If the measure of a combat sports star isn’t just how much attention he attracts when he fights, but how vital a part of the conversation he remains when he doesn’t, then it’s official: Conor McGregor is the biggest star we’ve got.
Saturday night’s UFC on FOX 17 event in Orlando proved that much – several times, in fact.
Of the last five fights on the card, three of the winning fighters – two lightweights and one featherweight – had words for McGregor. The two fighters who refrained were Alistair Overeem, a heavyweight, and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, a women’s strawweight. And you know even they must have considered it.
Such is the power of McGregor these days. Even when he’s not there, he’s there. And when he is there you know it just by the half-crazed Irish fans outside blocking traffic. He is a force in this sport from which there is no escape, and anyway who really wants one?
Not the UFC fighters between 145 and 155 pounds, apparently. It started with featherweight Charles Oliveira, who submitted Myles Jury in the last prelim bout of the night and then quickly announced his intention to come after McGregor.
After that it was Nate Diaz, who decided to find out whether FOX censors were paying attention as he called out McGregor in a rant that felt like it contained maybe five words that weren’t swears, and two of them were Conor and McGregor.
Finally there was UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, the man who was, at least in theory, the evening’s main attraction. He needed just 66 seconds to TKO challenger Donald Cerrone for his first title defense, and yet still it felt a little like what he’d really done was stamp his ticket for the McGregor sweepstakes.
The difference was, dos Anjos seemed more resigned to the possibility than eager for it. He treated the idea of fighting McGregor the way you’d treat someone who wanted to trade you their car for your skateboard. Not exactly a sound financial move on their part, but why try and talk them out of it?
That’s the other thing that serves as a testament to McGregor’s star power, is the fact that no one knows for sure what he’ll do next, and we’ve got two whole UFC divisions waiting to find out.
The possibilities are intriguing, but also a little complex. If McGregor were to go up in weight in an unprecedented attempt to claim two UFC titles in two consecutive fights, he’d be doing so against maybe the most dangerous and least heralded current champion. He might have two wins over Cerrone, and one each over former champs Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson, but even after a first-round finish in a network TV main event my guess is there will still be plenty of room left on the RDA bandwagon by morning.
That makes dos Anjos’ scalp an expensive, though criminally undervalued one. He’s worth the risk for the hardware around his waist. Without it, he’s just a nightmare with a crewcut.
Then there’s Frankie Edgar, back home in the featherweight division. He brings more fan appeal, more traditional and divisional payoff, even if defending the featherweight belt isn’t quite as glamorous as seizing the lightweight one. It is, however, logistically easier to pull off – assuming McGregor is still willing to make the weight cut.
Here’s where the sensible options end. It’s only when we give ourselves permission to put good sense aside that we really start to have fun.
Picture, if you will, the five or six weeks before a McGregor vs. Diaz bout. Picture their “Embedded” episodes, their weigh-in, their chance encounter in a hotel lobby. Picture the ridiculous good time they’d deliver – before, during, and after – then admit to yourself that even this sport couldn’t find a way to justify that. Or could it?
It’s only when you start thinking in terms like those that a potential dos Anjos fight feels, somehow, like a letdown.
It should be an amazing thing, even just on paper. The featherweight champ against the lightweight champ? It’s exactly the kind of superfight the UFC has for years been promising, yet struggling to deliver. It would also have to be essentially a one-man show right up until the punches start flying, at which point we might very well see one of the sport’s biggest stars knocked swiftly back down to his own division.
The thing that feels special about the fight is the magnitude of it. It feels big, though only because of the belts involved. But as Diaz reminded us at the post-fight press conference, there’s more than one way to create the big fight feel.
“I’m not like these guys, begging for a fight,” Diaz said, just a little over an hour after he’d dedicated his entire post-fight interview to calling out McGregor. “But we’re talking about big fights. He wants a big fight? We could fight, and that’s a big fight. That’s the kind of (expletive) I’m talking about: Real fights, not funny fake fights.”
And, come on, we’d love to see it. Or maybe we just love the idea because we don’t have to worry about it becoming a reality. Those other paths, whether at lightweight or featherweight, they might be a little too real to make for a compelling fantasy.
Whatever he decides to do, you can bet there will be a lot of fighters waiting to hear about it. The titles in two divisions depend on McGregor now. That’s a lot of futures he holds in his hands.
That he only has to say the words to make one of those potential futures a reality, that too tells us who the real star is. Even after a night where he was only there in name, and only because so many different people couldn’t stop saying it.
Source : https://mmajunkie.com/2015/12/for-a-guy-who-wasnt-even-there-conor-mcgregor-sure-loomed-large-over-ufc-on-fox-17