Conor McGregor will fight Chad Mendes at UFC 189 after featherweight champion Jose Aldo finally withdrew due to a rib injury.
Mendes, a former two-time title contender, will challenge McGregor for the interim featherweight title on July 11 in Las Vegas.
Seven-time defending champion Aldo was hurt in training last week in Rio de Janeiro, with conflicting reports about the severity of his rib injury ranging from bruising to a broken bone. He was, however, cleared by doctors to fight before pulling out.
Aldo remains the champion but McGregor will surely get his title challenge following victory over Mendes. This is certainly an anti-climax after the McGregor v Aldo fight was hyped up for several months with a global tour.
David Hennessy was there in March when Ireland’s UFC star Conor McGregor visited London in anticipation of his featherweight championship challenge against Jose Aldo Jr in Las Vegas on July 11.
“I will show up July 11 prepared to kill,” warned Conor McGregor in London recently. The Dublin UFC star was here on a world tour that also took in Rio, New York, Boston, Montreal and Dublin in promotion of his scheduled fight for the featherweight title this month.
“I find the route to victory every time. That’s the difference here. When I hit people, they do not survive.”
Champion Jose Aldo Jr, from Brazil, has been undefeated for ten years, totalling eighteen fights and defended his title eight times.
Conor McGregor has burst onto the UFC scene in the last two years winning all of his five fights so far, four by KO. Prior to this, he was Cage Warriors Featherweight and Lightweight champion.
McGregor said: “We (Ireland) have never been on this stage before. This is the true fight game. This is real fighting, ‘as real as it gets’ is the UFC slogan. Ireland has never been on this stage. We have never taken this stage over. We are known for our fighting throughout history. We fight with everything we have. Now here we are on the true fighting stage. Now we are going to take it over. It means everything to me, it means everything to my country and that is why I will bring it home.”
Thiago Silva, captain of Brazil’s football team and a friend of Jose Aldo, has been quoted as calling McGregor a ‘douche bag’ and a ‘mother******’. Conor responded, “It amuses me. I’ll whoop the whole Brazilian team too as well. It is what it is. I’ll betcha he won’t say it to my face. I’ll tell ya that much.”
The tour also saw Conor and his opponent going to Jose’s home place of Rio: “To take over Rio, enter another man’s soil, to look him dead in the eye in front of his own people and speaking his own language, tell him he will die in front of his people who are screaming I will die. This is all energy to take into camp and prepare for war.
“As for what I have got off of Jose, exactly what I thought. He does not want it the way I want it. He does not want me around. He always wants separation but unfortunately there’s no one to separate July 11.”
Conor has lost twice in his career. One of these was to Donegal fighter Joseph Duffy in 2010. Duffy joined UFC earlier this year. Asked if he is interested in a re-match to rectify this, McGregor says: “Yeah, 100%. I wish Joe well. Of course if the fight presents itself, I will take it.
“We fought in a different era. Essentially, we fought in the amateurs. I was caught in the educational process, I was never once beat, I was never once hit. Even if they signed the Lithuanian kid (Artemij Sitenkov) who beat me many years before that, again I would definitely have my eyes on him but we will see how it plays out. Times have changed and now I am sitting on the world title so we will see how it plays out but I’m definitely interested in that of course.”
Conor fights at featherweight but was a champion at lightweight (as well as featherweight) before joining UFC. Is he looking to move up to lightweight if he wins this title? “When I win the fight, that depends. We will see. I definitely have my eyes on the lightweight division. I came into this company as a two way world champion, I simply vacated the belts because I was with a new promotion. I am a lightweight world champion and a featherweight world champion.
“I am the only Irishman, the only European to hold belts consecutively, it had never been done before so most definitely I am looking to replicate that achievement on the bigger stage, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“But there are a lot of featherweights who have spoken out of turn, who should have kept my name out of their mouths.”
Current lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos has said that McGreogor should stay at featherweight. Conor’s response is, “I list it down, there’s another man who has spoke my name in vain and what happens is when you speak my name in vain, no matter how many years down the line, I’m like an elephant, I never forget. I’ll come and get you. Guess what, Rafael? I’m coming to get you too.”
