“My dream is to be world champion of the UFC, have more money than I know what to do with – and I will be,” he said. “Guarantee it.”
Now he’s one victory away from turning that dream into a reality. On Saturday at UFC 194, the outspoken Irishman – and interim Featherweight titleholder – takes on Jose Aldo, the stoic, long-reigning champion, in a unification bout years in the making. And though anticipation is off the charts, McGregor (18-2) plans on making short work of Aldo (25-1), the only 145-pound champion in UFC history.
“This fight will be decided by the four-minute mark of the first round. Anything beyond that will be a mere formality,” McGregor said. “I just don’t see him answering the bell for the second round. I can’t see his face or his body at the beginning of the second round. I see him KO’d inside one.”
That tough talk is nothing new to anyone who’s followed McGregor’s rapid rise – he is clearly a man who enjoys the sound of his own voice – but it bears mention that he’s routinely backed up his claims. In 2014, he said Aldo wouldn’t show up for their fight, and their bout at UFC 189 was subsequently postponed when Aldo suffered a rib injury. McGregor predicted he’d bring a UFC event to his native Ireland, then defeated Diego Brandao in Dublin. He also proclaimed he’d be the bettor’s choice against Aldo (he opened as a near 2-1 favorite). And though he’s dubbed himself “Mystic Mac” for his ability to read the future, McGregor’s first-round KO prediction may be too lofty to achieve. Aldo has some of the best defensive statistics in the division, has never been knocked out and has not tasted defeat since November 2005. During his 18-fight winning, he’s repeatedly turned back the division’s most notable threats.
Born into poverty in Brazil, Aldo was a standout soccer player as a youngster before he discovered his true calling with MMA. UFC President Dana White has labeled Aldo as the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, though you wouldn’t know it – he lives in Rio de Janeiro and prepares for each fight with the same core group of coaches and training partners that have helped him maintain longstanding success. He still uses public transit, sits in the cheap seats when attending local soccer matches and has largely avoided the glamorous lifestyle that can overcome UFC champions.
And as such, though the world may see the showdown with McGregor as monumental moment, Aldo said it’s just another challenge to his crown.
“Every fight is the biggest fight of my career,” he said. “To me, he’s just the same. I’ve fought a lot of the top fighters out there, and to me, he’s really just another opponent that I have to go in there and beat.”
UFC 194, which airs on pay-per-view from Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena and is expected to produce a U.S. record $9 million gate, marks the second time in which Aldo and McGregor have been scheduled to settle their rivalry.
Aldo was forced to withdraw from the July date due to that aforementioned rib injury. Chad Mendes stepped in as a replacement and suffered a second-round TKO loss to McGregor in an interim championship contest. That victory only added to the momentum of Saturday’s showdown. The lengthy build to the fight has revealed different sides to both men. Aldo, for the most part, has remained calm and collected, showing the most emotion when McGregor grabbed his title belt during a media event in Dublin.
McGregor, on the other hand, has maintained a relentless verbal assault against his opponent.
“If this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work,” he said in April. “It’s like in the jungle: One king gets old, he starts getting sloppy, he starts stagnating, then a young gorilla comes and kills him and takes everything he owns. That’s what is happening here.”
In September, McGregor said Aldo withdrew from their July fight out of fear – and joked that he’d be taking a more subdued approach when the two finally met inside the Octagon.
“He’s petrified; he’s the so-called pound-for-pound No. 1, but he’s quaking in his boots,” McGregor said. “I don’t want to scare him anymore. He went running. I’m going to take the opposite approach and cuddle him, whisper sweet nothings and baby him and let him know that it’s going to be OK.
“I am in a state of Zen. The closer the fight comes the face becomes blank. There is no face. It’s just blank,” he continued. “Now war is upon us. I am calm, cold, ruthless and ready to take out the body that’s in front of me.”
Through it all, the differences between McGregor and Aldo have become apparent. But on Saturday night, they’ll be going to war over the same thing: A legacy. Fight fans couldn’t ask for anything more.
“He is not as good as he thinks he is,” Aldo said of his opponent. “His talk is what got him here. He’s just another one in the way. If the fight stays on the feet, I’m going to finish. If it goes to the ground I’m going to finish it as well.”
“Within the next two fights I will be a two-weight world champion,” McGregor countered. “I would like that Lightweight belt. I would like to go for that title next. I would like to go this fight, Lightweight fight and then decide what contenders are there in the Lightweight division and Featherweight division and then make the decision.”