The much anticipated fight between longtime UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo and newly crowned UFC Interim Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor will finally go down this Saturday night. The two were supposed to fight in July, but Aldo had to pull out of the fight due to a rib injury he sustained in training. McGregor fought Chad Mendes instead, who he defeated by second round TKO to earn the interim belt. Jose Aldo (25-1 MMA, 7-0 UFC, +110 underdog) Although it seems like he has been around forever, Aldo is still only 29 years old. The Brazilian is the only featherweight champion in UFC history and he may be about to face his toughest opponent to date. Aldo has knocked off some great fighters during his career, including Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes (twice), Cub Swanson, Urijah Faber, and Kenny Florian. He has not competed since his five round war with Chad Mendes in October of 2014. Aldo is one of the most gifted and dynamic fighters that has ever stepped into the Octagon. His mixture of technique, speed, explosiveness, and fight IQ are incredible. Aldo has taken more of a Dutch-kickboxing style in recent years. In his WEC days he was a lot flashier and would take a lot more risks. These days he uses basic techniques that he executes flawlessly. The jab –straight right combination is his go-to technique in many fights, but he combines that with ruthless left hooks to the liver and devastating leg kicks. Aldo’s leg kicks have become the hallmark of his game, as they are brutal and only a few clean kicks are needed to change the course of the fight. The damage he sustained to Urijah Faber’s lead leg was almost hard to watch. While Aldo can fight going forward, he generally likes to counter his opponents with a 1-2 or left hook. Defensively, he is masterful. He is extremely hard to hit and his takedown defense is just about impenetrable. No one has had success taking Aldo down and keeping him there. Even if he does get taken down, he immediately bounces right back up. His hips, balance, and explosiveness in transitions are unmatched. While Aldo is known mostly for his striking, his is actually a monster on the ground as well. He won several jiu jitsu championships at the brown belt level years ago and is now a black belt under Nova Uniao founder Andre Pederneiras. Aldo has suffocating top control, passes effortlessly, and has a potent arsenal of submissions, though he rarely uses them. Wrestling is another strong aspect of his game, as he has a great double-leg when he chooses to take the fight to the mat. The downside to Aldo’s game are his questionable cardio, long layoff, and the constant string of injuries he has sustained. He may be only 29 years old but he has already fought 26 times against the toughest competition available. Further, he got hit more in his last fight against Chad Mendes than in any fight in his career. Mendes actually had him hurt pretty badly a few times. When will the damage and cage time catch up with him? That is a question many people are thinking about. Additionally, Aldo has a tendency to fight safely, as he does not want to take any risks that could cause him to lose his belt. Mendes pushed him in his last fight and he responded in kind, and I am sure McGregor will pressure him from the start. Aldo enters this fight on a 14 month layoff, the longest of his career and he is facing possibly his most dangerous opponent to date. It will be interesting to see if he sticks with his striking attack that has worked so well for him or try to take McGregor to the canvas and utilize his advantage on the ground. Taking McGregor to the ground is likely the smart move, but he may try to prove a point by trying to outstrike the Irishman. Conor McGregor (18-2 MMA, 6-0 UFC, -130 favorite) Conor McGregor became a star almost immediately after his first win inside the Octagon in April of 2013. It only took him two years to win a UFC belt, and he spent nearly half that time on the shelf due to a knee injury. The outspoken Irishman has a loyal following like nothing the UFC has ever seen before. His way with words and his ability to get inside his opponent’s head are remarkable. Ronda Rousey and McGregor have been the catalysts of a huge year at the gate and on pay-per-view for the UFC. McGregor was initially branded a low-tier fighter that just talks a lot by many fans, but he has continually proved his doubters wrong. He is known for his incredible work ethic and is always willing to go the extra mile, whether that is in training or promoting his fights. The 27-year old is an offensive juggernaut with an impressive arsenal of punches, kicks, and knees. His attacks are very unpredictable, his opponents never know what is coming. Like most great strikers, McGregor can fight going forward or backwards. His hands, especially his straight left hand and left uppercut are deadly. He will lull his opponents into a false sense of security and then explode on them with vicious multi-punch combinations. Kicks are also a key aspect of his game. McGregor utilizes a variety of kicks. Spinning back-kicks, switch kicks, jumping switch kicks, front hook kicks, and wheel kicks are just some of the techniques he employs. Some of the kicks are to damage his opponent, while others are to get his opponent to move back toward his powerful left hand. His ability to get his opponents to move where he wants them is tremendous. There may not be a fighter in the UFC that has a more varied striking attack than McGregor. Additionally, McGregor is very good at working his opponent’s body, which pays dividends in the later rounds. Defensively, he can be hit, but his chin is rock solid and no opponent has been able to hurt him on the feet. Chad Mendes hit him with several hard punches and he did not flinch. McGregor’s weakest area is on the ground, but by no means is he as bad there as some people think. He was recently promoted to a brown belt under SBG founder John Kavanagh. His offensive wrestling is above average; he can hit double and single-legs in open space and is adept at catching kicks and gaining top position. From top position he passes well and stays very heavy on top, as he has a strong base and usually enjoys a considerable size advantage over most featherweights. McGregor’s takedown defense is serviceable but not impenetrable. However, he has good hips and is good at creating space and scrambling back to his feet. His only UFC fight that he got taken down in was against Mendes, and he fought him with a torn ACL. McGregor has not shown much of a guard game thus far, he mainly prefers to try to get back to his feet than to attempt low percentage submissions. One of McGregor’s strongest attributes is his self-confidence and demeanor. His mind is bullet proof, he really believes the things he says. Taking a fight against a fighter that was supposed to be his kryptonite (Mendes) on two weeks’ notice with a torn ACL shows how strongly he believes in himself. He is great at getting inside the head of his opponents, which causes them to fight emotionally. It seemed like he was in Aldo’s head during the world tour they did earlier this year, but Aldo appears more composed now. Thoughts I have not been this excited for a fight since the second fight between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen, which went down in July of 2012. This fight has been almost a year in the making and it sits at the top of one of, if not the best cards in UFC history. Aldo has gone undefeated for a decade, defeating all the best fighters in the division. McGregor, meanwhile, has burst onto the UFC scene like a rocket from outer space. His soaring popularity, loyal following, fighting skills, and outspokenness have made him one of the UFC’s top two draws. I am most interested in seeing the strategy Aldo employs in this fight. Will he stand and bang with McGregor or will he try to drag him to the mat and utilize his superior ground game? I think this fight will likely play out on the feet for the most part. Aldo is a striker at heart and he has not lost in a decade. His confidence in his striking abilities could lead to his downfall. McGregor hits like a truck and can take one hell of a shot. Aldo, on the other hand, has been getting hit more often and sustained more damage in his last fight than in any fight in his career. If Conor hits him clean with that straight left hand I am not sure Aldo will be able to stay on his feet. Aldo will need to utilize his speed and mix in a few takedowns. He should not get into prolonged exchanges with McGregor, as McGregor is the bigger man, hits harder, moves better, and has a reach advantage. Ultimately, I think Aldo will choose to stand with McGregor, and that will be his downfall. The Prediction: Conor McGregor defeats Jose Aldo by knockout (round 2)
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