It’s easy to forget that there will be two title fights on the UFC 189 card.
The showdown between Conor McGregor and featherweight champion Jose Aldo has captured the attention of the fans. The featherweight fight has become huge, and McGregor and Aldo have sold their rivalry as well as the UFC could have possibly hoped for. Despite being the lower weight class to feature a title fight at UFC 189, it will serve as the event’s headliner. It will be the proverbial cherry on top of the cake. It will be a great fight, too. I’m sure of that, despite all the injury news that had fans in a frenzy that Aldo would pull out and we would have to wait even longer for the pair to meet inside the Octagon.
The fight between Aldo and McGregor is certainly worthy of all of the attention it’s receiving, but we can’t forget that there’s a second title fight on the same card. It goes down in the welterweight division, where we finally get a different clash of fighters after being put on the merry-go-round of Georges St-Pierre, Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler. Now, it will be Lawler against Rory MacDonald, a fresh challenger who has long been viewed as the heir apparent to GSP.
Yet, as much as we shouldn’t forget about this welterweight title clash, that’s exactly what has happened. The Aldo and McGregor show has become bigger than the event itself. The antics between McGregor and Aldo have been great, but the fight probably won’t be as competitive as Lawler and MacDonald.
I’ll admit that I’ve bought into the McGregor stock. The 26-year-old has dazzled at every turn and in every fight. Whether it was against Dustin Poirier, Denis Siver or Max Holloway, McGregor put on a dominant display in each fight. Aldo is a different beast entirely than all three of those names. Aldo has faced tough strikers before and fought through adversity in his fights. Aldo’s opponents, like any other dominant champion’s opponents, get built up only to ultimately suffer a decisive loss despite their best efforts. The hype for the Irish challenger has gone so far, in fact, that McGregor has become the favorite on some betting sites. It isn’t a wide margin, but still enough to show just how skewed this fight has become.
Meanwhile, Lawler and MacDonald are in the midst of a new era of the welterweight division. This division once saw a dominant champion in St-Pierre who defended his belt repeatedly without fail in the later stages of his career. Now, we’ve seen two champions since GSP’s departure.
As impressive as Lawler’s career resurgence has been, he is viewed as one of the weaker champions in the UFC. He wasn’t expected to get the best of Hendricks and take the belt the last time the pair met.
Much like the Aldo and McGregor fight, Lawler and MacDonald have close odds, with MacDonald being the favorite to win. Unlike the featherweights, the welterweight title bout hasn’t had its odds skewed by a massive promotional push. They haven’t had glamorous spotlights on the Las Vegas strip or a World Tour. These are true odds that haven’t been affected by the immense promotional efforts of the UFC. This fight is actually a close fight to call.
We can love the main event all we want. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, we seem to have lost sight of the co-main event in the fog of Conor McGregor’s charismatic aura. Lawler is just as entertaining if his opponent allows him to be. MacDonald is spectacular to watch too. He has grown right in front of us from a young fighter to this experienced and deadly contender.
We can’t forget about this fight as the promotion grows even hotter for Aldo and McGregor. The featherweights have captured the attention of the masses, whereas the welterweights haven’t. Don’t sleep on these welterweights, though. They’ll put on a show just as entertaining, if not more so, and continue to usher in the new era for the 170-pound division.