UFC 194 will forever belong to the “Notorious One.”
Conor McGregor shattered Jose Aldo in thirteen seconds this past Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Along with becoming the new undisputed UFC featherweight champion, McGregor’s decisive victory also earned him some extra respect from MMA legend Chuck Liddell.
“Conor is very dangerous, especially in the first two rounds,” said Liddell. “His attack is so accurate, and he hits hard. He has the reach, and he’s big for that weight class.”
The 45-year-old Liddell is a UFC Hall of Famer and is one of the major reasons MMA evolved into a popular mainstream sport. The former UFC Light Heavyweight champion was impressed that McGregor was able to finish Aldo off in such a quick manner.
“It was a surprise that the fight was that short,” said Liddell. “I’m probably getting in trouble for saying this, and Jose is one of my favorite guys–I’ve been watching him for a long time, and he’s been one of the best for ten years–but that wasn’t a big weight class that people cared a lot about. Now Conor is there making noise. With all the guys in the world that talk so much trash, at least he backs it up and fights the way he says he’s going to fight.”
The fight marked the first time Aldo had ever been knocked out, and Liddell questioned why the Brazilian mixed martial artist started off so aggressively.
“Aldo needed to feel McGregor out,” explained Liddell. “Coming right at him ran into McGregor’s game. I thought he’d start by taking him down and confuse him a little. Maybe he had all that stuff planned, but one combo and Aldo got caught. That happens, especially with a guy as talented and precise and full of power as Conor.”
Mixed martial arts are built upon respect, wisdom and courage, but McGregor’s relentless verbal attack on Aldo for the past eleven months has been profane in the eyes of many fighters.
“I like the way Conor fights, but obviously I don’t like the way he talks,” said Liddell. “That’s not my style or the way I carry myself, but we all play mind games with the other guys and say whatever we can to get in their heads. That’s how Conor gets fired up, but he did say some respectful things–at least compared to what he normally says–post-fight, and that was the martial artist coming out of him.”
Despite all the verbal sparring, Liddell believes that McGregor did a better job of promoting the fight than he did of actually penetrating Aldo’s head.
“Jose’s too much of a pro and he’s been around too long to let him get in his head,” said Liddell. “I once got Tito [Ortiz] to come after me at a weigh-in by winking and smiling at him. He was trying to be all serious, but I was just playing with him, letting him know he was not going to intimidate me. Jose made a little fun of Conor at the weigh-in, so I don’t think he was intimidated by the talk.”
Despite Aldo’s pleas for a rematch, Liddell explained that will be a difficult sell given the manner in which McGregor dominated.
“I understand Jose wanting a rematch, but at this point you don’t have to give it to him,” said Liddell. “He wants to re-do the fight, because to him, it wasn’t the way it was supposed to go down. He’s thinking, ‘I just got caught, and I want a re-do.’ I get that, but when a knockout happens that quickly, it’s hard to promote that fight.”
The main card opened with Max Holloway defeating Jeremy Stephens by unanimous decision in the featherweight division, and then welterweight Demian Maia showed his championship aspirations in a dominant performance over Gunnar Nelson. The “Soldier of God” Yoel Romero also defeated Ronaldo Souza by split decision, in large part due to a dominant first round, in a battle between the two middleweights.
The co-main event pitted undefeated UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman against former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, and the challenger upset the champion with a vicious ground and pound attack. Despite Vegas placing Rockhold as the underdog, Liddell correctly predicted his victory.
“Rockhold’s striking is better than Weidman’s,” said Liddell. “His wrestling is good and his jiu-jitsu is good. Weidman had to try to get Rockhold down and try to get him down, and he got tired and then he got caught.”
Weidman’s demise began with a wheel kick late in the third round that did not connect. The move was the beginning of the end for his night, undefeated streak and title reign.
“That wheel kick was the turning point,” said Liddell. “After that, it was over.”
Liddell is a big proponent for letting fighters fight, so he supported the referee’s decision to continue the match when Rockhold was pummeling Weidman as the third round expired.
“I’ve always argued that, at that point and at that level, this is what we do,” said Liddell. “That’s who I am. If I’m still fighting, give me a chance. The referee must have been thinking, ‘There are only fifteen seconds left, and Weidman’s still trying to block, so let me give him a chance.’ Some of these guys are warriors and they’re strong enough to come back.”
Liddell did not miss the opportunity to watch the card in-person, and offered a glimpse into his psyche when he is watching a fight.
“I watch the fight two different ways,” he explained. “If you saw the earlier fights, Court McGee [who defeated Márcio Alexandre, Jr. on the preliminary card] trains with my trainer. I’m good friends with him, and I helped coach him as an extra corner man, so my perspective depends on the fight. I’m a huge fan, and if I know both guys, I’m just rooting for a good fight. I want to see both guys get after it.”
Liddell agreed that McGregor is currently the biggest superstar in MMA, but explained that if there is anyone who can withstand his lethal left hand shot, it is Frankie Edgar.
“After watching that performance by McGregor, it’s tough to say anyone is better,” said Liddell. “Frankie Edgar [who knocked out Chad Mendes on Friday night] is a gamer and is going to him a tough fight. After that, Conor will have to go up to 155.”
Despite retiring from the Octagon in 2010, Liddell remains in love with the sport and is extremely grateful for the overwhelming support from his fans.
“The fans have been really good to me,” said Liddell. “I thank everyone for all the support. People still thank me for the stuff I did for this sport, and I appreciate everything people say.”