Conor McGregor is at the top of the UFC but as we saw with Ronda Rousey, it takes roughly 3 seconds to go from the top to the bottom.
McGregor is facing the toughest challenge of his career on Saturday night when he faces featherweight champion Jose Aldo at UFC 194. Aldo hasn’t lost in 10 years and many consider him untouchable in that weight class. The quiet, non-english speaking, Brazilian isn’t here to promote fights or make friends with UFC execs. He’s here to kick people in the leg, dominate for 25 minutes and take his belt back home to Brazil. Does that sound familiar?
At UFC 117 it was Chael Sonnen stepping into the octagon to face the “unbeatable” Brazilian in Anderson Silva. Silva was on his way to becoming one of the greatest fighters of all-time and Sonnen had talked his way into the title match after a decision win over Nate Marquardt.
McGregor, unlike Sonnen, is entering this fight as one of the elite fighters in the world. Chael had to talk himself into his match up, while Conor took out the tough Chad Mendes to earn the interim title and force his opportunity. In no way are Conor and Chael in the same realm as fighters, but as marketable characters they share many characteristics.
Both can talk for days, both can carry a card without help from their opponents and both made sure the UFC knew of their talent to create story lines.
Sonnen was able to use that leverage to garner a Silva rematch, which was fair figuring he was winning the first fight heading into the 5th inning before getting choked out. Sonnen was dominated by Silva in the second match up and many thought he’d hang on as an above average wrestler in the division. Instead he was able to once again use his mouth to spring-board into a title fight. Sonnen was paired against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones as The Ultimate Fighter coaches and the two fought for the belt at UFC 159. Sonnen was clearly overmatched and didn’t stand a chance against the more talented Jones.
You may ask what this has to do with Conor McGregor?
Conor is a crossroads in his career. Technically he is already a UFC champion, a feat Sonnen never accomplished, but that’ll be forgotten if he can’t remove the interim tag from his name at UFC 194. A loss wouldn’t diminish McGregor’s mic skills or his ability to talk up a fight. Aldo is one of the premier athletes in the world and the #2 P4P fighter in MMA, so Conor could go on to terrorize the rest of the division until he earned a title rematch. The question is whether the UFC would let him?
McGregor is huge for the featherweight division and he’s already expressed a desire to take on the champion at lightweight after his UFC 194 fight. Many assume that Conor needs to leave UFC 194 victorious for that to occur but the UFC’s history with Sonnen proves that theory false.
Sonnen went from a loss in one division’s title fight into a title fight in a higher division. Dan Henderson’s injury gave Sonnen the window to talk himself into a title fight and in 2015 there was no division ravaged by more injuries than the lightweight division. Previous champion Anthony Pettis returned from a lengthy injury before he lost his title, current champion Rafael Dos Anjos is defending his title for the first time next week after missing nearly 9 months due to injury and #1 contender Khabib Nurmagomedov hasn’t fought since he defeated RDA in April of 2014.
The only constant in that division is title challenger Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. It’s not farfetched to see Dana White giving McGregor a redemption fight in Ireland this spring followed by a lightweight title shot at UFC 200.
So that, above all else, is why Conor McGregor could travel down the “Sonnen path” if he was to lose at UFC 194. His mouth will always keep him hovering the title picture in multiple weight classes and unlike Sonnen, his fist have enough to back those words up.