The next six months are the biggest of Conor McGregor's career.
There's no doubt, over the past three years, McGregor has done things very few fighters will ever achieve in their careers. Between now and July 9th McGregor will face two of the biggest challenges in the form of Rafael Dos Anjos on March 5th, and Frankie Edgar with UFC 200 on July 9th a most likely date.
A loss in his next two fights will see the brash Irishman slip back down the rankings. Two wins and we will be mentioning the name Conor McGregor when we discuss some of the greatest fighters of all time.
The worst case scenario is a serious possibility. For the past 18 months, Rafael Dos Anjos has been a steamroller demolishing everything that has been put in front of him. There's a reason Dos Anjos is the bookies’ favourite coming into this fight.
What Frankie Edgar brings to the table is the “can Conor McGregor beat a high-level wrestler” question. McGregor answered that question to a certain degree in defeating Chad Mendes at UFC 189, but Chad Mendes wasn't in shape for that fight. If you look at the Chad Mendes that fought Jose Aldo twice and the Chad Mendes that showed up against McGregor it's like looking at two different athletes, given the fact Mendes had only two weeks’ notice for the fight.
So what happens if McGregor loses both fights? To be honest not a lot, yes he will slip down the rankings and lose some of that fear factor he instils in his opponents, but McGregor will still remain one of the biggest draws in the organisation due to the massive backing he has from the people of Ireland.
One or two rebound fights and McGregor will be right back in line for a title shot. All the greatest fighters that have ever lived have suffered defeat — Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Ronda Rousey, Floyd Mayweather being an exception.
On the flip side, what happens if McGregor successfully defeats Rafael Dos Anjos on March 5th and becomes the UFC lightweight champion, and then goes onto successfully defend his UFC featherweight belt against Frankie Edgar UFC 200? In the space of just three and half years McGregor will have successfully taken over two divisions in the UFC.
McGregor will present both Dos Anjos and Frankie Edgar problems they have never experienced before.
Movement — it's very rare we see an athlete who can move and utilise his body like McGregor.
Power — if McGregor lands his big left hand very few fighters will survive to see the end of the round. There's a reason 17 out of McGregor's 19 wins have come by knocking out his opponents.
The main thing that both guys have never experienced is the mind games McGregor brings to the table. McGregor will taunt and insult you at every attempt. Ask any fighter or coach and they will tell you fighting is 90% mental and only 10% physical. McGregor has the amazing ability to get under his opponents’ skin and it does affect a fighter's performance.
Look at Dustin Poirier for example. Poirier and McGregor fought back at UFC 178. In the lead up to the fight Poirier said McGregor's mind games didn't faze him but once the fight started Poirier's game-plan went out the window. He was too emotionally invested which clouded his judgement. McGregor won the fight in the first round. Looking back, Poirier admitted McGregor did get in his head and it did affect his performance.
So McGregor is close to being considered one of the greatest fighters that has ever lived, ensuring that, in 10-20 years’ time, we will look back at the Conor McGregor era as something truly special.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved