Fight fans, tonight’s the night! The wait is over!
As Bruce Buffer calls out in his hoarse voice “It’s Time!”
For — the most anticipated featherweight bout in the history of MMA!
Except… well, it isn’t. It’s that fight the UFC put together when Jose Aldo injured his ribs.
But hey, it’s still pretty good so let’s talk about it.
When Conor McGregor enters the cage to face Chad Mendes tonight for the UFC interim featherweight title, he’ll have a country at his side – his Irish fans just as raucous as Ricky Hatton’s English counterparts.
The Dublin native they call “The Notorious One” is riding a wave of hype possibly as great as any athlete in UFC history.
His spectacular and unorthodox striking style – what Jack Slack memorably called his “Irish Tae Kwon Do” in a fine article for Fightland — is only a small part of the story here.
How many fighters have captured the game’s attention like McGregor – admittedly, more with his charisma and trash talk than his impressive five wins?
Has anyone in MMA seemingly offered his or her country a sporting identity like him?
Compare to even the undefeated UFC runs which began the careers of BJ Penn, who was inducted in the UFC Hall of Fame today, or more recently, Jon Jones. Did even they get this kind of platform from the UFC, featured in commercials and highlight reels ad nauseum?
Despite an excellent co-main event, with last year’s greatest comeback story in Robbie Lawler facing one of its most promising talents in Rory MacDonald in a middleweight title bout — UFC 189 is the Conor McGregor show.
Hype is hype though, and ultimately talk is cheap. Can he wear UFC gold — or even approach the accomplishments of the likes of Penn or Jones?
Meanwhile, Chad “Money” Mendes lies in wait. An NCAA All-American wrestler who learned the MMA game under the likes of Duane “Bang” Ludwig, Martin Kampmann, and Urijah Faber at Team Alpha Male, Mendes has — in sharp contrast — quietly enjoyed an excellent MMA career since debuting in 2008. His only losses in a nineteen bout career came at the hands of Jose Aldo himself; one of which was a narrow decision loss in 2014’s “Fight of the Year.”
While McGregor is known for his flashy style, utilizing dazzling footwork –moving in and out behind a long southpaw jab and a diverse arsenal of kicks – Mendes represents a meat & potatoes approach.
Watch for Mendes to move behind a simple striking attack to set up a takedown. Watch for him to use that “world-class squeeze” in a transition to take a guillotine choke. But you won’t see him get many headlines.
Unfortunately the man they call “Money” is anything but “Notorious.”
Mendes opened a slight favorite to McGregor, a nod to Mendes’ wrestling-based style. McGregor just hasn’t faced anyone with that acumen, and bettors were understandably nervous.
That’s changed now, and McGregor is the favorite. But in one observer’s opinion, that’s a matter of hype.
McGregor has shown he can deal with the quick transitions of a new school MMA striker/grappler like Max Holloway or Dustin Poirier. But he’s never been in there with a strong wrestler and tonight that will be his undoing. None of that flashy striking will matter while McGregor is on his back… and the same goes for his colorful interview style.
As Jens Pulver once said — and I hate to bring it up on a day where we celebrate BJ Penn, but hey, it’s relevant – sometimes hype just ain’t enough.
The pick here is Mendes to grind this one out and take a decision – or, possibly, a guillotine choke in transition. Expect McGregor to fight all the way to the bitter end and his fans to keep the atmosphere one to remember, but the day will not be his.
As always, enjoy the fights!