Saturday night signaled a changing of the guard in the featherweight division. In the main event of UFC 194, Irish sensation Conor McGregor finally got the opportunity to back up all of his talk in a title unification bout against long-time champion Jose Aldo.
In just thirteen seconds, McGregor dismantled the man who had been the only 145-pound title holder the Ultimate Fighting Championship had seen.
A devastating left hook caused Aldo to crumble to the ground and McGregor was able to stake his claim as the baddest man in the division. After years of claiming he was the best in the world, McGregor finally proved his vision was a reality. King Conor has arrived.
While McGregor’s quick victory over Aldo was the most talked about moment of the night, UFC 194 also had much more to offer.
Luke Rockhold backed up some last-minute trash talk of his own to upset Chris Weidman for the middleweight championship in the co-main event of the night. We also saw a new challenger at 185-pounds emerge, as Yoel Romero edged out a decision win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza; albeit with controversy, as we have come to expect from the Olympic silver medalist.
Demian Maia also easily handled Gunnar Nelson in a welterweight affair as he makes a title case of his own, while Max Holloway outpointed Jeremy Stephens in the pay-per-view opener.
It was a long weekend of mixed martial arts and there was plenty to digest, so we are here to look back at the wild weekend and what could be next for the new kings of their divisions.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from this weekend’s wild event and check in on the buzz is around the mixed martial arts community.
Conor Is King, But The Irish Takeover Is Just Beginning
“Veni, vidi, vici” should be Conor McGregor’s next tattoo, after he came, he saw and he conquered on his way to UFC gold. Everything that McGregor had laid out in his well-thought out plan proved to be true as he steamrolled through the featherweight division.
McGregor walks the fine line between confidence and cockiness, but his mental toughness is unlike anything we have ever seen in the sport.
In fact, everything about Conor McGregor is unique.
He is a breath of fresh air. He is everything that mixed martial arts needs. McGregor likes to say that no one in the sport moves like he moves or thinks like he thinks, and that is exactly what sets him apart. His mindset is unrivaled and McGregor thinks more like a promoter than a fan.
McGregor understands everything that the fans want, everything that the UFC wants and everything that he wants. He envisions accomplishing those things day in and day out and eventually he goes out and makes it happen. People may not like McGregor’s attitude, but you have to respect the way he is so confident about anything he says.
And after the way he easily made his way to the top of the sport, perhaps we should start believing everything that comes out of his mouth, too.
When McGregor first stood in the UFC cage, he immediately made his intentions known. “We didn’t come to take part, we came to take over.” McGregor is doing just that and perhaps he has blossomed into such a big star that the UFC could struggle to contain him. There are rumors of a fractured relationship and McGregor is smart enough to get everything that he wants, so we will have to see what is next for the champ.
Conor being King certainly has helped the “Irish Takeover” movement, but it is only beginning.
The Irish fans have been incredible throughout McGregor’s meteoric rise to the top. However, it is only beginning. McGregor once said that the Irish have “come to takeover” the MMA world, so he only continues to raise the bar for the sport in his country.
Two of McGregor’s most highly-touted teammates — Gunnar Nelson and Paddy Holohan — are coming off of loses, but they have the potential to make title runs of their own as they continue to grow into their skillsets. There is also Aisling Daly, who could string together some wins in a shallow strawweight division to potentially earn her own shot at gold. Daly is currently ranked No. 15 in the division.
Now, back to McGregor.
To truly take everything to the next level for MMA in Ireland, the stadium show that featherweight champion has always dreamed of has to happen.
McGregor wants to defend his title at the iconic Croke Park, but politics could stand in the way. Luckily, there is also Aviva Stadium in Dublin, so there will be options if the UFC wants to capitalize on the Irishman’s star power. A stadium show in Dublin would undoubtedly shatter records and create one of the most incredible atmosphere’s the sport has ever seen.
McGregor has continuously said his dream was to defend the title in a stadium in front of his countrymen, so he will not be satisfied until that vision comes to reality. .
