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Jose Aldo is an underdog and the whole world has gone the best kind of crazy

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Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS -- Eleven months ago, well before Dennis Siver became a bizarre pit stop on the road to the MacMansion, Conor McGregor hijacked UFC 182's pay-per-view for five minutes to espouse in thorough detail what he was not only going to do to his Russian-German counterpart, but also to the rest of the featherweight division by the time the new year reached its end. It was brash. It was ostentatious. It was everything McGregor encapsulated in his pre-Mendes form.

He told us that Siver would be dispatched with a quickness. He told us that this time would be no different than the last, that the only change between then and before was expectations, and where foes were once supposed to humble him, they were now expected to lose. Then with one tick and a smirk, he called his shot for the year to come. He was the new king, he declared, and when Jose Aldo's time came -- and by God, it was going to come -- even the oddsmakers would know the true favorite by fight night. It was at once laughable and ludicrous, even for a man who lived within the absurd.

But Conor McGregor, he predicts these things. And three days before those words and threats and promises are set to vanish like smoke in the Las Vegas air, somehow the towering screens that surround the sportsbooks still ring true to the power of Mystic Mac. The Irish boy from south Dublin is a betting favorite over the legend whose personal win streak outpaces McGregor's own fighting career by two years. And even crazier, it is easy to be unsurprised.

"Belief is a very important thing, and interpretation is a very important thing," says fellow UFC 194 fighter Urijah Faber. "It's real personal. So it doesn't shock me in the least bit that people are swayed by Conor. I've seen it time and time again, where, the UFC is great at that. They want to build someone? They put a lot of eggs in that basket, and as long as the person is doing their part, (it works). But it doesn't mean that the person they don't know isn't just as tough."

In a vacuum, the odds themselves mean nothing. They are numbers, dictated only public opinion. Fights still and always will be won by the actions of men. But in a broader sense, even something this trivial is a testament to the rare and extraordinary journey the past year has led us down. That the combined might of McGregor's prodigious magnetism and the UFC's wealth of marketing could engineer a narrative so convincing that it could marginalize a figure so engrained as Aldo -- a featherweight universally considered to be the best who ever lived -- is a feat worth recognizing, regardless of which side of the rivalry your allegiances fall.

"It would piss me off," says lightweight contender Tony Ferguson. "It would. I would be pissed. If I was Jose Aldo, I would be pissed. But I would channel it. And I know he's going to channel it, because he's a champion. He's a gamer like that. And when you've been in this division for so long, you have to stay on top of it."

"My mind is blown," echoes McGregor's featherweight running mate, Max Holloway. "I don't know. I was tripping out when I saw that (Aldo was the underdog). I think he deserves a little more respect. A lot of people have been saying that this is the most focus they've seen in Aldo in a while, so I think we might see that scary Aldo who was in the WEC days, and I can't wait to watch it."

Whether the Aldo of those WEC days still exists, or is by now just a myth, is the great unknown. If the Aldo of the blue cage had romped into the Octagon and continued making murder his mistress against the likes of Frankie Edgar and Ricardo Lamas, then McGregor riding into UFC 194 as a favorite would be just as laughable as it was in January, if not more so.

But instead the mantra of always doing just enough took hold, nudging open the gates of cynicism that McGregor eventually stormed through, and now we're left to stare at a numerical oddity we haven't seen since 2009, when Aldo ripped the title from Mike Brown's battered hands, and oddsmakers realized that offering free money on the Brazilian kid was an idea of the dodgiest kind.

"What Conor has done, he's ignited almost like (Barack) Obama did (in 2008), where he pulled out all sorts of voters who never voted before, and activated a crowd that hadn't been very active before in putting their opinion down," says Faber. "You've got a whole bunch of new fans who are just McGregor fans, and they're throwing their money on him. So that's how the odds keep getting skewed, is who puts their money down. More people are putting their money on McGregor. But I'm not sure how the oddsmakers made [Aldo the underdog] from the very beginning. That's crazy. That's kind of crazy to me."

Aldo, naturally, doesn't care about such trifling things. McGregor's latest premonition come to life is more of an amusement than anything to the featherweight don. He couldn't help but chuckle his typical chuckle, the one that suggests he knows something the rest of us fail to understand, when asked about the betting lines on Wednesday. You want to make money this weekend? Just drop a few hundred on Jose Aldo, he suggested, his smirk plain for the world to see.

And maybe that's just it. Maybe it's just that simple. Because 14 months is a lifetime in a sport with weekly events and no offseason. And for 14 months, all we could see of Aldo was that smirk. For 14 months, he was relegated to being the response; the sometimes frustrated, sometimes amused defense to McGregor's offensive media blitz. It was easy to forget the name "Scarface" represented more than a simple burn mark.

However the magic of sport is that eventually the night comes where those reminders come flooding back all at once, and from there it is anybody's best guess.

"We see Conor all the time. Not only do we see him, but we hear him all the time, and he's kind of pushed down our throats," says American Top Team coach Din Thomas. "That's not to say he doesn't deserve it, because he deserves every bit of attention that he's earned and he's gotten. But we just forgot how good Jose Aldo is.

"There's probably people here who have never seen him fight. They're thinking: ‘here's Conor McGregor, he's the champ. Who's Jose Aldo? Conor is fighting some Brazilian guy.' That's what they're thinking. But Jose Aldo is a juggernaut in the game, and he's always been a juggernaut. I remember when I was just at the end of my career, I didn't want to fight him. I can't say that for a lot of guys, but Jose Aldo is a guy who I didn't want to fight. So we have the most dominant featherweight of all-time versus the most popular featherweight of all-time. And to me, this is one of the most exciting fights that I've had the pleasure of being involved with in a long, long time."