“I never go looking for a sucker. I look for a champion and make a sucker out of him”.
The words of Amarillo Slim ran through my head as I watched Conor McGregor put on the performance of a lifetime against Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. The thought had also crossed my mind after the 13-second demolition of Jose Aldo last December but this time it was different.
Some say the Aldo performance was a fluke. I believe there was a risk in the approach, but faith in the action. Many forget Aldo connected with the punch he threw as McGregor landed the blow that would ultimately relieve the Brazilian of his consciousness and his title. That punch was as deliberate and measured as something I'd seen from a champion in another sport.
It reminded me of Michael Schumacher's clash with Damon Hill that decided the 1994 Formula One world championship. Schumacher had defied all expectations by leading the previously all-conquering Williams team's drivers throughout the season(potentially aided by the death of Ayrton Senna).
In the championship decider, Schumacher made a crucial error that would see his car damaged beyond repair. Having hit a wall whilst leading, the German's car was crippled and all those months of racing and hard work boiled down to a few seconds of improvisation. Schumacher left the door open for Hill and the Englishman dived to the inside seeing his chance to take the lead; potentially the title with it. Schumacher dragged his car inside to the rapidly shrinking hole the Williams had filled to make contact. Hill's suspension was bent beyond repair and Germany had it's first ever F1 world champion.
Ironically McGregor's latest piece of history would come 22 years to the date, that marked Schumacher's first title. There can be a lot of comparisons made between both men. They have both changed the landscapes of their sports. Schumacher spent 21 years rewriting motorsport history. McGregor has been doing the same in the UFC over the last three years. Whether it's gates or paydays, he's set new benchmarks. Schumacher made his most important contributions to history on the track; just as McGregor has put himself in a class of one in the Octagon on Sunday morning.
It was 8 minutes and 8 seconds of perfection. Very few times in this sport have we seen a world champion made to look like an amateur. It was a performance worthy of the first time any person has simultaneously held belts in two weight classes at the same time in UFC history – the only other fighter to achieve something similar in top level MMA is Dan Henderson during his days with PRIDE FC.
— #UFCStockholm (@btsportufc) November 13, 2016
The last time we saw someone do something like this to a world champion was Anderson Silva. That's as high a praise as I can give. I'm not a rabid McGregor fan, but I can say I'm able to appreciate his body of work in the Octagon. As anybody who knows me will tell you. I believe Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter MMA has ever seen. Yes, he has holes in his games but even knowing that, he's still left us with moments where we've watched in wonder. He also set the mark for successful title defenses that I believe Demetrious “Might Mouse” Johnson will soon take.
I think all great champs have to overcome adversity at some point. Anderson had a few moments with Chael and Lutter (although that was a nontitle bout). Johnson has losses to Brad Pickett and Cruz. Georges St. Pierre had the most famous humbling pre-Ronda Rousey versus Holly Holm.
McGregor has dealt well with the adversity that came in the defeat to Nate Diaz at UFC 196. That was the night he was meant to first fight for the lightweight title. On that night McGregor threw everything he had at Diaz but couldn't finish the fight. The first signs of panic in his UFC career set in. I think that loss actually made him grow as a fighter and his patience and persistence in the second fight with Diaz showed a different character. The talent was still evident but there was a more patient and cerebral approach to the attempt to dismantle the Diaz puzzle.
It may be a little early to start the G.O.A.T. talk but McGregor is on the verge of being in that conversation. If he continues in the fashion he has; then he will have to join the company of Silva, Fedor, GSP and many others in the arguments for the greatest of MMA fighter of all time. For the time being, he's in a class of one with belts for two divisions on the wall and I doubt he's going to apologize for that either.
There's a great quote from Silva that I think Conor probably has taken note of in the past “I am not the best, but I am capable of achieving the impossible.” Truth be told I think most expected Jon Jones to be the man to achieve the impossible dream of simultaneously holding belts. Holding those belts won't make McGregor the greatest yet, but he's already achieved the impossible. As the man himself said, “The double champ does whatever the fuck he wants!”
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