Like many MMA fans, I spent a good portion of my Wednesday crossing my fingers and refreshing my Twitter timeline. Jose Aldo’s ribs were injured and his upcoming title fight with Conor McGregor was in serious danger of being called off. Throughout the day, different conflicting rumors and reports popped up to keep the roller-coaster ride interesting — rumors that the banners for the fight were being taken down at the MGM Grand were enough to send fans into a mild panic during the afternoon — but eventually when the smoke cleared late that night it was revealed that Aldo had been cleared to fight and the event would go on as planned.
The champ’s ribs were originally thought to have been fractured, but it was revealed that Aldo instead was suffering from bruised ribs and cartilage damage. It seemed like the MMA community let out a sigh of relief and went back to getting ready for the most anticipated fight of the year. And for a while, I’ll admit I did the same thing. The relief that another massive UFC main event wasn’t about to be canceled less than two weeks before it was set to take place was enough to shield all of the potential problems that could be caused by letting an injured Aldo step into the cage. Now that that relief has started to wear off, though, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the fight we were hoping to see on July 11 might be far from the fight that we actually get now that Aldo is at less than 100 percent health.
It’s common knowledge that no fighter is really at 100 percent by the time they enter the Octagon. It’s all but impossible to make it through a two- to three-month training camp without suffering some sort of nagging pain or injury when fighters train as hard and as often as these athletes do. It’s completely possible that Aldo has fought with injuries far more detrimental to his abilities than the bruised ribs he’s going to be dealing with in a few weeks. However, fighting with an injury and fighting with your opponent and the rest of the world already knowing about that injury are two completely different ideas.
In MMA, everyone is The Karate Kid’s Johnny Lawrence of the Cobra Kai. Taking advantage of an injured opponent is expected. If a fighter’s opponent starts to limp, the fighter will kick the holy hell out of their legs. If their right eye is starting to swell shut, the fighter throws left hands and batters that eye. Hell, the whole purpose of the sport is to exploit an opponent’s weakness the second it presents itself, and anyone that acts even the slightest bit surprised if McGregor comes out and opens the fight with a few body shots is either kidding themselves or doesn’t understand the sport. McGregor’s knowledge of Aldo’s preexisting injury has the potential to be the x-factor in this fight now. Depending on how the fight goes, it may seriously alter the way fans feel about the Irish phenom following the bout.
No matter what the result is on July 11, McGregor’s win is likely going to be met with an asterisk. Unless “Notorious” charges to the center of the cage and lands a knockout blow (to the head) in the first few moments, Aldo’s rib injury is going to give McGregor haters a ton of ammunition to discredit the Irish challenger if he pulls off the upset. While bruised ribs may sound like more of an inconvenience than anything, it’s likely that such an injury is going to affect everything from Aldo’s intensity of training to his ability to cut weight later in the camp. Furthermore, if the fight starts to reach the latter rounds, then the rib injury is going to make breathing more difficult for Aldo, who’s had a few weight-cutting and cardio mishaps in the past. It’s hard to envision a scenario where McGregor can win this fight and not immediately be thought of as a paper champion until he beats a “healthy” Aldo in a rematch.
Honestly, if there is such a thing as a win-win situation for a champion at risk of losing his belt, Aldo might be in it. If the champion can overcome an injury that’s basically painted a huge red target on his body and still defeat one of the most talented and popular fighters in the sport, the Brazilian is going to add maybe the most impressive win of his career to a resume already littered with a who’s who of the top fighters under 145 pounds in MMA history. Aldo’s stepped in the cage with the likes of Urijah Faber, Frankie Edgar and pretty much every other fighter in his division that has earned some sort of spotlight over the last five years, but no one has had that spotlight shine brighter than McGregor. Whether he’s earned his reputation in the cage or with his mouth doesn’t matter, many fans will regard McGregor as the toughest challenge that Aldo has ever seen inside the Octagon. If Aldo is able to overcome that challenge while injured, then the longtime featherweight champion will get his due as one of the five or 10 greatest fighters in the history of the sport.
Even if Aldo loses, he and his fans have the built-in gripe that he was less than 100 percent and should get an immediate rematch. Regardless, a champion that has been as dominant as Aldo has been over the last few years should be given an immediate rematch under pretty much any circumstance, injury or not, as long as he’s competitive. Aldo may not even need to be competitive. If it becomes apparent in any way that the champion’s injury affected his performance, then fans will demand a rematch.
Due to Aldo’s uncertain health, it’s going to take something truly special for McGregor to win this fight and get the respect he will undoubtedly feel he deserves as champion. Aldo vs. McGregor is still without a question the most anticipated fight on any MMA lineup on the horizon, but it’s hard to sit here and act like fight fans should have the same enthusiasm as they did just a few days ago. When this fight was announced, it was supposed to be the pound-for-pound best fighter in the UFC taking on the talented and vocal challenger who’s done nothing but swear up and down that he’s going to beat the breaks off of the champ. Up until the day Aldo suffered his injury, this fight was going to crown, without a doubt, the undisputed best fighter in the world at 145 pounds. Now, anything other than an Aldo win is going to leave us with more questions than answers.