With a stadium show headlined by McGregor, the Irish Takeover could be complete. You are already seeing a strong contingent of Irish fans at every show, but a McGregor title defense in his home country could be what pushes the sport over.
The question is: who should McGregor fight for his first title defense?
The Pros Weigh In: What’s Next For McGregor?
I reached out to a handful of professional mixed martial artists from the top promotions in the sport to hear their thoughts on McGregor’s dominant performance. Each fighter was posed with the question, “Were you surprised with the outcome of UFC 194’s main event and what should be next for McGregor?”
Here is what they had to say:
Aisling Daly, No. 15 UFC strawweight: “I wasn’t suprised that Conor won. I had every faith in him. I was, of course, suprised at how quickly it happened, but it was amazing. Such a great achievement. I think Conor vs. Edgar would a great fight and probably the next one to go for before he moves up to get the lightweight belt.”
Angela Hill, Invicta FC strawweight: “I was shocked. I thought it’d be a tough fight for Aldo, but I had him smashing Conor with leg kicks and slowing him down before KOing him. I think McGregor should get Frankie Edgar next. They both barely got touched in their fights; they could do it in January if they wanted to. Red panties will be on sale after Christmas, too.”
Anthony Njokuani, Legacy FC lightweight: “I wasn’t surprised. I hated the fact that he lost like that, but I knew Aldo was going to go out there and fight on emotions and make a mistake and let McGregor capitalize. It really sucked to see Aldo go out like that, but this is MMA; you can’t stay on top forever. I think they should give Aldo a rematch right away. If they can do it for Ronda, Aldo should get the same. If they don’t, Frankie Edger should be the next in line. He’s been on a good streak and his time is now.”
Brian Rogers, Bellator light heavyweight: “I wasn’t surprised by the outcomes of the co-main event or main event. However, the way Rockhold and McGregor won is what surprised me. I won’t go into details, but I passed through AKA six weeks ago and trained there a day. Something that stuck with me is that Rockhold talked about how fighting off of emotion and rage can get you into trouble. We saw that prove itself true in the main event. Aldo did something out of character and paid for it. Meanwhile, Rockhold was very calm and composed and had a great win. McGregor has to fight Frankie. However, there aren’t any other big money fights for him at 145. You can sell Frankie. If he wins, you can sell the rematch . The only other fight you can maybe sell is a Max Holloway rematch, but that’s a tough sell . Holloway is on a great run and has good management, so he might be able to get the rematch.”
Burt Watson, Former UFC coordinator: “My biggest surprise of UFC 194 main event — and I didn’t see the fight — was that it was too quick. The fans didn’t get to see more of the skill and will of each fighter late into the bout. If there is no written option for a rematch, then Frankie Edgar is right there.”
Jacob “Stitch” Duran, MMA/boxing cutman: “I was surprised that it ended so quick and surprised that Aldo attacked squared up and hands too low; easy for a counter hook. [You have to] credit McGregor for the early KO. Out of respect to Aldo for his long run as a champion, I think a rematch is called for; especially since Ronda is getting one.”
Jamie Varner, Former WEC champion, UFC veteran: “I think even Connor’s fans were surprised by how easy it was for him. I never thought a champ like Jose would be at the end of a highlight reel knockout. I think [McGregor] should fight Frankie then move up to 155 or do whatever he wants. He is the king.”
Jinh Yu Frey, Invicta FC atomweight: “I was surprised by the outcome of the Aldo/McGregor fight. I thought they were pretty evenly matched and would have liked to have seen a few rounds. I would be interested in seeing McGregor vs Cowboy Cerrone next.”
Josh Hill, WSOF bantamweight contender: “I was very surprised. I think Aldo fought with too much emotion, and Conor got in his head. He didn’t look relaxed at all. I think Conor should fight either Aldo in a rematch or Frankie. I’m cool with either.”
