Jose Aldo. UFC Screenshot

On July 11th at UFC 189, fight fans will be treated to one of the most mouth-watering encounters in the history of the UFC’s Featherweight division.

The challenger, Conor McGregor (17-2), will look to be the first man from Ireland to win UFC gold when he takes on Brazilian champion Jose Aldo (25-1).

The stakes couldn’t be higher, and whilst the uber-confident McGregor appears to be typically unfazed by the magnitude of the affair, considering his brash, cocky comments in the lead up to the contest, not to mention the effort the UFC are putting into making him their new main attraction, what next for ‘Notorious’ if the luck of the Irish is absent in Vegas?

Ever since he burst onto the scene with a first round knock out of Marcus Brimage, the Dubliner’s insisted he’s the man to rip the title from the vice-like grip of Aldo declaring in his first UFC post-fight interview he’s ‘gonna take over.’

Initially, nobody took him seriously. ‘Scarface’, who’s unbeaten in almost a decade, has been virtually untouchable since he won the Featherweight title back in WEC – before the UFC absorbed the promotion – defending the belt 9 times. Many believed McGregor was merely another loud-mouthed trash-talker who, if given the opportunity, would succumb to the brilliance of the Brazilian.

Fast-forward nearly two years and a further four victories though, and people are now starting to believe in him. With each victory – all but one a TKO – McGregor’s convinced more people that he has what it takes to dethrone the champion. At the time of writing this article, a poll conducted by Sherdog asking who fans believe would emerge victorious had it around even. The bookies agree, with odds pretty split just in Aldo’s favour, although McGregor was briefly the favourite a few weeks ago.

His unbreakable self-assurance has contributed to the fans’ increased belief almost as much as his performances inside the cage. There’s something genuine and prophetic about the way he talks, and when you say you’re going to knock out your opponents in the first round – and do it – people inevitably start to believe in you.

But what if he loses to Aldo? Even worse, what if he loses badly? If he’s beaten, and the fight is close then the matchmakers may look to book an immediate rematch. But if Aldo destroys him – and let’s not forget how good the man from Manaus actually is – what does the promotion do with the man they’ve been pushing to fill the void left since former top-draw GSP’s indefinite hiatus?

Since he burst onto the world scene a couple of years ago, despite his breath-taking performances there’s remained one question mark hanging over his game: whether he can handle a wrestler of the calibre of, say, Chad Mendes or Frankie Edgar. From the moment Dana and co. realised his enormous marketability, there’s no doubt they’ve looked to shepherd him.

The fact he’s consistently paired with strikers, as opposed to the potentially problematic grapplers that inhabit the division, is testament to that, with the obvious reasoning behind this being to carve him an easier path to a lucrative showdown with Aldo who, as they’re well aware, is considerably less marketable.

Aldo is consistently ranked as one of the sport’s top five pound-for-pound fighters, but his inability to speak English and connect with the American audience has limited his popularity outside his home nation, resulting in consistently low PPV numbers.

McGregor, on the other hand, has amassed an army of fans and enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity resulting in sky-high PPV numbers and sell out crowds, despite the fact he’s only had five fights inside the Octagon.

Simply put, Dana and the company’s owners, the Fertittas, will be doing cartwheels of joy if he can take the belt. Money talks, even more than McGregor!

But if Aldo beats him convincingly, the hype train will be well and truly derailed and suddenly there’s a plethora of top contenders circling, many of them the aforementioned grapplers he could prove to struggle against, looking for a big money encounter with the division’s most high profile contender. If the doubts about his ability to cope with a wrestler prove accurate, it could all start to get a little complicated for Conor and his paymasters.

During his last performance against Dennis Siver, despite mauling the German en-route to a second round TKO, there were brief moments where he looked susceptible to the takedown. He managed to spring back to his feet immediately, and little was made of it after the fight, but if an opponent who possesses better grappling than Siver can wear him down and push him into unchartered territory, we’ll have a better idea of what he’s really made of.

Given his blistering performances since he graced the Octagon in 2012, it seems unthinkable that he could fall from grace so dramatically, and the fact his devastating striking matches up well with Aldo’s stand up style could very well mean we see a new champion crowned. But if not, given the remarks he’s made, not to mention UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta’s assessment that he’s ‘like an Irish Muhammad Ali,’ the role of the fool that Aldo has assigned him could prove pertinent, and things could change very quickly on the Conor McGregor landscape.

Article by Darly Rigby