McGregor making UFC popular

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Personality and talent: Conor McGregor.

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.

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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