Comparing two talents is never actually flattering and can dwarf one of their brands if left unchecked, so there will none of that here. What will be explored here are the parallels between the rise of two stars: Israel Adesanya (Izzy) and Conor McGregor. More importantly than the two ascensions are the attitudes of the champions contenders that await and awaited Izzy and Conor respectively. One last factor is the way that both Kelvin Gastelum (KG) and Chad Mendes were used as measuring sticks to predict how the challenger would perform against his respective champion. These measuring sticks have been the leading reference used by the public to make their predictions, so let’s start there.
There are significant differences in the objective skills of both KG and Mendes. What is similar though is their histories and positions in their divisions, and how they applied their skills against up and coming strikers who supposedly had no grappling skills. Both Izzy and Conor were seen to have been exposed in those competitions.
Mendes hit Conor a lot, and flush. He took Conor down multiple times and did damage, but could not use his grappling enough control the outcome of the competition. KG also could not do much with Izzy in the grappling exchanges. After both of these competitions, the narrative has persisted that neither Izzy nor Conor can grapple.
Mendes was a two –time All American wrestler and the for sure second most athletic fighter in the division at the time. His boxing was sharp enough to rock a virtually untouchable champion early in their rematch. He had racked up KO after KO on everyone he hit flush but could not seem to rock Conor once.
KG was dominated with wrestling by anyone other than a former champion in Weidman. But this was after rocking Weidman just like he has everyone else, including Adesanya. This idea that Gastelum getting inside on Adesanya means that Whittaker will damage Izzy worse is baseless. KG does not dart in and out karate style, but was able to do damage due to the fluidity of his punches which he pairs with slick head movement and his speed advantage at middleweight.
Most of the contenders ranked above Izzy and Conor predict they will lose in every fight that they have as they climb the rankings, and when they win, there is no acknowledgment of the task. The champions are even more disdainful. They continue to say things like, ‘he’s not as good as he thinks he is. He’s not a real fighter.’ They accuse the UFC of protecting them and giving them favorable matchups and tell anyone who will listen why and how they will ‘walk through this guy’. The entire point and most curious part of Izzy and Conor’s acesions is what’s really behind the collective, dismissive attitudes towards them from their entire division. It seems like both fighters have snuck past everyone guarding the gate of their dreams.
A post shared by Robert Whittaker (@robwhittakermma) on Aug 14, 2019 at 7:05pm PDT
It would be unfounded to say for sure that anyone was intimidated by either of these brash fighters. But considering their performances against the rising stars maybe they should have been. Maybe they were intimidated, and all the trite criticisms was them overcompensating for their fears. Another probable deduction is that they truly were not intimidated by the rising stars and this reflected in their spiritual preparation. Even though they could have been in shape physically they were not in shape mentally. Perhaps a higher level or awareness or respect of the challenge before them would have helped their performances.
A post shared by José Aldo Junior (@josealdojunioroficial) on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:56am PDT
Worse than any of the contender’s attitudes toward the are the that of the respective champions. Jose Aldo litteraly brought a poster of Conor depicted as a clown, a, “joker”, he was deemed by the reigning and legendary champion. It was understandable. Jose Aldo was basically untouchable at that stage in his career. His attitude was similar to Whittaker’s. They seemed to take great pride in being taciturn relative to their challenger. Their body language however was quite pronounced and loud. It very clearly says, I am the champion, this guy is nothing. This includes their posture during interviews, faceoffs and press conferences. For all their claims that they are unbothered by their opponents’ comments, the intensity in their eyes during the faceoffs betray their calm orations.
A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Oct 3, 2019 at 7:47pm PDT
It is possible that Conor and Izzy are just that precise, but the look in their opponents’ eyes suggests that they were not prepared to get hit the way they got hit. It is possible they did not even visualize themselves in a tough spot. That’s how you get looks like Porier after Conor’s first left hook, Brunson’s face, Chad’s face before he curled up, Eddie Alvarez’s posture. It’s hard to still believe that a guy is, “not a real fighter”, when you’re getting up off the canvas and that man is standing over you. It’s exhilarating to watch when supporting the star but horrifying when you empathize with their opponents. One could almost liken it to watching a circus performer getting his head bitten after he sticks it into the mouth of a tiger.
Words make up only 7% of human communication. Though the words from the champions at 145lb at 185lb might not match up exactly, the other 93% is a facsimile.
Despite all of their ostentatious assertions, Izzy and Conor seem to have slipped quietly past the psychological triggers that mentally condition an athlete to remain calm in competition. The emotions that their opponents should have acknowledged in camp seem to overflow at once at the worst possible moment. Then instead of high-level adjustments we see panic. The next thing you know the rising star is headlining a card and devastating the champion.
I guess pride really does come before the fall.