Conor McGregor - The Long Road Back

Conor McGregor is the best UFC featherweight of all time

Conor McGregor is the best featherweight to ever step into the UFC Octagon.

At 7-0, McGregor’s UFC run at 145 pounds was flawless. He entered the world’s premier MMA organization a trash-talking, hard-hitting dude from Ireland who was just bound to get messed up at the sport’s highest level. Sure, his power earned him some regional gold and a little local notoriety. But power alone doesn’t play in the UFC.

McGregor debuted April 6, 2013 … and promptly separated Marcus Brimage from his consciousness in just 67 seconds. At the time, Brimage was 6-1 and riding a three-fight UFC winning streak. He wasn’t a lamb being led to the slaughter. But his blood flowed all the same.

The UFC hype machine intensified, propelling McGregor forward. More. More. If there was a screen, the UFC wanted McGregor to grace it. If there was a microphone, the organization wanted him to grab it. Leave the filter at home and speak, young man. The world is listening.

From there, McGregor earned his first UFC main event July 19, 2014, taking on former The Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Brandao in Dublin, Ireland. The hometown kid was back, and four minutes into the fight, Brandao crumpled against the cage, Leon Roberts saved him, and McGregor unleashed one of his most memorable post-fight speeches to-date.

“We’re not here just to take part. We’re here to take over.”

“Take over” he did.

McGregor snatched minds, hearts, and wallets like no fighter before on his way to the top, a journey that culminated in a 13-second knockout win over then-champion and arguable pound-for-pound GOAT Jose Aldo Dec. 12, 2015, at UFC 194.

You’ve probably seen that highlight before.

McGregor’s reign as featherweight king began in dramatic fashion, but then … poof.

McGregor never fought at featherweight again. He tasted gold, and he wanted more, this time 10 pounds north at lightweight. He’d get that too, knocking out Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 Nov. 12, 2016, to win the 155-pound title inside Madison Square Garden. But McGregor’s sudden departure from the featherweight division — with zero title defenses, mind you — left many questioning his legacy.

To me, it only cemented it.

McGregor took chances, repeatedly calling his shot — no, seriously, his predictions were downright ridiculous — and proving himself right time and again.

“It’s going to be a first-round KO. Mark my words,” McGregor said before his UFC 178 scrap against Dustin Poirier.

You already know what happened there.

But being flashy and confident and, uh, psychic doesn’t make one “the best.” Defeating legends does, though. And McGregor did that better than any featherweight to ever make the walk into that eight-sided battle chamber.

Here’s his entire 7-0 run:

  • Def. Brimage (TKO, Round 1)
  • Def. Max Holloway (unanimous decision)
  • Def. Brandao (TKO, Round 1)
  • Def. Poirier (TKO, Round 1)
  • Def. Dennis Siver (TKO, Round 2)
  • Def. Chad Mendes (TKO, Round 2)
  • Def. Aldo (KO, Round 1)

Look at the names there. If you don’t agree with me that McGregor is the best featherweight of all time, the guy you do think holds that title — either Aldo or Holloway — is on McGregor’s hit list.

Now, re-read that last sentence.

Yeah. About that, huh?

It’s tough to say Aldo is better than McGregor when you can replay that 13-second affair in your head, frame-by-frame. The ending is rather definitive. In a one-on-one sport such as MMA, these direct matchups are the most important metric by which you can gauge a fighter’s success.

We know MMA Math doesn’t work. We know questionable decisions can muddy a result. But when one guy flatlines another in 13 seconds? No questions asked. McGregor was the better fighter that night, and that matters immensely in the discussion.

Holloway, then, becomes the more intriguing comparison. McGregor notched just one decision during his 145-pound run, and that came against Holloway back at UFC Fight Night 26 Aug. 17, 2013. In that fight, McGregor’s ACL exploded and Holloway suffered an ankle injury of his own, so neither fighter was at his best.

Still, McGregor took home scores of 30-27, 30-27, and 30-26 when the cards were read. It was another clear victory.

Head-to-head results aren’t the end-all either, though. Nobody’s going to argue Artemij Sitenkov, a 15-17 bantamweight who submitted McGregor way back in 2008 at Cage of Truth 3 in Dublin, is the better fighter of the two. But when the overall discussion is reasonably close — when everyone involved is a UFC champion holding quality wins over similar/identical names — then head-to-head can serve as the tiebreaker.

Of course, we can further muddy the discussion by reciting Aldo’s nine title defenses, seven of which came in the UFC after the company absorbed his original home, WEC. That record might never get touched.

We can talk about Holloway’s own run, too: Three title defenses, stopping Aldo twice in the process and taking a clear unanimous decision over former UFC lightweight king Frankie Edgar. 

All this, though, makes a separate case. It makes their featherweight runs greater than McGregor’s. The title defenses matter, no doubt. And Aldo and Holloway have them. For me, there’s no question Aldo is the greatest featherweight to ever grace a cage.

But he’s not the best.

The best went undefeated in the weight class. The best won the title then turned his sights to something greater, taking the sport with him to a higher level. The best slept Aldo and completely shut down Holloway when they met in the center of the cage.

The best is McGregor.

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