For as long as Conor McGregor has made noise—which is to say, as long as he’s been in the UFC—he has drawn critics. Those who said he’s all talk, those who said his wins were hollow and those who said he’s paved his own soft road.
Some of this kind of backlash is inevitable in the midst of a quick and spectacular rise. There are always non-believers, doubters and, yes, haters.
Success, after all, is its own kind of magnet.
They can quiet down now, the whole lot of them, after McGregor accomplished something previously thought impossible, something that has never been done in the UFC's 23-year history. In knocking out Eddie Alvarez, he became the first fighter ever to simultaneously hold two UFC championships, adding the lightweight belt to his featherweight title.
Gold. Gold everywhere.
"They’re not on my level," McGregor (21-3) said in the aftermath. "You gotta have some attributes. If you’re not an equal to me, I’m gonna rip your head off. Eddie’s a warrior, but he shouldn’t have been in here with me."
That’s obvious now, after McGregor captured yet another night of headlines while main eventing the UFC’s first foray into New York since 1995.
While the pay-per-view results will come in time, the early returns show record crowds for McGregor, whose presence drew $17.7 million to Madison Square Garden, according to UFC president Dana White, who revealed the number in the post-fight press conference. That number shattered the UFC box-office record of just over $12 million, set at UFC 129 at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
White also said the show is likely to break the pay-per-view buy record.
Under that kind of pressure, before both cynics and fanatics, McGregor reached greatness. On merit alone, no one can match what he just did.
Question his opponents or the matchups, but when the stakes were highest, McGregor stepped up, competed and succeeded. With the world watching, he shrugged, relaxed and fired out his left until Alvarez could no longer stand up to it.
It was a thing of beauty, both awing and confusing in its accuracy.
For McGregor, it was a shockingly quick, if unsurprising, result. He’d walked into the Octagon at Madison Square Garden favored, but he dispatched his opponent in stunning style. While Alvarez had been finished before, it had been five years since he’d been stopped on strikes, and he’d never been dominated as he was by McGregor, who battered him throughout before finishing him 3:04 into Round 2.
The Irishman was poised and patient, capitalizing on his reach advantage to stay out of his opponent’s range while landing his own pinpoint strikes from the outside. In less than two full rounds, he knocked Alvarez down multiple times and finally finished him with a four-piece combination that saw all of those strikes land.
If it wasn’t death by a thousand cuts, it was still surgical, precise and exacting. Alvarez, it seems, never really had a chance. He never got quite untracked, losing the striking battle 32-9, according to FightMetric.
"Conor is special," White said. "He throws that left hand with no effort, but once he lands it, they go."
Remember, prior to the fight, Alvarez had said McGregor was the easiest fight in the lightweight division. So much for that theory.
Only once had the attempt to simultaneously win multiple titles been made, at UFC 94, when lightweight champ B.J. Penn moved up in weight to fight welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre. That fight was as one-sided as Saturday night’s except it was in favor of the champion. St-Pierre took Penn down repeatedly, and after four rounds, Penn had enough, and his team declined to let him answer the bell.
This was almost the exact opposite, with the man who was in theory the smaller of the two dominating the bigger one practically from start to finish.
It not only confirms McGregor's greatness but also sets him up for whatever the biggest money fights may be. Essentially, the UFC is his, and he can move forward in any direction he wants. He can return to 145 and fight Jose Aldo. He can stay at 155 and take his pick of Tony Ferguson or Khabib Nurmagomedov, who also won at UFC 205. He can take time off and see how things shake out without him. Given his current standing, he can move up to 170 pounds and fight current champ Tyron Woodley. He can fight Nate Diaz again at any weight they agree upon.
It may sound crazy, but truly, every road leads back to McGregor. That’s what happens when you’re in the position he’s in: not just a champion, but the very best in the sport.
Apparently, however, it will take something more than normal to bring him back. McGregor announced in the post-fight press conference that he is soon to be a father, and that a newfound perspective is spurring him to even greater heights.
"People have shares in the company. Where’s my share? Where’s my equity?" he asked, referring to the recent sale of the UFC to WME-IMG celebrity clients. "If i’m bringing the money, and I have both belts, I want ownership. I want my equal share. I want what I earned."
It will be a difficult argument to refute, the UFC's cash cow threatening to close the farm unless he is given a piece of ownership. He seemed to suggest he'd be willing to sit out until he got what he deserved. As threats go, it is among the most powerful ones that can be made against the UFC. Given his value, no one has ever had more leverage.
That's where McGregor is these days, a one-man box office bonanza who doubles as one of the best fighters in the world, and yes, an all-time great.
The critics may still be around, but their voices have mostly been muted. No matter the situation, no matter the opponent, McGregor has won, and won big. He has beaten wrestlers, strikers, grapplers. He has put himself into the highest pressure situations and time after time, he has squeezed out diamonds.