Monday 23 October 2017

UFC 194 Preview: Conor McGregor could prove to be Jose Aldo's kryptonite

UFC president Dana White, center, stands between Conor McGregor, right, and Jose Aldo during the weigh-in for UFC 194
UFC president Dana White, center, stands between Conor McGregor, right, and Jose Aldo during the weigh-in for UFC 194
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

Our MMA expert Fergus Ryan previews the Fight of the Year.

Aldo is no ordinary fighter

On paper Jose Aldo is a terrifying prospect for any fighter. Undefeated in ten years, riding an eighteen fight winning streak and the only man ever to have held the UFC featherweight title.

For the majority of fighters, the worst thing that can happen in a contest is you lose, you heal up and you return to the Octagon. Unfortunately, fighting Aldo means the worst thing that could happen is you literally get the fight beaten out of you.

Former WEC featherweight champs Mike Brown and Urijah Faber changed division after getting beaten up by Jose. Mark Hominick was a cardio machine, a knock out artist and riding a five fight winning streak till Aldo changed the shape of his head after a five round war. Hominick fought and lost four times after that and retired quietly.

Chan Sung Jung was known for his legendary toughness; a zombie-like ability to keep coming forward in the face of all out attacks. His first fight with Leonard Garcia in the WEC was a 3 round war. Though he lost by decision, the image of him walking forward roaring with fury as he traded heavy, heavy leather with Garcia meant the fight would go down in MMA history.

After dislocating his shoulder during his fight with Aldo in 2013, ‘the Korean Zombie’ hasn’t returned. Jung was connected with a number of fights but withdrew for various reasons. He announced in late 2014 his intention to begin his mandatory two year military service in his home country, which means he won’t return before 2017, if he returns at all.

It’s hardly coincidence that all these exceptional fighters had revaluate and alter their career paths after facing Aldo.

Conor could be his kryptonite

Despite all of the above Conor McGregor is still the favour based on the betting lines for the fight. The Irishman has been nothing short of perfect in his six octagon wins to date.

Conor has not been beaten in five years and is riding a fourteen fight win streak of his own. Thirteen of his wins have come by way of stoppage and twelve of them have been by (T)KO.

He can be described as ‘big for a featherweight’ but this refers to a lot more than just his physical stature. The Crumlin original has dominated opponents with his words before a fist is closed and thrown. He understands better than most to role psychology plays in a contest. He maintains he doesn’t trash talk but tells the truth. He manages to infuriate opponents to the point where he believes they become ‘emotionally invested in the contest’. All the while Conor stays cold, calculated and calm like an assassin.

Most impressively both the UFC and Reebok believe he is big business. The promotional efforts and monetary reward that The Notorious has earned in his brief UFC career is unprecedented in the sport.

The match-up

When you start to compare the fighters a few things become obvious.

  1. Activity - Conor has been more active in recent years. His win streak is only four fights less than Jose but in half the time. Since joining the UFC Conor has fought six times to Jose’s four.
  2. Health – Both men have had prolonged lay-offs due to injury. Jose has pulled out of five titles fights due to injuries. Conor fought Chad Mendes with a severe ACL tear that most would have not risked. We know Conor is both mentally and physically willing but we’re not so sure about Jose.
  3. Ways to win – Conor has stopped all but one of his last 14 opponents. Jose has required the judges’ scorecards in five of his seven UFC title defences. Sure Jose has always looked good winning but he hasn’t been finishing. He may be pressured into action on Saturday if Conor gets the upper hand after a few rounds.
  4. Outside Influencers – Conor is very much his own man. Due to his work rate and quality of output he is probably justified when he says he considers himself a business associate of the UFC rather than an independent contractor that the company hires to fight. Conor has made a lot of money for himself and the UFC.

Jose missed a big pay day when he had to pull out of the July fight. The fact that this was the fifth time meant the UFC were forced to show him he couldn’t hold the title to ransom. The interim belt that Conor hold is the warning flag to stripping Jose if he doesn’t show up for work. For his legacy, his bank balance and his standing with the UFC he has to fight and win on Saturday.

The Breakdown

  • Kick v Punch - One of Aldo’s biggest weapons is his right kick to opponents lead leg. The natural counter to this happens to be McGregor’s strong suit, the straight left punch. It will all come down to timing. Can Jose chop down Conor legs before getting hit with the concussive left?
  • Stance – The fact that McGregor is a southpaw may make it harder for Aldo to chop his lead leg. However, expect Conor to change stance and remain elusive through movement. Aldo fights best when he can fix his opponent in front of him and land combinations.
  • Power - Both men hit incredibly hard and can knock out anyone if they land on the sweet spot. Both men have good chins in that they can take a punch very well. Jose trains in Nova Uniao, which is renowned for its gym wars and hard sparring. Conor trains smarter and opts to ‘update the software without damaging the hardware’ according to his coach John Kavanagh. At some point your ‘chin’ wares out and you get dropped by shots you used to eat for breakfast. Jose was dropped for the first time in his last fight by Chad Mendes. Conor took Chad’s best in his last fight and was still able to walk him down for the win. Has Jose taken one too many?
  • Technique – Jose is quick and hits hard. What he lacks in striking technique he more than makes up for in fury and accuracy. His takedown defence is legendary and though he’s a renowned grappler, we’ve never really seen it. Conor’s style is that there is no style. He works hard on sequences that flow to the point where there is always an option. He can flow from a spinning heel kick into a double leg takedown if required. Conor looks to freeze or frustrate his opponent through his own movement. Jose tries to achieve the same through punishment. Both like to counter strike but the winner will most likely be the fighter who gets off first.
  • Mental – With all his media commitments and training the hardest part of the fight for Conor is the build-up. He describes the walk to the Octagon as being released from the shackles of having to promote the fight. By the time he gets to the Octagon all he has to do is fight; he’s free move as he pleases.

Jose rarely does media work and trains under the security blanket of his team-mates in his gym in Brazil. Come fight week his work load increases dramatically as he now must do some media, deal with the taunting fans and come face to face with McGregor. By the time he gets to the Octagon on Saturday the pressure of the moment and the magnitude of the event may start to play on Aldo’s mind just a little.

One thing is for sure, when we wake up on Sunday morning after UFC 194 the MMA landscape will have changed forever. Either Jose Aldo will cement his legacy as the current ‘pound for pound’ best and one of the greatest of all time; or Conor McGregor will have taken another step towards greatness in his seemingly unstoppable ascent through the UFC. Regardless of the outcome, greatness awaits for the winner.

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