Max Holloway Is UFC Featherweight Champ—But Is McGregor the Best Ever?

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterJune 4, 2017

Nov 12, 2016; New York, NY, USA;  Conor McGregor (blue gloves) before fighting Eddie Alvarez (red gloves) in their lightweight title bout during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The mixed martial arts are constantly evolving, techniques coming in and out of favor as fighters discover what works and what doesn't in the world's most demented scientific laboratory—the UFC's Octagon. But sometimes it's the old standbys that work best, as Max "Blessed" Holloway proved Saturday night in Brazil, dropping legendary featherweight Jose Aldo with the oldest trick in the book, the old one-two. 

A jab opened his defenses. The subsequent right hand dropped him on his backside. The rest was just a matter of time. With his win, Holloway ascended the throne as the top featherweight in the world, perhaps relegating the great Aldo to the history books.

"He had everything I wanted," Holloway told Fox Sports 1. "But his time is over. Welcome to the Blessed era...The man is the GOAT, but this is my reign now." 

With Aldo's decline has come an increased focus on his legacy. For six long years after winning the WEC championship from Mike Brown in 2009, he dominated everyone in his path at 145 pounds. As champion of the WEC and later the UFC, Aldo won nine consecutive fights against some of the best competitors in the sport.

While his title reign was defined by the numerous fights he didn't show up for as much as it was his eventual victories, his exploits when he managed to make it to the cage will live forever with the sport's hardcore fans. The spectacular eight-second knockout win over Cub Swanson, the brutal destruction of Urijah Faber's leg and the casual way he wrecked refugees from lightweight like Frankie Edgar and Kenny Florian more than establish his bona fides.

Aldo is without a doubt the most accomplished fighter his weight class has ever known and a first ballot Hall of Famer. His cumulative success cannot be denied, his long reign atop the division proving his greatness to even the most hardened skeptics. But, at the peak of his powers, Aldo was not the best featherweight of all time.

That honor belongs to Conor McGregor.

You remember Conor McGregor right? Before devoting his life to auditioning for a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, he was the most popular fighter in UFC history, exploding the dubious, long-held belief that smaller fighters couldn't draw in mixed martial arts. 

As he becomes more caricature than man, it will be harder and harder to recall a time when McGregor was just an athlete. Lost in the snap of paparazzi cameras and the absurdities of his burgeoning celebrity is the key to his considerable appeal—McGregor is an amazing fighter.

In two short years, he wiped out the featherweight division, dropping contender after contender to the mat with his deadly left hand. While Aldo seemed content to outpoint everyone he fought, winning five of his seven title bouts in the UFC by decision, McGregor displayed a killer instinct the likes of which the sport has rarely seen.

Six men entered the cage against him en route to the championship. Five didn't survive to hear the final bell—only Holloway managed that honor, in part because McGregor tore his left ACL during that fight.

Despite the injury, he beat the man who is now champion decisively.

McGregor's featherweight journey culminated in an epic fight against Aldo for the championship of the world. Before the bout, the two men toured the world, creating unprecedented interest for a division that had consistently failed at the box office during Aldo's time on top.

It was here, in front of an adoring press and enraptured fans, that McGregor truly established the persona that would drive his rise to the top of the sport. He was in his element the moment the cameras came on, emasculating Aldo over and over again, his silver tongue turning out to be every bit the weapon his left hand is.

Eventually, however, a prize fight moves from behind the microphone to the center of the Octagon. But the change of venue did little to change the outcome. McGregor remained dominant, knocking Aldo cold in just 13 seconds, a devastating loss that will always linger over any discussion of the Brazilian's otherwise brilliant career.

McGregor vs. Aldo: By the Numbers
21-3 (18 KO, 1 Sub)Overall Record26-3 (14 KO, 3 Sub)
2013-2015UFC/WEC Featherweight Tenure2008-Present
7-0UFC/WEC Featherweight Record16-2
7UFC Finishes2

McGregor, once champion, never fought at featherweight again. Why bother with a draining weight cut when the 155 pound division was ripe for the taking? The Irishman would go on to take UFC gold in there too, looking even stronger, fresher and healthier than he had at featherweight.

The brevity of his time in the division means McGregor can never be considered the greatest fighter in featherweight history. That remains Aldo until Holloway builds a competing claim of his own. 

But, at his apex, McGregor was the absolute best, a brief flicker of light in a division that desperately needed a star's shine.

Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.


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