Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo. Two names intrinsically linked for such a long time that it’s almost hard to believe they will finally meet early on Sunday morning at UFC 194 in Las Vegas.
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The lead up has at times been venomous – during a promotional world tour – and frustrating, the Brazilian pulling out of their original clash in July. But there can be no doubt that this is one the of biggest fights in UFC history and arguably the organisation’s most important.
For the first time ever, it’s likely the company will have back-to-back shows with more than one million pay-per-view sales.
Melbourne’s UFC 193 broke the attendance and gate records for the UFC and will forever be remembered for the kick that shocked the world.
But having already witnessed one star lose some of her shine in Ronda Rousey, president Dana White can ill-afford the divisive Irishman to follow suit.
This is set to be second biggest show in company history but despite the crossover appeal of Rousey and the growing reputation of McGregor, the UFC hasn’t hit the mainstream. That could be about to change.
Forget the ideas of “greatest of all time” and “pound-for-pound” and all that other subjective nonsense for a moment, because what we have is a match-up of two different styles and that’s what’s captured the imagination of not just fight fans but crucially the casual viewer.
In one corner is Aldo, the man held in the same regard as Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre. He is unbeaten since 2005 – three years before McGregor even made his professional MMA debut – having defended his belt in the WEC and UFC nine times against a murderous row of talent and is the only UFC featherweight champion in the promotion’s history.
— Dana White (@danawhite) December 12, 2015
The Brazilian has brilliant Muay Thai skills, the best takedown percentage in the UFC at 91 per cent and possesses leg kicks that former challenges have described as like being hit by a baseball bat.
If McGregor is aware of the extreme danger he’s in, he’s shown no sign of it, though. The Southpaw has shown to have devastating power in his left hand. He is massive for the division and uses a range of creative body kicks to sap the energy of his opponents, before lighting them up with his hands.
But it’s his confidence and mentality that truly impresses. His bravado is reminiscent of an early Cassius Clay. When the man who would become Muhammad Ali was a young challenger, he pushed champion Sonny Liston’s buttons with his brash and confrontational behaviour.
Clay’s refusal to show the slightest fear confused the champion and the public. When he eventually backed up his mouth with his hands, a legend was born. The same thing could play out this weekend.
All fighters believe it is their hand that will get raised but with McGregor it goes beyond simple self-assurance. He knows he is a combat sports god and at UFC 194, he’ll make adherents of us all. What you see in him is a perfect storm of personality, skills and circumstance. It’s a blend that creates a box-office superstar.
“Hollywood is screaming for me,” McGregor said during the recent UFC 194 conference call. The promotion will be too.
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Will Nico Rosberg continue his fine form with the Mercedes car? Or will Martin Kaymer win with home advantage in this all-German duel?
In this final Mercedes-Benz golf challenge, F1 driver Rosberg takes on two-time major champion Kaymer in a remote-control car race against the clock.
— Martin Kaymer (@MKaymer59) November 16, 2015
One of the funniest videos making the rounds on social media this week was of Rafael Nadal joking with his Indian Aces teammates in the Manila leg of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) about how the rapid format of the event is not allowing him to go through his typical routines on court.
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“I’m lost, I don’t have my rituals,” Nadal said with a laugh. His team-mate, doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna, told him: “You’re playing great without the rituals. Maybe 2016 is the change.”
A popular feature of the IPTL, which is currently in its second season, are the snippets fans get to see of the interactions between players during timeouts, between sets and after matches.
Viewers rarely get to see that much personality from the stars, who are typically focused during their clashes year-round, and barring a fist pump or a ‘Vamos/Ajde/Pojd/Come on’ here and there, it’s all strictly business on the ATP and WTA tours.
The IPTL on the other hand is essentially one highlight reel after the other. It is every GIF-maker’s dream come true and each moment is a Vine video just waiting to happen. But besides the fun, banter and behind-the-scenes access, IPTL could end up proving more important to the players than initially anticipated.
Nadal made his debut this week in the league as he was forced to pull out last season to have an appendectomy. The Spanish world No. 5 is renowned for his slow-paced play in matches as he goes through a series of quirky routines before hitting every serve and he often gets penalised for taking more time than he should.
Fast play is a key feature in the IPTL and there is a shot clock that counts down 20 seconds for each serve and it starts buzzing when it comes down to the final seconds. If a player runs out of time, he or she loses a point. Surely that is something Nadal can benefit from.
While a mere six days of IPTL play can hardly change a person’s deep-rooted habits, it could perhaps open Nadal’s mind to the idea of serving faster – something he has admittedly been trying to work on but has yet to make real progress in.
Another advantage of the IPTL players can capitalise on is the relationships formed between team-mates. Many tennis players often give you the sense that they generally just need to lighten up.
Talk of the locker room being a place devoid of friendships is common amongst the players, and the success of the IPTL so far is proof enough that both players and fans alike are really craving that kind of interaction among them.
We’ve seen how season one led someone like Goran Ivanisevic to strike up a friendship with his then UAE Royals team-mate Malek Jaziri and offer him free coaching during the Australian Open. That is just one example of how this league can create special and lasting relationships.
Plenty has been said of the drawbacks of players taking part in the IPTL but the way things have been going so far, it looks like there is also lots to gain.