that short left hand, few reacted. It was more shock than celebration, even for the thousands who had reacted wildly to everything McGregor had done to antagonize Aldo since the two were first paired together at the beginning of 2015.
All of that lead-up for...this?
"Nobody can take that left-hand shot," McGregor said on the broadcast shortly after the fight ended. "He's powerful and he's fast, but precision beats power, and timing beats speed, and that's what you saw there. I feel for him. He was a phenomenal champion. He deserved to go a little bit longer, but I still feel at the end of the day, precision beats power, and timing beats speed, so it would've happened sooner or later."
"He threw a cross on me that I wasn't expecting," Aldo said on the broadcast moments after the knockout. "I think we need the rematch. It wasn't a fight. We need to get back in there."
It will be hard to rationalize a rematch in this instance and harder still to sell it. As historically great as Aldo has been during his days in the Zuffa fold (he was 15-0 heading into UFC 194), it will be nearly impossible to portray him as a threat to McGregor after losing in 13 seconds.
MMA is dangerous and unpredictable, but no one can argue that Aldo just had an off-night. Thirteen seconds. That fact is its own case for moving on.
Unbelievable. Unimaginable. But it happened.
So what might be next for McGregor? How about anything he wants. The UFC as a brand has always remained bigger than any individual fighter, but McGregor becomes the latest to threaten that. He is creating so much revenue for the company that he would be within his rights to renegotiate a contract in the eight-figure range.
There was a time when the fight world agreed that lower-weight fighters would never draw, and yet here we are, with the biggest draw in the world a 145-pound Irishman. Who could have seen it coming?
Only McGregor. From the beginning, he vowed to become the best, to take over. In a blink, in a 13-second storm, he shook up the fight world, slammed it down, rearranged everything we thought we knew about it.
For him, featherweight might not be enough. There are just more and more promises, piled on each other, atop the fallen bodies that he's built his legacy upon. "Mystic Mac," seeing the future, then creating it.