It was, arguably, the biggest fight in mixed martial arts history. In one corner stood Jose Aldo, the defiant champion who hadn’t tasted defeat in ten years and directly opposite him stood a grinning Conor McGregor, the surging contender whose rise to the top of the sport had appeared meteoric.
And then, almost before it had even begun, it was over. McGregor, his smile belying the magnitude of the bout, launched towards the center of the cage and was met in the middle by the Brazilian champion, his movements appearing stuttered and robotic as if the magnitude of the occasion was weighing him down.
McGregor would require just one opening.
As had happened so many times before, McGregor’s concussive left hand engineered his victory moments after he had invited Aldo to surge forward directly into its path.
It was a surreal sight. The longtime champion flat on his back in the center of the octagon as McGregor climbed the to the top of the cage in celebration, his face almost expressionless.
Since entering the UFC about two-and-a-half years earlier, McGregor had proclaimed himself as the division’s true uncrowned champion.
He continually shaped the narrative of his supposed limitations. Sure he looks good on the feet, some detractors would argue, but what happens when he faces a truly elite striker like Aldo?
The answer, laid bare across the canvas in Las Vegas that night, recalled the inquiries as to what would happen when he faced a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt (Diego Brandao) or a top class American wrestler (Chad Mendes).
For Aldo, the result was devastating. He and McGregor had spent countless months together promoting this fight. Press tours were arranged to both their home countries, with McGregor announcing that he “owns” Rio de Janeiro. In Dublin, McGregor’s home town, he stole the championship belt from in front of Aldo to cacophonous roars from his countrymen.
And to not even have a chance to land a meaningful blow in the contest, as well as being separated from his senses live on television in front of millions of people, and by his biggest rival no less, prompted derision from Aldo and his fans. Some would deride the finish as a ‘lucky shot’, others would say that Aldo would prevail in a rematch.
In the end, neither of those statements were true. McGregor would never defend the featherweight title he won that night, nor would he ever fight in that weight class again.
He parlayed the 145lb title into a shot at the UFC’s 155lb title a little less than a year later, becoming the first ever simultaneous two-division champion in UFC history in the process and, along with a hugely entertaining pair of fights against Nate Diaz, would use his status as the UFC’s biggest PPV commodity, to secure a massively lucrative boxing match with Floyd Mayweather.
Conor McGregor’s journey through the combat sports ranks has been one of the more fascinating sports stories in recent times. The kid from Dublin trading social welfare for social status, becoming the peer of some of sports’ most well-known names.
And in a very real sense, it can all be traced back to that left hand shot that landed square on Jose Aldo’s chin on this day three years ago.