While history may remember Conor McGregor’s trip to Welterweight as a misadventure it does nothing to diminish his incredible achievements in the UFC so far. Arriving from Cage Warriors as a two-weight champ, McGregor made the step up in competition with ease. Not just stealing the show in the Octagon, but establishing himself as a true star outside of it, making millions of dollars in the process. Such stardom isn’t easily created or extinguished.
By Adam Clatworthy @A_Trollworthy
Choosing to fight Nate Diaz at welterweight was a rare miscalculation from one of the sharpest minds in MMA. Conor McGregor is a fighter who thrives on punching hard, with volume, range, and accuracy, pressuring his opponents until they break or fall unconscious. With an extra 25lbs of muscle Conor soon lost his snap, he couldn’t make the range against a fighter as tall and wily as Nate Diaz; punches which would render 145lb fighters unconscious only left the iron-chinned Diaz bloodied and bruised. McGregor lacked no skill in his defeat, but his body failed him. Unable to rely on his usual energy reserves, he was soon walking through treacle while Diaz was still fresh and ready to press the advantage. For this to happen as soon as the second round made the outcome inevitable.
While this fight showed rare vulnerabilities in McGregor’s game, it is a distinct outlier rather than part of a trend. No 145lb fighters can expose the flaws in McGregor’s game that Diaz did. McGregor will continue to have the range and power advantage against his peers which saw him rise as champion in such spectacular fashion. Even a run at lightweight isn’t entirely off the cards if McGregor can manage the weight increase without sacrificing his stamina for power. Given that Diaz is a natural lightweight (albeit with experience at welterweight) it may be a step too far for McGregor’s frame, but the right purse will surely make it happen if his featherweight dominance continues.
It is these possibilities are what make McGregor a true breakout star. He does talk with extraordinary confidence, but he backs it up with skill and ambition. McGregor doesn’t offer promotion for promotion’s sake, he follows it up with the show he promised all along. He offers unscripted wit and boldness that thrills and excites like no other can in a bland press conference setting with an unchallenging media. Fans know they can buy a McGregor PPV and get value for money. In a sport where playing it safe can be an easy route to a solid but unspectacular career, McGregor has made bold strides through the sport, taken risks and blazed his own trail. He has achieved such stardom that simply fighting him gets other fighters the most exposure and money of their career, as Nate Diaz will admit, and McGregor will continue to do the same for other opponents, win or lose.
MMA is a sport where nobody comes out unscathed. The greatest fighters have all suffered defeat. In a game with so many variables, so many ways to lose, losing is inevitable. What matters is how a fighter recovers psychologically. Whether the defeat breaks them or focuses them.
The only damage McGregor has taken is to his pride. To lose so far detached from his natural weight class doesn’t prove much of any relevance. While his most audacious ambition of welterweight gold has been given a reality check, he still walks out of a 170lb fight with his 145lb championship belt, and has handled defeat with a humility and sportsmanship which will provide a reasoned basis for reflection and improvement, and has no doubt won over some critics.
But Conor won’t care about the critics. There are lessons to be learned in defeat and his obsessive approach to MMA will see him focus on those and come out of it stronger, which should terrify his challengers at featherweight. The King is returning from battle defeated, but still the King.