Conor McGregor entered the octagon on Saturday with a lot of hype. His first UFC appearance was a dominating knockout win over the tough Marcus Brimage, and in the months that followed, he became MMAs latest obsession. His quotes made headlines, his persona captivated the community, and his skills backed it all up. He even rode around in a black Ferrari with "The Don."
As his hype train picked up steam, pressure built for the Irishman’s second UFC bout. Anything other than domination would be a setback, and thus, expectations were high. He didn’t get the finish he wanted against Max Holloway, but he passed several tests on Saturday.
1 – He didn’t succumb to the pressure.
Conor McGregor never let it affect him, but he was under a huge amount of pressure for his sophomore promotional outing. He had his own media day, countless interview requests, special treatment from the UFC boss, a pay-per-view style walkout, a whole country on his shoulders, and a tough Hawaiian waiting to spoil the party. All this for a fighter on the undercard.
Conor took it all in stride, and focused on what really mattered: the fight. "I just listen to my team, listen to my trainer, listen to the people in my circle," he said at the post-fight presser. "Everyone else, they don’t exist. I know the support I have, and I just have to go with the flow."
2 – He showed the ability to adjust strategy mid-fight.
Conor has long been known by his Irish fans as a dangerous and creative counterstriker, but he showed off a smooth ground game against Holloway. It wasn’t necessarily by choice, though.
McGregor injured his knee passing guard in the second, prompting him to employ a more grappling-heavy strategy for the remainder of the contest. "As soon as we stood up, midway through second round, it was just wobbly," he said. "I threw a kick and nearly lost my balance. I was trying to hide it, I had to change it up and go for the takedown."
"That’s why I don't have a game plan, because anything can happen in this game," he said, emphasizing a spontaneous approach. "You have to adapt and you have to be able to adjust in the moment."
3 – Most importantly, he won.
No amount of hype matters unless you go out there and win. Despite the pre-fight pressure, an in-fight injury, and a formidable opponent, McGregor went out there and dominated without taking any damage. It was also the sole decision of his career; before Saturday, his longest fight had been a nine-minute, ten-second submission victory over Dave Hill in 2010.
The 'X factor' in this fight is McGregor’s knee injury, and pending layoff. Although he moved well on his feet for the rest of the fight, and wasn’t limping afterwards, we still don’t know if it will require surgery or extensive rehab. Assuming all goes well, he could return by the end of the year.