”There is no respect for others without humility in one’s self.” — Henri-Frédéric Amiel
You’d have to live under a rock if you haven’t seen — or heard — the trash talk that featherweight Conor McGregor has delivered regarding UFC champion Jose Aldo in the lead up to their match-up at UFC 189 in July. The brash Irishman has done just about everything imaginable to get under the skin of the Brazilian titleholder.
It’s a script that has allowed the 26-year-old McGregor to quickly ascend the 145-pound ranks to a title shot in less than two years. Much the way that former title challenger Chael Sonnen used his mouth to earn cracks at middleweight champion Anderson Silva (twice) and light heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones, McGregor is blessed with an eccentric personality that leaves fans craving more of him, no matter how outlandish he behaves.
McGregor’s antics have undoubtedly earned him, Aldo and the UFC a lot of money. Casual and diehard fans alike are salivating for July 11 to get here. Many believe that a McGregor victory is all but a certainty. Even one of my colleagues suggests that McGregor winning is good for the promotion.
However, many observers, blinded by McGregor’s hype and constant praise from the UFC, seem to be forgetting about the man McGregor is facing. They seem to be forgetting who that man is and what he has accomplished.
Aldo isn’t just a warm body holding onto the belt like you might have been led to believe. The 28-year-old is the most dominant featherweight fighter in the sport’s history. It’s been nearly a decade since he suffered his only defeat. Since then, the Brazilian has defeated a who’s who of the lighter weight classes. Urijah Faber? Yep. Frankie Edgar? Yep. Kenny Florian? Yep. Chad Mendes? Twice.
While McGregor’s mouth may appeal to English-speaking fans, Aldo is a legit star in his native Brazil. As fighters like Anderson Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira have aged and fallen from the limelight, Aldo has risen to take their place. More importantly, Aldo has done it all with his actions inside the Octagon, not with his words.
In McGregor’s defense, he didn’t earn his title shot on words alone. The SBG Ireland fighter has won five straight fights in the UFC, including four by stoppage. He’ll have a reach and height advantage over the champion and his boxing skills are some of the best in the division. However, he’s never seen anyone like Aldo.
And this is where McGregor is going to be in for a tough night in Las Vegas. Once the cage door shuts, he’ll need more than his mouth to carry him to the top. His cocky nature and arrogance — both in and out of the cage — won’t be an asset come fight night. He’ll have to deal with a fighter that no one in WEC or UFC history has been able to defeat; a fighter that he’s repeatedly disrespected and mocked throughout their media tour. McGregor’s tongue may have endeared him with fans, but Aldo’s language of fighting is a dialect McGregor won’t understand.
On paper, many factors favor the champion. Most notably, experience and level of competition. Add in a lightning-fast kicking arsenal and a high-level grappling game, and it’s the diversity of Aldo’s skill set that makes the Nova União product so dangerous. He’s faced elite wrestlers and kept the fight standing. He’s battled elite strikers and picked them apart on the feet. He’s taken heavy shots from some of the division’s biggest punchers and kept fighting like nothing happened. In other words, McGregor isn’t going to show Aldo anything he hasn’t seen before.
Words may have helped McGregor earn fame and fortune, but they won’t earn him a UFC title. The Irishman might be a marketing dream for the promotion, but there’s still the matter of beating Aldo in the cage. If McGregor’s efforts in selling the fight have further motivated the Brazilian, fans could be in for a highlight-reel performance. Aldo may not have McGregor’s respect going into the title affair, but rest assured that the Irish fighter will leave Las Vegas with a dose of humility. Whether Aldo beats it into him like he has done to so many challengers before McGregor, or it’s subtly delivered when Bruce Buffer utters the infamous line, “And still… featherweight champion of the world!,” McGregor will learn that actions always speak louder than words.