This may be the biggest fight of his life but preparations for McGregor remain the same: “They are all the biggest fight. Every fight is the biggest fight of my life. The last fight was the biggest fight of my life. The amount of media attention it got, if I lose, I’m a laughing stock. The fight before that was my first top 5 opponent, ‘this is the one where he’s going to get his mouth shut, this is the one where he’s going to taste humble pie’. They’re all as big as the last. This is no different, this is the biggest fight.
“I find a pattern happens when I sign to fight someone. I look at their career, I look at their shots, I look at their approach to the game but as the fight becomes closer, the face becomes blurred, it becomes blank. The closer this fight comes, his face will become non-existent. I will not see any facial features on him. It will just be a blank face and a new body type, the same as it always is and I will enter the contest cold, with no emotion and I will find my way to victory.”
Conor’s known for his swagger and a charm that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The Irish World found him remarkably relaxed. How can he be so comfortable and care free even ahead of what was supposed to be the biggest fight of his life? “I don’t know. I just become comfortable in the uncomfortable. This game is about finding comfort in uncomfortable situations. That’s the reason I got into combat sport, because of situations that would occur and I would feel uncomfortable and I would seek comfort in them. Then I eventually started competing to put myself in even more uncomfortable situations so my whole career has been about finding comfort in uncomfortable situations. I didn’t get in it to win world titles, I just wanted to be able to handle any situation. Now when I am in a situation where the average man would crumble, I excel.
“You learn as you go in this game. The game is an educational process, you must learn at every step so every day, I get better. Every week, I get better. Every fight, I go to that next level. I never remain the same.
“Look back at his (Aldo’s) career. You can see the shots remain the same, the reactions remain the same. Look back at my career, my evolution is undeniable, I will continue to learn, I will continue to get better. I will continue to say that I am at the top of my game but you best believe next time I will surpass that again.”
How many rounds does he think it will take to beat Aldo? “He will be out on his feet within the first four minutes. The shots that I need to land will land within that four minute frame. It will be a formality after that. How long he can take, that is up to his chin. He has been through war after war after war getting constant brain trauma. The brain does not recover, it doesn’t get younger. I will hit him and I will hit him very, very hard within that four minute frame. How long his chin can hold up, we will find out but it will be wrapped up within four minutes.
“I think it (my range) would cause problems for anyone. I have that range down. Nobody is more aware of distance than me but then people always think the answer is to close the distance, to step inside the pocket but I am phenomenal in the pocket. I began my career boxing. I live in the pocket so by rushing and forcing it, they are in the pocket when they should not be in the pocket and if you’re in the pocket with me and I hit you, it’s done.
“When I hit people, they do not survive. I map out my shots, my shot selection put people away every time. When Jose hits, he has got the basics down well but after that, it’s sloppy, it’s wild and they escape. That is the difference here. When I hit them, they are done.”
Asked to clarify reports that Conor had slapped Jose, enraging the champion while the two fighters were making a Canadian television appearance, Conor made the whole room laugh when he said, “I heard I slapped him on the back of the head. I did not slap him on the back of the head. I put my hand on his neck and I bent him over.”
Jose’s side of the story was: “I don’t know. He just grabbed the hoody of my jacket. It was not violent. I don’t know if he likes me or not.”
UFC President Dana White explained: “He (Jose) doesn’t want to be touched. He (Conor) keeps trying to touch him.”
When asked about safety precautions in mixed martial arts, Conor answered: “In my whole career, I’ve never even been hit once. I’ve never stepped foot inside the octagon and stepped outside it with a mark on my face. If anything, I would be more worried about the guy across from me.”
McGregor’s success has encouraged interest in UFC in Ireland. McGregor says this is what he’s most proud of: “I went to the gym on my own. I never had the backing of my parents early on, I never had the support. Nobody knew about the sport. There was no path, I could not go to people and say: ‘Look at this man. He’s an Irish man, he done it’. I could not follow a route.
“Now there is a path for these kids to take. The gym that I am in, membership is through the roof. Gyms are popping up left, right and centre and then you’ve got these kids four, five, six years of age being brought in and introduced to the martial arts way of life by their parents, by their mother and father who are by their side, taking them to compete. With that kind of support frame at that young age, leading the martial arts life, there is no limit to how good this next generation can be.
“That’s why I am happy to be a part of this sport and I am happy to be a part of this legacy. When I retire, I can look at these kids come up and know that I played some part in it. That’s definitely something I take great pride in.”
Conor McGregor fights Chad Mendes for the interim featherweight title on July 11 in Las Vegas .