Thursday 22 March 2018

'If Conor McGregor is going to do it, he has to do it off the bat' - Aldo's first UFC foe

Going on attack early is only way to beat Aldo, warns man who pushed Brazilian to limit

Conor McGregor at last night's weigh-in in Las Vegas
Conor McGregor at last night's weigh-in in Las Vegas

Joe Callaghan

Let's call it the black-and-blueprint. With his new zen master outlook, Conor McGregor has probably never had a greater sense of openness.

The Dubliner has marked the biggest week of his remarkable career here by veering away from the king of the jungle routine and edging more towards the Buddhist monk end of his utterly unique spectrum.

Still. Calm. Considered. Open mind, open ears.

Perhaps then, even with mere hours to go to the most daunting and defining night of his professional fighting life, the man who calls himself Notorious may want to bend his ear in the direction of Mark Hominick.

In the late hours of Saturday night on the Las Vegas Strip, the early hours of Sunday morning back home, McGregor will mercifully, finally stand in an Ultimate Fighting Championship octagon and watch Jose Aldo Jr climb in through the other side of the cage.

Fourteen months of waiting will come to an end at what promises to be a raucous MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Standing in that same patch of canvas, waiting and then watching, is a feeling Hominick knows all too well. As one of only a clutch of men to survive the ensuing experience intact, his is an opinion worth heeding.

The Canadian had the honour of being the first ever man to stare down Aldo in a UFC encounter when the inaugural featherweight champion made his debut in the biggest combat sports organisation on the planet.

The Brazilian came to Hominick's back yard for the occasion, a record-breaking UFC 129 that packed 55,724 into a baseball dome in Toronto in April 2011.


When the Irish Independent caught up with him in that same city last week, the retired Hominick told how a punishing unanimous defeat is still recalled as the finest night of his career.

Not because of the personal aspect to the occasion, but because he made a super-human Brazilian seem that little more mortal.

"When you look back at Jose's entire career, until that fight with me, he was known as being a real finisher. I took him the distance, I dragged him out into the deep waters and I don't think he's taken as many risks since that bout," Hominick explains of a fight that ended with Aldo in danger as his opponent staged a remarkable fifth-round late rally.

"I do think that that night changed him. He's still the UFC champion but I think he's more reserved than he was in the past. I did show that there were chinks in his armour, which hadn't been seen on that scale before."

The fight is remembered more for the damage Aldo inflicted on Hominick, a brutal blow to the side of his head resulting in a gruesome haematoma late in the fight. Hominick doesn't deny that he did took some of punishment.

Yet the numbers attest to Hominick's claim that he changed the man from Manaus.

As one of the most devastating fighters in the world, Aldo arrived in the UFC with just a single fight in his previous eight going the distance, a stoppage percentage of 87.5pc. Since that night when Hominick - a power striker much like McGregor - jarred his senses, Aldo has relied on a decision in four of his six fights, or a stoppage of 33pc. So how did he do it?

"The biggest problem I posed to him was the simplest - I put pressure on him.

He was used to fighting guys who back away. Jose carries so much when he comes forward that a fighter's natural reaction could be to take that step back.

Once you back away with Jose, he's going to hurt you. Bad," says Hominick of a fighter whose legendary reputation is built upon the havoc he wreaks on opponents' legs with his pneumatic kicks.

"He's going to take your legs apart. He's an unbelievable striker with his legs. You can't quite believe the force you've just been hit with. You think, how was that a guy's leg? It's a lethal weapon.

"You just have to close that distance where he gets those rounds off. That's going to be the true test at 194 because McGregor is a forward-focused guy. He's going to need to because that's how he'll stop Jose."

The green hordes that will again pour through the rows of slot machines and black jack tables to the Garden Arena tonight do so because McGregor is the kind of showman that only the fighting sports produce.

What often gets lost in the 27-year-old's bluster is that, he has been masterful at strategising his fights, with the help of his support team.

This week, a newer member of that troupe has been more prominent than ever. Ido Portal, an Israeli movement guru, was at the forefront of McGregor's public work out on Thursday. One of the goals is for the Dubliner to find an even greater sense of balance.

Given what went down in Melbourne last month, balance is prominent in McGregor's mind. There, on a night when the UFC broke that long-standing Toronto attendance record, the promotion's golden girl, Ronda Rousey got her strategy all wrong and was unceremoniously dethroned.

Amid a torrent of media commitments, balance was lost. The widely held opinion is that the UFC would very much prefer if their golden guy didn't go the same way tonight.

If he is to avoid a similar fate and justify not just favouritism but all of the hype and hard words of the past 14 months, McGregor should not wait for his crowning moment, feels Hominick.

"Early on, Conor is dangerous. So dangerous. So if he hurts Aldo quickly with that frantic pressure he puts on, he could just swamp him. So early stages favour McGregor for sure," he says.

"I can see Aldo trying to just slow that pace down and then start building rounds from two and three, trying to drag Conor out into those deep waters. He knows those waters better than anyone, the longer the fight goes the deeper he drags you down.

"If Conor's going to do it, he has to do it off the bat."

The black-and-blueprint is there. . . McGregor's golden moment awaits.

Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport