Originally published September 16, 2015
Since his UFC debut in early 2013, Conor McGregor has been depicted in a variety of ways. He has been called brash, arrogant, loud, and over hyped by his detractors; entertaining, charismatic, powerful, and skilled by his fans. In reality, all of these descriptions have merit.
Undoubtedly, McGregor pushes the envelope during his fights, press conferences, and interviews. He talks more trash than any other MMA fighter in recent memory. A couple weeks ago, at the “Go Big” press conference, McGregor was at his best, or worst, depending on your allegiance. He called out multiple fighters, interrupted other competitors, and mocked his peers. Despite being paired up with Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo in his next bout, McGregor somehow managed to hype fights with Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes, Rafael Dos Anjos, and Donald Cerrone. He stole the show and it was something to behold. Many fans and media members, however, can not see beyond his shtick.
Many claim that McGregor has talked his way to the top. According to his critics, McGregor has become a star because of his charisma, not his ability to fight inside the cage. They claim that he has never fought top competition. That he has holes in his game. That he can’t wrestle. That he had everything handed to him from the UFC brass. Etc, etc, etc.
In actuality, McGregor may be the most underrated fighter on Earth. After taking a closer look at his resume, it becomes obvious that McGregor is terribly underappreciated as an athlete and fighter.
Before arriving in the UFC, McGregor made his professional MMA debut in March of 2008. Fighting strictly in Ireland and England, he quickly made a name for himself. By the end of 2012, he had assembled a 12-2 record, winning the Cage Warriors Featherweight and Lightweight championships. Of his 12 non-UFC wins, 11 were knockouts and 1 was by submission. Not once did he go to a decision. In addition, 9 of his 12 wins ended in the first round. Simply put, he dominated the European MMA scene, winning titles in two weight classes, getting the call up to the big leagues in early 2013.
Despite all of his bravado, his run in the UFC has been spectacular. McGregor has gotten off to a perfect start, at 6-0. In his UFC debut, on April 6, 2013, he beat Marcus Brimage by TKO in 67 seconds. At the time, Brimage was 6-1, 3-0 (in UFC). The Brimage fight should have been competitive, it was anything but. McGregor made Brimage look silly and added another win to his lengthy list of first round KOs.
On August 17, 2013, McGregor stepped in the cage with Max Holloway. At the time, Holloway was a young, promising fighter, with great standup. Once again, McGregor dominated the fight. McGregor won the fight by decision, but the victory was impressive for several reasons. First, Holloway was a real, legit fighter. Since the McGregor loss, Holloway has gone 7-0 in the UFC and is currently ranked fifth in the featherweight division. Clearly, Holloway is no joke. Second, McGregor won the fight primarily through wrestling. His detractors claim he has no ground game, but they must have skipped out on watching this fight. In the second and third rounds McGregor took Holloway down multiple times and usually advanced his position rather easily. Third, McGregor beat the fifth best featherweight in the world with a torn ACL, strained MCL, and a posterior horn meniscal tear. In other words, mid-way through the fight, his left knee literally exploded, and he still dominated Holloway. Even though the fight went to the judges, McGregor, with one leg, won unanimously, with scores of 30-27, 30-27, and 30-26. That is truly impressive stuff.
Next, after a 10 month layoff due to the knee injury, McGregor squared off with Diego Brandao. At this time, Brandao was coming off winning The Ultimate Fighter and was 4-2 in the UFC. Brandao, while not a ranked featherweight, was a solid fighter, who was tough to finish. In typical fashion, McGregor out struck Brandao, winning another fight by TKO in the first round. This fight was never close either.
McGregor’s fourth UFC fight was against the 5th ranked featherweight in the world, Dustin Poirier, on September 27, 2014. Poirier had been a top 10 Featherweight for most of his career, dating back to his days in the WEC. Poirier came into the fight at 16-3, with wins over contenders like Josh Grispi, Max Holloway, and Erik Koch. This was supposed to be the biggest test of McGregor’s career. At this juncture, McGregor had really begun to make a name for himself, but many thought that the well-rounded, battle tested Poirier would outclass him. Once more, though, McGregor won handily by first round knockout, clipping Poirier right behind the ear. McGregor had beaten a top 5 fighter, this time in 106 seconds.
Next up was 10th ranked veteran Dennis Siver in January of 2015. This time, McGregor was headlining his first show on Fox Sports 1, at the TD Garden in Boston. At that moment, Siver was 12-6-1 in the UFC; a solid journeyman fighter, who had been competing against the best fighters in the UFC since 2007. Although, Siver was not truly elite, his striking was very good, and he had only been knocked out twice in his 30 fight career. McGregor did his usual, standard practice and handed Siver his third knockout loss. On this occasion, it happened in the second round, but again McGregor looked dominant, took minimal damage and looked like a monster outstriking the overmatched Siver.
After winning the Siver fight, McGregor jumped out of the octagon and got into the face of Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo, who was sitting cageside. Their bout was supposed to be next for McGregor and was scheduled to headline UFC 189 in July of 2015. Unfortunately, Aldo suffered a rib injury in training two weeks before the scheduled bout and had to pull out of the fight. UFC management had to scramble and put together an Interim Featherweight Championship fight for McGregor.
This time, McGregor ended up facing Chad Mendes, the second best featherweight in UFC history. For most of his career, Mendes had been known for his wrestling. Recently, however, he had strung together several impressive knockout wins. With much improved striking Mendes was 17-2, with his only losses coming against Aldo. He had garnered wins over Cub Swanson, Clay Guida, Nik Lentz, and Ricardo Lamas. He was the real deal, a well-rounded, elite wrestler that many thought would maul McGregor. In the first round of their fight, Mendes basically did that. McGregor was taken down multiple times and was behind on the scorecards headed into the second. Then, McGregor did what he customarily does. He punched his opponent in the head multiple times and knocked him out. McGregor beat the best wrestler in the featherweight division; by knockout, with three seconds left in the second round, on two weeks notice. Wow. McGregor was the new interim Featherweight Champion. He did what most experts thought he couldn’t.
He is 6-0 in the UFC, beating several ranked fighters by knockout and another with his ruined knee. Despite all of this, a large percentage of fans and pundits think McGregor is all talk and hype, dislike his persona, and dismiss his fighting resume. Subsequently, they speak badly of his MMA game and ability as a top tier featherweight. These people cannot see the forest through the trees. And there are tons of them. McGregor is so clearly an elite fighter, mowing down every guy he has faced in the UFC. Just look at his resume.
What more could he have done in his UFC career?
Right now, Conor McGregor has backed up all his hype and is the most underrated fighter in the world. His talk and fighting ability are one in the same: truly special.