Who Takes It? UFC 194: Conor McGregor vs. Jose Aldo

It’s been a few weeks since the last installment of “Who Takes It?”

Last month, of course, possibly the greatest upset in MMA history was predicted here, as Holly Holm lifted the UFC title from heavy favorite Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.

It was, as MMA Nuts’ Matt Griffith predicted on our podcast, “the perfect storm.” A blistering head kick capped off a masterful performance by Holm, who out-boxed Rousey from the opening bell, deftly avoiding the champ’s feared submission game.

Astute readers may recall that I disagreed with Matt and predicted a routine win for Rousey. To this I answer: details, details…

So, what happened? Is Holm really that good? (It appears, yes.) Did Rousey underestimate Holm? (Maybe — but I sure did.)

Going off Holm’s previous UFC appearances I didn’t think she’d stand much of a chance… and actually, I stand by that. As it turns out, she had a lot more to offer.

“Holly has held back in a bit in the past, and that was all part of the plan,” Holm coach Mike Winkeljohn would later tell Yahoo! Sports.”We knew we would fight Ronda one day and Holly showed why she is now the best in the world.”

Freddie Roach described women’s boxing as having never really caught on, implying that Holm’s accolades weren’t what they’re hyped to be. He picked Rousey to “destroy” Rousey.

Can’t win ’em all — but why not keep trying?

Let’s start again today. This weekend, the UFC offers its most stacked event of recent years, with two huge title fights and a rock-solid undercard. There’s plenty of great fights to pick — but we’re hunting big game, and the biggest of the night (and maybe the year) is the UFC 194 main event: Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor.

The bout pits the UFC’s poster boy McGregor, whose trash talk and unorthodox striking game have electrified the sport — against longtime champion Jose Aldo, the silent assassin whose Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu prowess has kept him on top of the featherweight division for nearly a decade.

What’s the story? Our own Ingo Weigold says it will be a question of how McGregor handles one particular Muay Thai tactic: the leg kick.

“I think the story of the fight is, is Conor going to address the leg kicks or not, Matt said on our podcast’s episode 270. “If not, it’s a big problem for him. He can’t just ‘Nick Diaz that s–t’ and take them. He’s got to ‘Chris Weidman’ this. Check them, get out of the way, counter them, one of those three. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a long night for him.”

That leg kick has set Muay Thai stylists apart since Marco Ruas championed the style (along with luta livre) in the 1990’s — and beyond. Still:

“I’m going to predict he will have an answer,” Ingo says. “Aldo’s going to come out emotional, which is never a good thing. I’m predicting a second round KO for McGregor. One of the most exciting first rounds in MMA ever — it’s going to be nuts.”

Matt disagrees. He thinks we’re all selling Aldo short: fans, fighters, and the promotion which has awarded McGregor an interim belt.

“He’s been disrespected by the UFC,” Matt snorts. “The reason they’ve done that is because he’s talked about starting a fighter’s union, and that the Reebok deal is s–t. They really want Conor to be poster boy at featherweight.”

Conor will fall victim to Aldo’s better all-around game, says Matt — adding that the Irishman “had nothing to offer off his back” against Mendes.

Matt went as far as to give Aldo the edge in every way: striking, wrestling, and submission skills — with the only possible question being cardio. He predicted a devastating knockout for Aldo.

I wouldn’t go as far as Matt. McGregor definitely has a chance to win.

McGregor will be noticeably bigger than his opponent, as usual. He will strike with a strange arsenal of kicking technique, as usual. The straight left which has earned him win after win will slash out at his opponent, as usual.

He just may get a win tomorrow — as usual.

But I don’t think so. I just don’t think this will be his night.

Re-watching the McGregor vs. Mendes bout (and what an atmosphere that fight had!) showed McGregor using that long range striking game to great effect. But it also reveals just how much he struggles on the mat. You may have forgotten, but Mendes took McGregor to the mat in a matter of seconds and bloodied him with an elbow late in the first — probably winning the stanza. Mendes did the same in the second, but the bodywork had taken its toll, and he eventually was stopped.

Aldo may struggle a bit with the size disadvantage, but I think he can impose his ground game. Standing, look for his leg kicks to be key. Despite the predictions for a knockout, I actually see Aldo playing this one safe, to the chagrin of the crowd (and the UFC), and accumulating a points win.

As always, enjoy the fights!