By Ryan Frederick for WrestlingObserver.com
In a time when the fight world is focused on May 2 and the years-in-the-making showdown that will finally happen in boxing when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio do battle at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the UFC is doing their own version of building up their biggest battle of 2015- the July 11 showdown between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor, which will also take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
This is one of those rare weeks of 2015 when there is no UFC event, and the UFC has taken advantage of it by sending Aldo and McGregor (along with UFC Welterweight Champion, Robbie Lawler, and the top contender at 170 pounds, Rory MacDonald) on a worldwide press tour promoting the July 11 event, for which tickets went on sale this week.
In one corner, you have the UFC Featherweight Champion, Aldo. A certified ass-kicker, one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, and the current longest-reigning UFC champion on the roster. He has always been a quiet, shy kid, one who likes playing soccer and riding motorcycles around Brazil. He has never been a fighter who has gone out of his way to promote his fights, and it has shown in how they have drawn at the box office.
However, Aldo has come out of his shell in recent months, and especially during this week’s press tour. It has been brought all out by his upcoming opponent, the man he refers to as the court jester in a division in which he is king, the Irish sensation, McGregor.
McGregor has been pushed hard to the audience, but it has been rightly so. He plays his part so well. He dresses in suits that would make Ric Flair jealous. He drinks bourbon during post-fight press conferences. He lives a high lifestyle, and is always after the big money. He has earned his keep in the UFC, and his fights have become must-watch events. He has been handsomely rewarded, and has shown his gratitude to his new uncles, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. He is someone the UFC needs in a time when Brock Lesnar isn’t coming back, when Georges St. Pierre may never come back, and Anderson Silva may be finished as well.
The press tour has even been given the UFC Embedded treatment, the YouTube series devoted to following around the main event fighters during fight week. Here we are over three months away from UFC 189, and we are already getting hyped for July 11. Nevermind the fact that there are still 12 UFC events between now and UFC 189, including UFC 187 on Memorial Day Weekend in Las Vegas, one of the most stacked cards in UFC history, with two big title fights of its own in Jon Jones against Anthony Johnson, and Chris Weidman taking on Vitor Belfort.
This week has brought out the best in Aldo, McGregor, and even the fans attending the festivities. Press tours can get quite redundant. Fighters go from big city to big city, meeting different media members, getting the same questions and giving the same answers. Aldo and McGregor have shined this week.
It all started in Rio de Janeiro before this past weekend’s Fight Night event. McGregor is in an Irish Pub, in Rio of all places, throwing darts at a picture of Aldo’s face and walking around town shirtless like someone you would see after a rowdy night at a pub playing darts and drinking. He comes off as a guy you would like to just hang out with for a fun night on the town, and someone who would find ways to make you laugh, and someone who would be the center of attention.
And then you have Aldo, the quiet, killer champion, wearing shades and taking every opportunity to tell McGregor he is number one with his hands. You have fans in Rio coming after McGregor with brash questions, and McGregor answering every one of them with brash answers. They come close when it is time to stare down, they begin the back-and-forth trash talk face-to-face, but they are eventually separated and strolled to the next stop on the press tour.
They head to Las Vegas, where they meet separately with media members at the Fertitta-owned Red Rock Casino and Resort. Low-key it was, with each answering questions and posing for pictures before being wisked away to Los Angeles. More media appearances, more questions being answered, more hype for July 11. After that, on to Boston. UFC President Dana White was on hand for Boston and a press conference. More hype for the fight, but this time we were treated to another staredown, one in which White had to intervene as Aldo and McGregor came as close as you can get without physically touching. The week is starting to get to both men, and we are still three-plus months away from the fight.
From Boston they head to New York for another press conference, one in which they are joined by Lawler and MacDonald. But the show is about Aldo and McGregor. And then there are the fans. The McGregor mob was out in New York, and fully on the attack verbally towards Aldo. The champion shook it off as McGregor basked in the glory, and if Aldo had even thought for a second the crowd in New York was tough, there is still the final stop on the tour- McGregor’s hometown of Dublin (following stops in Toronto and London). If the UFC was worried about McGregor in Rio, they should equally be worried about Aldo in Dublin.
This fight is getting more hype than possibly any fight in UFC history. White has said they are spending more money promoting this fight than any in UFC history. However, it seems to have come with great rewards, as UFC 189 is expected to be a quick sellout garnering a $7 million gate. A quick sellout is shocking for a Las Vegas event, almost unheard of during these days of the UFC, which is on a recent string of success following a tough 2014 that was hampered by injuries to top stars.
Injuries, something that will always be there. You have to hope that this is something that doesn’t hamper this event, or this week could be all for naught. Aldo has had his string of bad luck with injuries, and is no stranger to pulling out of fights. McGregor always comes to fight, and fights with injuries (he famously said “You don’t need a tumb to fight,” following a first-round win over Dustin Poirier, a fight in which he fought with torn ligaments in his thumb). Everyone, from UFC officials to the fans, have to keep their fingers crossed as Aldo and McGregor head into the hardest part of the next few months following this press tour.
The hype for July 11 has begun.
Episode 1 (Rio)
UFC 189 World Championship Tour Embedded: Vlog Series – Episode 1
Episode 2 (Las Vegas)
UFC 189 World Championship Tour Embedded: Vlog Series – Episode 2
Episode 3 (Las Vegas Part 2)
UFC 189 World Championship Tour Embedded: Vlog Series – Episode 3
Episode 4 (Las Vegas Part 3/Head To Los Angeles)
UFC 189 World Championship Tour Embedded: Vlog Series – Episode 4
Episode 5 (Los Angeles)
UFC 189 World Championship Tour Embedded: Vlog Series – Episode 5
Episode 6 (Boston)
UFC 189 World Championship Tour Embedded: Vlog Series – Episode 6