Going into UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs Sonnen, Conor McGregor was getting a significant amount of buzz that an undercard fighter normally wouldn’t receive. It was telling at the pre-fight press conference; co-main event fighters Travis Browne and Alistair Overeem received less attention than McGregor did. McGregor had his own workout, away from the rest of the card, and the mesh of a genuine Irish fighter with a population as heavily Irish as Boston seems perfect for the UFC.
Boston’s an Irish town in the same way Chicago is a Polish town; both cities are diverse but are known for that particular European ethnicity. There’s a reason why Boston has shamrocks on everything and a number of popular musicians from the area have deep ethnic roots from Ireland. So having an Irish fighter promoted heavy to a town that was once home to John L. Sullivan is good business sense in a way.
But it was also peculiar for McGregor to be such a big part considering his relatively low status on the card. Local resident (and main card inhabitant) Joe Lauzon didn’t get this much attention and he’s a Boston native. One would think a main card resident like Lauzon, perhaps the UFC’s most exciting fighter and having been on the UFC roster longer than nearly anyone on UFC Fight Night’s card, would be deemed more important than a fighter in his sophomore effort who’s major defining character so far is that he’s profoundly Irish.
If he had been fighting on the main card for the first time it would not be nearly out of the ordinary for Dana White to lead off a press conference with the results of a poster contest involving McGregor. Since McGregor wasn’t even on the main card it was a bit of a curious decision. McGregor had less than two minutes of ring time in the UFC coming into tonight’s card, a magnificent stoppage win of Marcus Brimage, but this much attention from Zuffa on the former Cage Warriors two division champion felt out of place based on his lack of tenure inside the cage.
McGregor even got his walkout televised, something that rarely (if ever) happens on the undercard. He even got the rock star treatment, getting the lights turned out for his entrance, and the crowd responded accordingly. And McGregor responded accordingly.
He certainly looked like he could be an elite fighter, out-classing Max Holloway for three rounds en route to a dominant unanimous decision. The key here is “looked” because he’s not there yet. But he’s not nearly as far from being an elite fighter than many would suspect, given the dominant (but lackluster) win over Holloway.
The tendency with prospects, especially ones who have the sort of charisma McGregor does, is to push them fast. McGregor oozes massive star power and would be the ideal fighter to headline the UFC’s return to Ireland. But he’s not ready to be a headliner, and have a headlining caliber fight, and everything we saw Saturday night confirmed it.
McGregor’s not ready … but he’s close.
The Irishman looked similar to Chris Weidman against Demian Maia on the second UFC on Fox card (in Chicago). He looked good, like he could contend for a title in the future, but he didn’t look like a Top Five talent just yet. McGregor needs seasoning, and plenty of it, before he’s ready for someone like Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson, Ricardo Lamas or Chan Sung Jung just yet. Right now the McGregor that dominated a tough young talent in a diverse way would not do the same against someone much more talented.
McGregor may have hurt his knee during the second round, thus needing to show some versatility, but right now the key to having McGregor be ready and credible when he faces off against someone like Swanson is to give him someone similar to Holloway at least two more times. Giving him Andy Ogle, whom he was originally scheduled to face, makes an awful lot of sense. Holloway isn’t an easy out but McGregor showed he needs to brought along slowly in victory.
Will Conor McGregor be a Top 10 featherweight fighter and contend for a UFC title in the near future? Absolutely. He’s got the skills and the presence to get into the title hunt sooner than later. It’s just not the right moment … but in 12 months it could be. McGregor is close to being ready … he just is the steak that is cooked perfectly but needs that final seasoning to make it ready to be served.