And so it was that a year came to an end in just 13 seconds. All the interviews, the antagonism, the global tour, the injuries, and the interim-title; all put firmly in the past by a single punch at UFC 194.
All McGregor had to show for his endeavours was a single cut around his right eye where the former champion’s left-hook connected as he was already losing consciousness. That, and the belt of the undisputed featherweight championship of the world.
It was difficult to judge just how much the psychological war waged by the Irishman had played into Aldo’s demise. Was he too angry? Too aggressive? Too reckless? Was a man who had reigned supreme for a decade really just far too keen to shut McGregor’s mouth once and for all?
One thing is for sure, when he woke up and the nature of his plight was explained to him, he had the look of a man coming to terms with the consequences of his own folly. For the achievements of a decade to have unravelled in mere seconds was clearly a devastating blow to a once dominant champion who couldn’t quite believe what had happened to him.
Despite scoring so spectacular a victory, there was never the less an air of anti-climax around Conor McGregor. Though plainly delighted, there was no emotional outpouring as there was when he claimed the interim-title. Indeed his tone in victory suggested he had merely had his expectations fulfilled, almost as though it were routine.
The new champion will now have a rare opportunity for rest and relaxation, but it will be tempting to speculate under what circumstances he will return to The Octagon. Could it be- as he suggested before the bout- that he will re-emerge as a lightweight and try to claim another world title? Will there be a rematch with the fallen Aldo? Or will Edgar finally have his opportunity to fight again for the belt?
Whatever his next move, it should be enjoyed while it lasts. Although he walked through the finest featherweight of all time, there is a sense in which combat is becoming less and less of an end in itself for the Dubliner. Should he lay waste to Edgar and claim the lightweight title, what would there realistically be left to achieve?
The subdued reaction at the end of the fight may hint at something deeper than expecting to win and that, perhaps, combat is no longer an end in itself for McGregor. His much publicised recent work with Ido Portal seems a natural progression for a man who has talked about “human movement” for the past two years with such passion and fascination. As the new featherweight king delves deeper into these studies, and if the lower weight-classes no longer present compelling challenges, it could be that competitive martial arts will have served their purpose for him as a means of expression.
Of course, should he dominate the likes of Edgar and Dos Anjos, the money the UFC may be prepared to throw his was would be considerable, even unprecedented; however, is McGregor really the sort of man to deviate from his path for money alone? He has always wanted for a chance to perform in front of his home fans in the iconic Croke Park. Such a move would present considerable practical problems if the company were unable to circumvent Irish licensing laws, but has the potential to launch MMA into the mainstream into the notoriously stubborn Western European market.
Certainly the man himself could be inspired by the potential for an iconic performance in Dublin in front of 60,000 countrymen, and the UFC’s 200th show will almost certainly be one to which the promotion will want to attach its biggest name, but those two fights will eat up a minimum of six months. In the two or so years that McGregor has been with the promotion he has developed exponentially, and when he began telling the world that no one in the division ‘moved like he moved’, he was mocked in many quarters. But it was merely the act of a former trainee plumber trying to articulate an artistic vision beyond those of his contemporaries, a vision he has now painted with the blood of those who stood before him.
2016 will be a year in which the sport can revel in the skill and charisma that one young man from Crumlin alone possesses. His next fights- of course, dependent on results- will likely be the biggest MMA has seen. They will almost certainly take record gates and PPVs, and a show at Croke Park would destroy all previous attendance records. However, although though these remain extraordinary for the UFC, McGregor appears a man driven like the martial arts masters of old, and wealth and celebrity will ultimately not satisfy what he craves. Should his skills continue to develop at the present trajectory, he should be spectacular to watch, but it should be savoured as, one day soon, it would not be a surprise to see him walk away from it all in search of something infinitely more profound.
No great fighter, not even George St. Pierre, has yet walked away from MMA voluntarily at his very peak. The sport is too young, and the financial rewards have been too few to lend itself to such an act. This, however, may be about to change. So different is McGregor, that to see him turn his back on combat to spend his days in movement and meditation would be entirely in character. Contrary to what he says, he has not yet reached his state of Zen; and it might not be next year, or the next, but it will be soon, and the UFC’s hierarchy- and the sport in general- will bemoan the loss of their greatest ever star.