Matt Horwich, UFC/Bellator veteran: “Yes, [I was surprised]. I thought Jose Aldo looked humble and respectable, like a champion should. [Who’s next?] Frankie Edgar is the man! Frankie doesnt talk to much bullsh**, but always shows up and puts on a great fight. Rafeal dos Anjos, as well. He’s a great champion and example.”
Mike Swick, UFC veteran: “I was really shocked at that quick of a finish. I think Aldo should get a rematch. For that type of situation, he deserves it. He got caught. He has been unbeaten for 10 years and if Conor beat him up for a while and showed he was overall better than I would say no, but it was a one punch. It’s not that Conor can’t beat him again, I would just like to see Jose get the chance and watch the fight.”
Paul Bradley, Bellator welterweight: “I was very surprised. Honestly, Jose let his emotions get the better of him. He came charging out with absolutely no feeling out process. It was a small mistake, but a huge one in the bigger picture. There’s no doubt about it; Frankie Edgar should be next in line. Edgar looked great Friday night against Mendes. He has cleaned out everyone in the division. If they pass him over, it’s a travesty.”
Randa Markos, No. 8 UFC strawweight: “I was very shocked. And judging by how quiet it got at the bar I was at, so were a lot of others. I was expecting a tough few rounds at least. McGregor [should] fight Frankie Edgar next or have a rematch.”
Ricardo Lamas, No. 4 UFC featherweight: “I was surprised at how quickly the fight ended. McGregor should rematch Aldo or fight Frankie Edgar next.”
It is clear from the pros that a rematch with Aldo or a bout with Frankie Edgar is the preferred next step for the new featherweight king. Fans seem to echo that sentiment.
UFC president Dana White told Dave Sholler, the promotion’s Vice President of Public Relations, that there were only two options on the table.
With the Aldo rematch seemingly out of the question, that McGregor vs. Edgar bout looks increasingly appealing.
How does a little dance at Croke Park sound?
What’s Next At Middleweight?
With most of the attention on UFC 194’s Aldo vs. McGregor main event, the co-feature between Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title was flying significantly under the radar.
However, as fight time approached, the two men involved in the bout began exchanging verbal jabs and the interest in the fight only continued to grow.
When the top 185-pounders entered the Octagon on Saturday night, what we saw was a masterful display of high-level mixed martial arts that lived up to all expectations. At the end of the fight, it was Rockhold who had his hand raised in victory and the championship belt strapped around his waist thanks to a dominant finish.
Now that Rockhold is champion, the middleweight division has plenty of potential matchups that will excite fans. Could Weidman get a rematch despite being dismantled by the ground-and-pound of Rockhold? Could Yoel Romero receive the next title shot? Does Rockhold finally get his chance to redeem a 2013 loss to the TRT version of Vitor Belfort?
Only time will tell what matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby ultimately decide, but the options have to make them happy.
Because of the nature in which Weidman lost, Rockhold should be able to defend his title against a new challenger. And if it comes down to a meeting with Belfort or Romero, the Brazilian would be the clear choise. There have been reports that the UFC was looking into a bout between Belfort and Anderson Silva in Brazil, however, so Rockhold vs. Belfort II could force the promotion to completely change their plans.
For a title fight of that nature, it would be worth it.
Video Of The Week
It is a great time to be a fight fan.
Within the next week, we will be treated to a UFC lightweight title fight between Rafael dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone at UFC on FOX 17 in Orlando. The winner could very well face Conor McGregor in their next bout. If that wasn’t exciting enough, the event will also feature a highly-anticipated heavyweight showdown between Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos, a lightweight scrap between fan favorite Nick Diaz and Michael Johnson and a women’s strawweight bout between No. 8 contender Randa Markos and undefeated UFC newcomer Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Then, to finish off an incredible 2015, new Japanese promotion Rizin will bring us the return of legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko and a bout between Japanese stars Shinya Aoki and Kazushi Sakuraba.
Finally, the UFC will ring in the new year in Las Vegas on Jan. 2 with UFC 195 — which is headlined by an exciting showdown between Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit for the welterweight championship.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports