Difference in mindset tips balance in McGregor's favour
Published 10/12/2015 | 02:30
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 who tends to shy away from the spotlight and confrontation outside the octagon but comes alive inside it.
In McGregor, we 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, and the impact he has had on the sport has been unprecedented.
All the ingredients are there for this fight to live up to the hype it has generated.
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 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 while simultaneously battering the lead leg of his opponent.
McGregor has developed a much more unorthodox style. His open-minded martial arts mentality results in different stylistic attacks and movements being added to his arsenal on a daily basis - for example he has added Taekwondo and Capoeira kicking attacks while studying movement efficiency with Ido Portal.
This makes McGregor a very difficult fighter to prepare for.
But what I feel truly separates these fighters is their mindsets.
Aldo's desire to maintain his belt has diminished publicly since this fight was announced, while McGregor'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 its initial July date at UFC 189.
Aldo looked less like he wanted to be there with every city they visited. McGregor might not have ideally wanted to do it but was growing even more confident (as if that was even possible!) with every passing city.
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 any more.
He has mentioned several times that retirement is on the horizon and he's already thinking about stepping away from the game.
The Brazilian is just 29 (only two years older than McGregor). Some might be confused as to why a 29-year-old is considering retirement, but as someone who recently stepped down 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. His first professional fight was 11 years ago, before McGregor had even got the results of his Junior Cert.
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 reason: he wants to be the undisputed champion. And there lies the 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 out in July with a rib injury.
People have heard that in training for that July fight, McGregor injured his knee. But I'm not sure people are aware of the extent of that injury which meant he couldn't wrestle or spar until just a couple of weeks before the fight.
Even when Aldo pulled out and was replaced with Chad Mendes, a fighter with a drastically different style to Aldo with just two weeks to go, McGregor still refused to step away.
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.
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.
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.
Cathal Pendred is a recently retired UFC fighter