With his record-breaking KO (13 sec) victory over long reigning champion José Aldo at UFC 194, the question has to be asked,... did we just witness the ushering in of a new era in MMA with Conor McGregor? If we are just measuring numbers here, then all signs would point to "yes." UFC 194 had the second-highest live gate in UFC history (10.1 million). Second only to UFC 129 which featured George St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields (shocked? ya, me too!). Bean counting aside though, I feel as though Conor is ushering in a change in the MMA world on a few different levels.
What makes Conor McGregor different?
McGregor's Training Methods:
In terms of his training and fight preparation, his methods are a bit unorthodox. Conor is obsessed with body control and is an avid student of movement. He has mentioned this several times and it can be seen in many of the videos of him training (examples: instagram.com/thenotoriousmma). When have you heard of a fighter training for a title fight by catching tennis balls, dodging a stick or balancing on high bars?
Say what you want about his training methods, the results though, speak for themselves. I have a feeling you are going to see a shift in what fighters are focusing on in the gym in terms of training. Former UFC champ Dominick Cruz, who is no slouch when it comes to movement and footwork in the octagon, seem to indicate the same when he said the following in a recent YouTube post (link).
"People always wonder why (McGregor) does all these movement drills. 'What's this guy doing? What's he showing off?', The thing is, that's the future of the sport. That movement, fluidity, having movements in every single position."
McGregor's Fighting Style:
While we have witnessed other fighters with similar fighting styles, Conor seems to bring a unique blend of movement (discussed above), pressure, accuracy and confidence that is rarely seen today in the world of MMA. Please note that I didn't say "never seen" before. There are a few fighters who posses similar styles; Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz and Michael Page are some that come to mind. However, Conor seems to balance these traits better than anyone else in the game at the moment.
Since starting his career in the UFC, McGregor has finished 6 of his 7 fights and just needed 2 rounds or less to do it. This is impressive considering the level of some of his opponents such as Dustin Poirier, Chad Mendes and José Aldo. To sum up the point, Conor's seems to be more focused on his approach to the fight, rather than the person standing across from him regardless of what they bring to the table. Thus far, this approach seems to be working for him.
McGregor's Mental State:
By "mental state," I don't mean to imply that McGregor is somehow lacking in this area. Quite the opposite in fact. When measured against other top level fighters, Conor seems to posses a focus and determination that is pretty extraordinary. Even before his days in the UFC, a teenage Conor McGregor predicted he would be a UFC world champion one day (link). This is not to say others have not said the same. The difference is, he kept saying it along the way after each impressive victory. After all, what other fighter dismisses a UFC executive and takes the podium for his very own, solo post fight press conference (link)?
Personally, I am not a fan of personal attacks and my favorite fighters tend to be humble and respectful. While most would not put McGregor in either of those categories (myself included), I believe some of his antics are misunderstood. Without going full Sigmund Freud here, I believe half of what McGregor says is for the purpose of breaking down his opponents mental state before they even step in the cage (i.e. psychological warfare). He is basically getting a head start on the fight before his rival even steps into the octagon.
So what's the other half you ask. I believe that Conor has learned the simple mathematical equation that H x I = $$$. That is, hype multiplied by interest equals money, and lots of it (see 1st paragraph). The UFC is in the business of entertainment and the more people are entertained, the more money they make. Now, whether or not that money trickles down to the fighter, apparently depends on what said fighter brings to the table.
In conclusion, I think we are seeing something unique in the UFC and indeed in MMA as a whole. A fighter who unabashedly does what he says and says what he does. Like him or not, there is no arguing with his success thus far. I for one am of the opinion that the Conor McGregor era is upon us. I think the real question is, for how long?
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