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Is Conor McGregor Already The UFC’s Biggest Star After Three Wins Over Unranked Opponents?
By now it’s safe to safe that Irish featherweight sensation Conor McGregor has taken the mixed martial arts (MMA) world by storm following his first round TKO win over Diego Brandao in the main event of UFC Fight Night 46 yesterday (Sat., July 19, 2014) from the O2 Arena in Dublin, Ireland.
After the insane card was hardly finished, talk of course shifted to just whom McGregor would fight next. No. 6-ranked Dustin Poirier was quick to hop on Twitter and volunteer his services at UFC 178, and McGregor himself propositioned UFC Co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta for a big name bout in an Irish soccer stadium.
That would suggest he is looking for an opponent considerably higher up the totem pole than Poirier. However, that could be a tough sell. While his 3-0 run in the Octagon is impressive, he’s yet to defeat a fighter even ranked inside the Top 15. He’ll no doubt receive a huge step up in competition his next time out, and his detractors would tell you that’s when we’re really going to find out what “Notorious” is made of.
Maybe they’re right. If he can’t get by Poirier, something that No. 3-ranked Cub Swanson and No. 5-ranked Chan Sung Jung have both managed to do in the past two years, then will he really be able to contend with the elite contenders he’s been calling out for so many months?
It’s hard to say, but that’s not what this piece is about.
What it is about is McGregor’s intense gravitational pull that has arguably made him the biggest star the UFC has to offer before defeating anyone close to a legitimate title contender. In an era of injured champions and fading legends, the promotion is beyond starved for top-level draws.
You could argue that Ronda Rousey is the UFC’s biggest star; she very well may be. But similar to McGregor, she has yet to be met with much competition in the Octagon. Her last two wins lasted a total of 82 seconds, not exactly giving pay-per-view (PPV) buyers their money’s worth.
“Rowdy” does not, on the other hand, bring the weight of the entire Irish Nation and their well-documented love for the fight game. That’s always going to be McGregor’s trump card.
Another thing that differentiates McGregor from Rousey is that his lack of true top competition is about to change. He’ll face off with nothing but the elite of the stacked UFC featherweight division from here on out.
With Rousey rumored to be returning in December to face Gina Carano, an actress who’s been out of the cage for over five years, the same thing cannot be said about the dominant women’s bantamweight champion.
You could move on and argue that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is the promotion’s biggest star, and after all that he’s accomplished in the cage, indeed he should be. But fans just haven’t taken to “Bones” as a suitable replacement for beloved and absent (at least for now) longtime champions Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva.
Let’s look at it this way: if McGregor were to string together an unbelievable win streak that includes several finishes over former champions like Jones’ current one, most would be talking about “Notorious” not only being the biggest star in the UFC, but the best fighter to ever step foot in the Octagon. It’s that simple.
They’d certainly be saying it a lot more and quicker than they are about Jones right now.
“Bones” polarizing and sometimes thought to be arrogant attitude and persona just isn’t allowing him to rise to his full star potential. McGregor has already far outshined him in the public relations department. Lately the 205-pound champ has been doing well by switching it up and playing the full heel, and in truth, that may be the best strategy for him.
As far is McGregor is concerned, he’s always going to be a massive babyface despite his endless trash talk and callouts.
So has McGregor done the unthinkable and surpassed Rousey and Jones as the UFC’s brightest performer? Well, he obviously did this weekend. But in a time where drawing power is apparently more and more important than actual skill and ranking, McGregor beat everybody in the department that matters most, and he beat them badly.
It may be right, it may be wrong, but two things are certain: McGregor’s hype has shot out of a cannon like few fighters’ ever have, and he’s competing in the perfect time to rise up without any truly big wins.
Would a pay-per-view headlined by a Jose Aldo vs. McGregor featherweight title fight outsell a Jones or Rousey-led card? It’s probably not going to outsell UFC 178, which features arguably the biggest rematch in the history of the sport in Jones vs. Gustafsson II, but it might come close.
We’ll have to see if fans grow weary of seeing Rousey destroy overmatched “contenders” for much longer without fighting “Cyborg.”
That all could disappear with one bad outing against a top-ranked featherweight, but finding out is going to be a fun ride. Let me know what you think about McGregor’s growing fame in the comments section below.
Photo: Winslow Townson for USA TODAY Sports