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Opinion

Was Conor McGregor ever as good as we thought?

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Roar Rookie
14th July, 2021
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Conor McGregror will forever be one of the most electrifying fighters we have seen in mixed martial arts: a true rockstar of the sport, and a leading catalyst in making the UFC as global as it is today.

But after getting mauled and breaking his leg in a second consecutive loss to Dustin Poirier, and having won only one of his last four fights, the question must be asked: was he ever really as good as we thought he was?

There’s no doubt prime McGregor was taking the world by storm in the featherweight division with timely and precise striking, knocking out anyone that stood in his way. But looking back, it’s hard to tell if it was the Irishman’s actual skill or if it was his marketability that put him on such a pedestal.

His bouts against Max Hollway and Poirier are the more notable of his early victories, but they came against young, less-experienced versions of the future top dogs.

His 13-second knockout against Jose Aldo to get the featherweight belt could easily be seen as a lucky punch on the long-time champion.

And his win against Nate Diaz, who is solid but has never been a real belt contender, was questionable and only came after his loss in their first meeting – albeit being up two weight classes, but Diaz was also up in weight and took the fight on 11 days’ notice.

Conor McGregor

(Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Stamina and ground game have always been big flaws of McGregor’s, and his dream run may have been cut even shorter had he not finished Chad Mendes with a big left hand at the end of their second round.

Mendes, who took the fight on two weeks’ notice, was utilising his wrestling and looked like he had discovered the blueprint on how to defeat McGregor had he not been caught with the iconic left hand, which Khabib Nurmagomedov later proved.

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As the UFC’s first ever double champ – holding the featherweight and lightweight belts simultaneously – McGregor’s legacy looks rather convincing on the surface.

But his title fight to claim the 155 belt came against Eddie Alvarez, who is widely regarded as one of the worst champions in UFC history, and he never even attempted to defend either of his belts once.

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Although McGregor’s performance was outstanding against Alvarez, he was lucky the division was weak at the time and had nowhere near the talent it does now.

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McGregor hasn’t been able to get a win at lightweight since, losing to premiers Nurmagomedov once and Poirier twice.

Of course, this is definitely harsh criticism and may reek of recency bias. But although the ‘Notorious’ has proven to have massive knockout power, he has also proven to be rather one-dimensional and has never really expanded his arsenal.

While other fighters, such as Poirier, were honing their craft and working on all facets of their game, McGregor was semi-retired, boxing Floyd Mayweather and not maintaining his growth as a fighter.

Conor McGregor Floyd Mayweather Boxing 2017

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

McGregor’s story is starting to mirror Ronda Rousey’s, where a one-dimensional star is so dominant in their rise to the top, but their improving challengers eventually surpass them and leave them in the dust.

Ultimately, if McGregor doesn’t knock out his opponent in an early round, he will rarely get the last laugh.

Maybe if he never had such a big hiatus from the sport, and had continued sharpening his weaknesses, McGregor could have been one of the greats.

Now, his fall from grace will leave him with a legacy that is mostly based around his ability to sell fights – which he will forever be the best at – and putting the UFC on the map.

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If we do see him in the cage again, maybe it will be back at 145 where his heavy hands might be too much for smaller opponents, and he could potentially recapture the glory days.

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