On Thursday night, Bleacher Report broke the news that UFC 197 would be heading to Las Vegas in March with a pair of big-time fights: Rafael dos Anjos defending the lightweight title against Conor McGregor, and Holly Holm defending her bantamweight title against Miesha Tate:
The news sent shockwaves throughout both the MMA and mainstream worlds. Friday, after we've all calmed down a bit, a group of Bleacher Report MMA writers decided to get together and discuss the fight itself: what it means, who will win and more.
Steven Rondina: So a certain reporter out in the bleachers dropped a bombshell Thursday night by breaking the news that the UFC was going to treat fans to an absolutely blockbuster pair of fights at UFC 197. While there's plenty to say about the card's co-main event (a women's bantamweight title fight between Holly Holm and Miesha Tate), it's the headliner that has me really intrigued.
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Conor McGregor is one of the most interesting fights in UFC history. Not just because of the X's and O's of the fight itself, mind you. It stands out in a big way because the UFC seems to have thrown out its playbook.
McGregor vs. dos Anjos doesn't fit the standard mold of a UFC title fight, and there are no doubt plenty of fighters and fans both confused and angered by this matchup. Which begs the question...what the heck should we make of this fight?
Jeremy Botter: When I first heard rumblings of this fight and started looking into it Sunday, I had this weird feeling like I should be surprised, but I wasn't.
If there's one thing that has become increasingly clear over the past few months, it's that McGregor holds a lot more power than perhaps any other UFC fighter in history. And what's more, he's absolutely willing to use that power to get what he wants. The UFC was adamant McGregor would have to drop the strap to move up. McGregor was adamant he would do no such thing. And here we are, a month later, and look who got his way.
This isn't the end of McGregor shaking up the landscape. From what I've been told, if he gets his way, he will either be co-promoting or promoting his own fights at the end of his current UFC deal. That was an unthinkable thing even two months ago.
And really, this is the only fight that makes sense. As much as people will moan about Frankie Edgar being passed over, the real money here is in McGregor chasing history, trying to become the first champion to hold two belts. If Edgar beats McGregor, the luster of McGregor going up for the lightweight title is completely obliterated. This was the right decision by all parties involved.
Patrick Wyman: When the prospect of McGregor fighting dos Anjos initially arose in the aftermath of UFC 194, I didn't think it would happen. Dos Anjos seems like a terrible stylistic matchup for the Irishman: big, strong, a hard hitter, a good wrestler, durable and above all meaner than sin.
The lightweight champion is a pressure fighter extraordinaire—a bundle of aggressiveness and surprising technical acumen who specializes in cutting off the space of the cage and forcing his opponent toward the fence, where his sharp wrestling and powerful top game can come into play.
As he showed against Aldo, McGregor is a potent counterpuncher, but dos Anjos has walked through brutal shots to force the fight into his wheelhouse before, and he'll do so again.
None of that has changed. Dos Anjos is still as difficult a stylistic matchup as there is for McGregor at 155 pounds—aside from perhaps Khabib Nurmagomedov—and nobody knows when or if the Dagestani will be ready to do his impression of a smooth-wrestling human blanket again. I assumed McGregor, the smart businessman and observer of the sport he is, would try to minimize his risk and either fight Edgar or someone else.
What has changed is the context. If McGregor beats dos Anjos, he's a two-division champion who adds to his already-considerable leverage. He'll hold the keys to two divisions. Even if he loses, he's still the featherweight champion, and a fight with Frankie Edgar will loom on the horizon. Marketable matchups at lightweight with Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone wouldn't really be affected by a loss, either.
Barring a catastrophic injury, this is a no-lose scenario for the Irishman.
Nathan McCarter: Fight fans credited and lauded BJ Penn for being a fighter who took on all challengers and constantly looked for the next big challenge. McGregor has stepped into that role albeit with more criticism than the Hawaiian ever faced for similar actions.
These are the moves of legends. McGregor's current run is beginning to rival that of Jon Jones' 2011. We are truly witnessing something special, and his moving up in weight for this title tilt only adds to the legacy he is writing.
McGregor taking on the challenge of the bigger, stronger, more tactically difficult opponent should be heralded. Dos Anjos was never the lightweight the UFC saw money in, but this is also a win for it too. If dos Anjos imposes his will on McGregor, he can avoid defending the belt on Fox in a small market again. They will elevate the lightweight title regardless of the outcome at UFC 197.
UFC 197 is a perfect event for the organization and could be historically significant if McGregor pulls off the victory. He is the bell cow of the UFC.
“Mystic Mac” has done everything he has said he would do inside the Octagon, and at this point, I'm starting to buy in.
Steven Rondina: I think Nathan is spot-on in branding this as the stuff of legends.
When McGregor took the podium at the UFC 194 post-fight press conference and began discussing his intention to move up to 155 pounds, my immediate thought was that he was working a long con to set up a superfight with Donald Cerrone. Cerrone, you see, was set to face dos Anjos for the lightweight title and represented the biggest paycheck available for McGregor if (and only if) he could take the lightweight title.
A lightweight title fight with dos Anjos? Too high risk, I thought. Why take a dangerous opponent like dos Anjos when Frankie Edgar was right there, just begging to have his butt whupped?
Now that the fight is made, though, I see the beauty in it. McGregor vs. dos Anjos is the greatest testament there is to the Irishman's unshakable confidence. McGregor doesn't see dos Anjos as a tough opponent. McGregor just sees dos Anjos as yet another fighter who isn't as good as he is.
It's hard not to just sit back and marvel at that. Dos Anjos has been absolutely scary over the last 18 months, and McGregor just doesn't care because he is that confident in his own two hands.
My head and my heart rarely disagree when picking fights. Mystic Mac, however, is changing that.