One way or another, we’re all going to get smarter.
No matter how things go for Conor McGregor against Chad Mendes on Saturday at UFC 189 in Las Vegas, we’ll come out of it with a clearer idea of what kind of fighter McGregor can truly be.
Until now, we’ve had to take his word for it. He’s jetted to a 5-0 record in the UFC and has dispatched everyone matchmakers have handed him with extreme prejudice. He had never fought anybody as good as Jose Aldo, his intended opponent, however, and—even now that the true featherweight champion is out with a rib injury—he’s never fought anybody like Mendes, either.
You might say this matchup is going to go a long way toward separating the facts from the fiction about McGregor. That’s important, since the brash Irishman has spent his entire UFC career spinning fantastical yarns about his own ability. If nothing else, it’ll be nice to finally do some fact-checking on McGregor’s wild tales.
Here, Bleacher Report Lead Writers Chad Dundas (that’s me) and Jonathan Snowden instruct us on which statements to take seriously and which to dismiss as make-believe headed into this weekend's action.
Fact or Fiction: Conor McGregor emerges from UFC 189 as the new (interim) featherweight champion.
Chad: Fiction! By now it's clear the UFC is dying to get McGregor’s paws on the 145-pound title, by any means necessary. By subbing in Mendes for the injured Aldo, however, the fight company managed to book its new golden child a short-notice bout against arguably the worst style matchup for him in the division.
The hard truth of the matter is that we have no idea yet how good McGregor actually is at fighting, but we’re damn sure he’s never run up against anybody the caliber of Mendes. The Irish Dandy, the oddsmakers and UFC brass all have a shock in store, as the underdog Mendes comes in off two weeks of hard training and wrestles that interim belt right out of McGregor’s hands.
Jonathan: Fiction! I hate you for making me take a firm position here. My gut tells me McGregor is the real deal—after all, the UFC rarely pushes fighters on the public quite this hard, choosing instead to make them run the gauntlet before meekly launching them into contender status after a series of wins and losses. That it's gone to these lengths with McGregor makes me think the company knows he's legit.
But MMA history is a desert littered with the decaying bones of fighters who never quite lived up to their potential. While I might think McGregor can be a great fighter, I know Mendes is one. I've watched him augment his game over the years, becoming the kind of multifaceted fighter capable of beating just about anyone. I'm taking the safe bet, even when he's coming in with just two weeks' notice.
Chad: For what it’s worth, the good folks at Odds Shark disagree with us on the whole “safe bet” theory. In any case, a loss for McGregor doesn’t do him terrible harm. It would take all of one comeback victory for the UFC to rehabilitate his image and position him for that all-important title shot, maybe even before the end of the year.
Fact or Fiction: Rory MacDonald wins the UFC welterweight title and people are still kinda like "meh."
Jonathan: Fact! As much as I loved seeing Robbie Lawler finally become the fighter everyone thought he would be back in 2001, there's something a bit surreal about his rise to the top of the sport. It's hard to forget the years of struggle and disappointment, even as he struts around with his shiny UFC title.
Lawler, 33, is a journeyman who went on a run for the ages. He's had his moment—and it was glorious. We shouldn't mistake that moment, however, with a mandate. Lawler is not the next dominant champion. He's an aging feel-good story ready to cede his crown to the Red King.
Chad: I’m gonna say fiction. This week I rewatched Lawler’s first fight with MacDonald from UFC 167 and was reminded that for most of those 15 minutes, Rob Law was kinda kicking the Red King’s behind. I know in the aftermath MacDonald said he was injured and the second fight will be different and blah blah blah. I’m not really buying it, I guess. Lawler is 6-1 since the summer of 2012, and I think he stays on a roll here. MacDonald comes up short once again.
All hail Robert Glenn Lawler, ruler of all he surveys!
Jonathan: It's funny—I recently rewatched that fight too and was struck by how evenly fought it was. According to FightMetric, both landed a similar number of significant strikes, with MacDonald mixing in four takedowns to offset his lack of thudding power. It felt like a tossup, making the split decision no real surprise. But if MacDonald managed that performance short a few cylinders, imagine how well he performs with the engine running wide open.
Fact or Fiction: Everybody calms down a little bit when they see the new Reebok "fight kits" in action.
Chad: Fact! Look, every development in the UFC-Reebok partnership has been a disaster so far. It would be hard for public sentiment around the new official “fight kits” to get any worse, frankly. But the Internet has had its say, and on Saturday we’re actually going to see living, breathing humans engage in unarmed combat in the new Reebok duds.
Once we do, our aggressive disdain for them will cool into more of a “sure, man, whatever” vibe. The kits are going to be fine, and we’re all going to chill out and accept a future that we can’t change anyway. Whether the “professional look” of that future is worth athletes losing big bucks in sponsor revenue just so the sport can appear a bit less tacky is another story, but the kits are here to stay.
The first step toward acceptance of that sad fact begins this weekend.
Jonathan: Fiction! Inevitably, the blogosphere and Twitterverse will stop talking about the UFC's terrible new uniform. I agree with you there. After all, for us it's a momentary distraction filling time in our humdrum lives. But "everybody" won't calm down. Because, for fighters, the UFC's decision to do away with the traditional sponsor system hits below the belt—more specifically it hits them in the pocketbook.
For years, the UFC has kept the bulk of the profits earned through the athletes' blood, sweat and occasional tears. That money, however, never touched a fighter's bank account, so there was no real sense of loss. The Reebok deal takes something away. Fighters feel this loss more profoundly. It won't be forgotten so easily.
Chad: And it shouldn’t be forgotten. Nobody wants to see fighters gain a seat at the negotiating table more than I do. To get there, though, will take unprecedented collective action on the part of the athletes. So far, we see a lot of talk in that direction and zero actual movement. Until they come together and organize in a meaningful way, we’re stuck with whatever bad fashion choices and one-sided financial deals the UFC and Reebok see fit to make on their own.
And that’s a fact, Jack.