In the main event of Saturday night’s star-studded UFC 205 at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden, Conor McGregor made it impossible for fight fans to deny his greatness after knocking-out Eddie Alvarez in the second frame of their five-round affair to win the promotion’s lightweight title and become the first in UFC history to simultaneously hold two championship belts.
Now both the UFC featherweight and UFC lightweight champion, McGregor solidified his status as the sport’s current king with what was arguably one of the most impressive performances of his UFC career. But now that he’s done what many said he never could by claiming the 155-pound crown in his UFC lightweight debut, the irrepressible Irishman deserves to be recognized as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all-time.
Before making Alvarez look like a confused contestant on ”The Ultimate Fighter” who suddenly realized that he should’ve stuck with softball, the 13-second destruction of the once-invincible Jose Aldo at last December’s UFC 194 that made McGregor the featherweight king also forced his most outspoken critics to acknowledge the fact that the term ”special” didn’t even begin to accurately describe the proud product of Dublin.
Dominant victories over featherweight contenders such as Max Holloway, Denis Siver, Dustin Poirier, and former interim featherweight champion Chad Mendes, gave McGregor every right to demand a shot at Aldo. And when compared to what fellow Octagon legends like Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Ronda Rousey, Randy Couture, Jon Jones, and the versatile B.J. Penn accomplished within the first ten fights of their illustrious UFC careers, McGregor may be in a class of his own.
Because the promotion has continued to grow beyond even the most unrealistic expectations, and the ascensions of those Octagon greats were controlled by the rate of that growth, it’s tough to compare any of them to McGregor and what he’s accomplished thus far.
For example, all seven of Rousey’s UFC fights have been for the UFC women’s bantamweight belt. As a former Strikeforce champion, she was the obvious favorite to reign over a brand new division that desperately needed a few years to develop into the action-packed weight class that it’s become in the last 11 months, and Couture—who fought for a title in eight of his first 10 UFC bouts for a promotion that looks nothing like it does today, is the only one who experienced something similar to Rowdy Ronda early on in his UFC career.
As we saw when Nate Diaz did the unthinkable by submitting McGregor in March, wins and losses aren’t the only way to define greatness in today’s UFC, and much like the late Muhammad Ali–and yes, McGregor deserves that comparison, the promotion’s dual-division king has taken advantage of every single opportunity outside of the Octagon to promote himself and his unapologetic approach to conquering the world.
Whether he’s correctly predicting the exact outcome of several of his own fights, setting pay-per-view records, or turning pre-fight hype into a spectator sport, McGregor has refused to follow in the footsteps of those who’ve come before him. He’s not worried about offending other fighters, he doesn’t care if you laughed at the white mink coat he wore to last week’s weigh-ins, and he doesn’t care if you only bought the UFC 205 pay-per-view to see him lose.
With only 10 UFC bouts under his belt, there’s no way to know if McGregor will earn more UFC victories than greats like Silva, Couture, Jones, St. Pierre, and Penn. Assuming Jones returns after his suspension, he still has time to rack-up wins and finish his UFC career as the greatest light heavyweight of all-time, and even after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and earning a suspension of his own, Silva is still widely regarded as the best fighter that the sport has ever seen.
Yet, despite their domination in the Octagon, none of those legends, not even Rousey, possessed the intangible quality that’s made McGregor the must-see, multi-millionaire and face of MMA that he is today. And whether you’re one of his many supporters, a proud McGregor-hater, or just an entertained spectator, we’re all witnessing a new brand of greatness every time the Irishman enters the Octagon.