Commentary

McGregor's arsenal, legacy growing

Originally Published: September 29, 2014
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Let's talk about the biggest story of the weekend: Conor McGregor.

Anyone who would argue that McGregor and his three-piece, ivory, elephant trunk suit was not the story of the weekend is either wrong or in denial. McGregor was the star attraction of UFC 178.

The 26-year-old is the real deal full package, unlike just about anything I've seen before in mixed martial arts. UFC president Dana White said Saturday he has never witnessed anything like the McGregor phenomenon. White is a fight promoter and partial to hyperbole, but this hyperbole is rooted in fact. McGregor has the makeup to be one of the biggest stars in UFC history.

Taking that into account, one can imagine how tempting it might be for the UFC to get McGregor into a title fight in his next appearance. Ultimately, I don't think that happens -- nor should it.

Not because the winner of a Cub Swanson-Frankie Edgar fight Dec. 13 will be that much more deserving of it. Sure, both Swanson and Edgar are ranked higher than McGregor, but not so much so that it would be a travesty to see him leapfrog them to the title.

To me, the UFC would actually do McGregor (16-2) a favor in booking him one more fight before awarding him a title shot.

Above the trash talk and the custom-fitted threads, what impresses me most about McGregor is his improvement between fights recently. He's hitting his athletic peak and optimizing it. The contrast in his fighting style on Saturday and his last fight against Diego Brandao just two months ago was quite noticeable, I thought. McGregor was more aggressive than usual against Dustin Poirier and he showed off some of the kicking arsenal he discussed at length during the buildup to the bout.

Give McGregor another six months and who knows what he'll add to his game. He'll be a different fighter than he was Saturday, that's for sure -- and the UFC should remember that when it books his next fight.

As good as the Irishman is, he'd be an underdog to the knockout power and wrestling ability of Chad Mendes or the athletic, precision striking of Jose Aldo. McGregor quipped Saturday that when featherweights feel his power, "it's a whole new ballgame." It will be a whole new ballgame for McGregor as well, once he steps in against Mendes or Aldo.

That's not to dismiss McGregor's chances of beating those guys, but what's the rush? McGregor and his legion of rowdy Irish fans aren't losing any steam if the UFC pushes back his title appearance by six months. If it were up to me, take McGregor to Brazil for the Aldo-Mendes fight scheduled at UFC 179 as planned. Let him speak to the media, say what he has to say about the winner. Bring him back, let the ligaments in his thumb heal and then book him to fight Chan Sung Jung in the UFC 183 co-main event Jan. 31 in Las Vegas.

Let the legend (and more important, the fighter) grow a little more. And now, fighter grades from UFC 178.

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