LAS VEGAS -- Nearly 11 months have passed since Conor McGregor vaulted over the cage wall in Boston, bum-rushed a bizarrely amused Jose Aldo, and set in motion the most anticipated featherweight fight in the sport's young history. In the time since, handfuls of bum lives have been changed, red panty stock climbed to record highs, and the prophetic words of an Irishman have rung true with unnerving regularity.
Now if that pattern continues into Saturday night, and McGregor finishes Aldo inside of the first round at UFC 194 as he has promised, the Las Vegas Strip may very well burn to the ground. The merriment of UFC 189 would look like a wake compared to the party that ensues if the fighting pride of Ireland backs up all of 2015's craziness with one final and dramatic flourish, proving the point that he insists he set out to prove all along.
But two weeks ago marked the 10-year anniversary of Aldo's last and only loss, and a curious thing happened when we turned to the pros of UFC 194 fight week for their thoughts. Can McGregor defeat the featherweight GOAT? Will Aldo finally silence his greatest rival? Well, the answer was near unanimous.
Tony Ferguson: I'd like to say Conor McGregor, because we're under the same management. But Jose Aldo, when you put the stats down and you look at the effort and the heart and the mentality of what this is, how much s**t has been talked and everything, and you see Jose Aldo doing this (*puts finger to lips*) -- you know how it is.
I think Jose is going to get pissed. I think he's going to see the opportunity and he's going to take it. And if it ends up on the ground, he's going to be relentless. We've seen holes in Conor's game, as far as his jiu-jitsu. Master of movement, but you look like a turtle on your back.
Jeremy Stephens: You know what, man, let's not take anything away from Conor McGregor. A lot of people kind of hate on him or whatever, but the dude is interesting. The way he talks, the way he just presents himself, he's just got that aura about him that attracts a lot of people. And the he goes in there and backs it up.
He brings a lot of really good movement, elusive movement. He's very precise. He's accurate. I feel like the longer it goes, I'm going to have to give it to McGregor. But if Jose Aldo can it started right away and land some shots, put his hands on him, just be touching him, touching him, and not get pressured, be able to take him take down and just use some of that world-class jiu-jitsu -- I feel like Conor has some holes in his game, so I feel like if Jose can go in there and expose him a little bit, be able to mix it up and come unpredictable, land some big heavy shots and work those legs and body, then I feel like he'll do good and he'll come out the winner. My money is on Aldo, but I don't put it too far past McGregor.
Max Holloway: If I had to put money on it, I'd go Aldo. I think a lot of guys are overlooking him. They forget what he's done. They forget he's the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and they just look at him slugging it out with Chad Mendes. But there's got to be a gameplan with him, you know? He's not trying to wrestle with Chad, so why not make Chad believe that he can stand with him for a little while and be willing to land that one punch, because he can crack. Aldo can crack, Aldo can wrestle, and Aldo can also do jiu-jitsu. He's a black belt in jiu-jitsu for a long time now. So I think he takes it.
Frankie Saenz: I go with Aldo, just on pure experience, just from what I saw as far as him coming up and him just beating everybody, him beating Frankie Edgar. I'm a huge fan of Frankie Edgar. Him being able to beat Frankie says a lot, as far as his whole MMA game. I mean, he's been the champ for a long time for a reason, and I think he's going to stay the champ, and I think [Aldo] finishes him.
This is a fight he's motivated for, and you haven't seen a motivated Jose Aldo in a while, like just freaking getting after it. I think he's going to hurt McGregor.
Edson Barboza: [The odds] are crazy, man. I really don't understand them. I think that's more fan opinion. It doesn't really reflect reality, because Aldo is probably the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. I think Jose Aldo wins this fight because he is a much better fighter. Jose is a finisher. If you give one opportunity to him, he's definitely going to finish this guy. I hope, man. I really hope Aldo beats this guy.
Tecia Torres: I think Jose is going to come out with the win, but I do believe that Conor McGregor has lived up to his hype thus far. Everything that he said he was going to do, he's done. So would I be surprised if he won this weekend? No. But I'm still going to stick with Jose Aldo. I think he's a great champion, and that's pretty much it. Aldo wins in the fourth round.
Joe Lauzon: I think Conor gets it done. He's just so long. I think a lot of the guys who Jose Aldo has fought have been shorter, with less reach. Conor is going to be super long. Aldo definitely, I think, has the advantage on the ground once he gets there. But I don't know if he's going to want to take it there. I think Conor is so much in his head, just talking trash, I think he wants to punish Conor. It's kind of like a pride thing. An ego thing. At this point if Jose goes and takes down Conor, is that going to be enough for him? Maybe it is. Maybe it is enough to just shut him up and be quiet about it. But maybe it's not. It's all about Jose. But I think it's going to be an awesome fight.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza: McGregor being all over the media, he's become very popular. One of the things that happens is people forget to look at what Aldo has done to this point. So when we look at that, it gives me assurance that Aldo is going to be the guy who's going to keep the belt.
He is used to title fights and his confidence is pretty high. He's going to keep the title.
Evan Dunham: It's hard to pick. I think it's going to go to decision. Aldo will take it on the feet -- it'll be a stand-up fight, we all know that -- and I think he'll just stay long, have a good gameplan, and be able to win that decision.
Urijah Faber: I think confidence is a big thing, and you're dealing with two guys who have that. So when things cancel each other out, it's who is the more skilled fighter. I think Aldo has a slight advantage with his leg kicks and diverse game on the feet, and I feel like he's probably a little more seasoned on the ground as well. Who wants it more? Who has the ability? We're going to see. It could go either way, but my prediction is Aldo.
Demian Maia: I think Aldo, because he's a better fighter. McGregor is a good fighter, but Aldo is the greatest fighter in this division.
Din Thomas: Here's the thing: they can fight 100 times and each win 50. It's that close. But I think it's really going to come down who can control the cage better. The problem is that Conor McGregor is so elusive, he's so tricky with the way he moves, he's hard to kind of figure out early. If Aldo doesn't have movement that can deal with that, then he's going to find himself at the receiving end of a beating. If he just stands flat-footed and expects Conor to be there for him to kind of go back-and-forth with, he's going to have a hard time dealing with that.
And honestly, up until two weeks ago, I was leaning towards McGregor. But for some reason, I just believe that Aldo made those adjustments in camp. I believe that his experience said, ‘you know what, I'm going to respect this guy.' And I think that's what McGregor did to everybody in the beginning, was that he talked so much, that nobody respected him. Nobody did their homework to fight him, because they just said, ‘oh, I'm going to kick this guy's butt. Who is he? He's never fought anybody. I'm just going to beat him up.' And then he shut everybody down. And McGregor did that on purpose. He wanted people to not look at his skills and just hear his mouth. But I believe that Aldo said, ‘you know what, I need to respect this guy. He's a good fighter. I'm going to respect him, do my homework and train properly for him.' I believe that he did that. And if he did, then I believe he's going to win.