On Sunday Conor McGregor, Ireland’s rising star of mixed martial arts (MMA), continued his meteoric rise, dispatching Dennis Siver to set up a title bout just five matches into his UFC career. Ultimately a comfortable win, achieved via technical knockout in the second round after a dominant performance, McGregor next meets champion Jose Aldo, an entirely more challenging prospect. One of the finest pound for pound competitors in the sport, Aldo’s consistent quality has seen him reign in the featherweight class for over four years. Already an entertaining rivalry outside of the ring, with both men sparring verbally long before they do physically, their meeting in the octagon promises a hotly anticipated and intriguingly even contest.
A divisive figure in the sport – he is rarely shy with his opinions of his colleagues, flipped off Siver at their bout’s beginning, and had to be restrained following his victory over Siver after climbing out of the ring to confront Aldo – McGregor has drawn a following with his entertaining, if somewhat loud-mouthed, persona and, more importantly, his ability to back it up with a string of victories. His performance facing Siver was characteristically dominant, scoring with both hands and feet and resiliently bouncing back up from the canvas following a well-placed leg kick from his opponent. He took the initiative with a combination of a jumping knee and left straight to Siver’s face. Following that up with a variety of effective efforts, McGregor ended the first round in the ascendency, and came out for the second keen to build on that early supremacy.
Following several attempts at a highlight finishes with spin kicks, McGregor settled for a simple left jab which floored Siver. Looming over his opponent, McGregor rained down a flurry of jabs until the referee stepped in to award the TKO, marking his fifth win of five in an undefeated introduction into the UFC.
With fans intrigued by the prospect of his meeting with Aldo, as well as potential match ups should he become champion – a likely challenger might be Chad Mendes, an interesting prospect as McGregor is relatively untested at facing opponents whose skills lie in wrestling and complex ground work – McGregor’s star is well and truly on the rise.
As well as his own benefit, McGregor’s success might have a knock on effect for homegrown hopefuls. MMA is observably still very much an emerging sport in the UK and Ireland (though its Irish following is steadily increasing on an already healthy foundation), and so McGregor’s success has the effect of increasing its profile both in terms of fans and potential investment. Having produced comparatively few contenders (others include Ireland’s Joseph “Irish Joe” Duffy, recently signed to the UFC and the last person to achieve victory of McGregor, as well as British up and comer “Stormin'” Norman Parke), the relative minimal infrastructure surrounding the sport makes McGregor’s success all the more noteworthy. By becoming noteworthy McGregor has the effect of improving said infrastructure – increased attention means increased monetary gains which means increased funding to be put back into the sport, creating new training facilities and avenues to explore for those looking to challenge as future stars of MMA and the UFC.
As McGregor, following his meteoric rise, looks ahead to a title bout, and the potential prospect of more to come should he become champion, homegrown talent might similarly look ahead to an increased profile, and therefore more opportunities, in local MMA.
With McGregor on the cusp of a title challenge, how might his rising fame within the sport help others in Irish and British MMA?