Cathal Pendred EXCLUSIVE: Conor McGregor beat Chad Mendes at 60pc - Fully fit he'll defeat Jose Aldo
We are just days away from one of the most anticipated UFC fights of all-time.
Conor McGregor versus Jose Aldo is exactly the type of fight that captures the imagination and attention of people all over the world. Hardcore UFC fans and neutrals alike.
In Aldo, we have the title holder who has earned the right to call himself the best featherweight on the planet.
The Brazilian is unbeaten in 10 years and has dispensed with every rising challenger that has had the stomach to try and steal the belt he clinched way back in 2009.
He is a fighter that tends to shy away from the spotlight and confrontation outside the octagon but comes alive inside it.
In McGregor, we have have the uber-confident challenger, who has claimed he was going to be the top fighter in his division before anyone even knew who he was.
He has not only taken the octagon by storm, knocking out five of the opponents he has faced in the UFC, but the impact he has had on the sport has been unprecedented.
His exciting fighting style and his charismatic and brash personality have made him the most marketable fighter in the game and sport globally.
This bout is a promoter’s dream because this contest is a fight fan’s dream.
All the ingredients are there for this fight to live up to the hype it has generated.
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The match-up of their styles of fighting is another aspect of this contest that appeals to fans, with both fighters preferring to keep the fight standing rather than grapple on the floor.
Although both fighters favour the striking area of MMA, their striking styles are as different as their personalities.
Aldo utilises a very traditional Muay Thai style in which hard leg kicks are used to set up punching combinations whilst simultaneously battering the lead leg of his opponent.
Aldo has made this style his own and has been very successful with it, especially in nullifying the many challengers he has faced with a strong American wrestling base.
McGregor has developed a much more unorthodox style which continuously changes or might be better described as continuously evolving.
His open minded martial arts mentality results in different stylistic attacks and movements being added to his arsenal daily, for example he has added Taekwondo and Capoeira kicking attacks while studying movement efficiency with Ido Portal.
This open minded approach makes McGregor a very difficult fighter to prepare for, especially as he continues to add to his game, meaning he is always liable to throw something in a fight that he has never done in previous encounters.
He has a fluidity of movement which no other fighter has ever produced.
I touched on the pair’s contrasting personalities, but what I feel truly separates these fighters is their mindsets.
Fighters will always tell you that strength of mind is more important to be a successful fighter than any physical attributes. The mind controls the body.
Aldo’s desire to maintain his belt has diminished publicly since this fight was announced, while Conor’s desire to be the one true featherweight champion has grown.
This was first evident as far back as March when the World Press Tour kicked off to promote this fight for it’s initial date in July at UFC 189.
Aldo looked less like he wanted to be there with every city they visited. McGregor, on the other hand was growing even more confident (as if that was even possible!). Until finally it reached boiling point when the last press conference took place in Dublin where McGregor snatched the belt from Aldo in front of a cheering home crowd.
If the fighters had a choice whether to do the world press tour or not, I can promise you that they both would have opted out.
One man who certainly didn’t want to partake was Jose Aldo.
Conor accepted that tour was something he had to do, so he decided he would "go with the flow" and enjoy it. While Aldo was prickly and uncomfortable throughout, becoming more and more rattled with McGregor’s antics.
However, I feel it wasn’t just the press tour where Aldo didn’t want to be. It is quite obvious he doesn’t want to "be there" as a fighter anymore.
He has mentioned several times that retirement is on the horizon for him and he's already thinking about stepping away from the game.
One of Aldo’s team mates stated this week that reckons it will be immediately after this fight on Saturday night that Aldo will hang up the gloves. All indications point to the desire really not being there anymore for the reigning champ.
The Brazilian is just 29 years of age (only two years older than McGregor). Some might be confused as to why a 29-year-old is considering retirement from the world of sport, but as someone who recently retired at the age of 28, I can shed some light on the matter.
If a fighter retires before they reach an age where they physically start to fall behind (this would usually happen at around 33 or 34 at the earliest), then it must boil down to an absence of the desire that was once there. And that is quite understandable when you consider how long Aldo has been fighting for. Aldo had his first professional fight 11 years ago, before McGregor had even got the results of his Junior Cert.
That is a long time to be fighting at a high level, and as I have always thought, there is a certain shelf life as a fighter, and all signs point to Aldo being past his use by date.
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The only reason he is fighting McGregor is because he has to defend his belt, especially now after all the public taunting by McGregor.
Whereas McGregor has been fighting for one sole reason, he wants to be the undisputed champion. And there lies the biggest difference between the two, "has to" and “wants to”.
One term depicts desire, conviction and purpose, while the other depicts a forced measure.
The final indicator that Aldo didn’t want this fight came when he pulled from this fight in July due to a rib injury. People have heard that in training for that July fight, McGregor injured his knee.
However, I’m not sure people are aware of the extent of that injury.
He couldn’t wrestle or spar until just a couple of weeks before the fight. With ligaments torn in his knee he was presented with a situation where 99.9pc of fighters would pullout of a fight.
He was left in a situation where he probably should have pulled out of the fight. But McGregor’s desire to become the champion was so strong that he refused to bow out and convinced himself to "do what he could" in training. This just illustrates Conor's mental strength.
I remember when I was in Mexico for my own UFC fight just a month before McGregor/Aldo was supposed to happen, our coach John Kavanagh had flown down for my fight in Mexico City and he was expressing serious concern that Conor was still unable to fully spar in the preparation for this massive fight.
Withdrawing from the fight just wasn’t a consideration for McGregor. Even when the opponent had changed to Chad Mendes, a fighter with a drastically different style to Aldo with just two weeks to go, McGregor still refused to step away from the challenge.
Every window of opportunity to walk away had been handed to him, affording him the opportunity to come back when he would be better prepared, but his desire to be a champion was too strong.
Yet, Aldo hurt a rib (an injury much less severe than McGregor’s) and he took the first chance he had to pull out from the contest. Even when the UFC doctors cleared him to fight, he still refused to do it.
I wouldn’t hold it against Aldo for pulling out of a fight of this magnitude when he wasn’t fully fit, but I’m just using the pair’s injuries and their subsequent decisions to highlight the difference in their mentalities. The "want to" versus the "has to" really came into play in those situations.
On July 11, McGregor went on to face Mendes, his toughest challenge to date. As a result of the injury, McGregor was at about 60pc, at best. Yet he never once let that affect his confidence, he believed that at even at 50-60pc, he was still better than Mendes.
This mentality is the driving force of his success, and it is the reason I believe that this Saturday he will attain the belt that he so desperately wants. That belt that Aldo "has to" defend.