Can Conor McGregor and Muhammad Ali be compared?
Since its inception in 1993, the UFC has never had a fighter who can measure up to the legendary legacies left behind by boxing’s greats. Until now.
But don’t be mistaken. Although Conor McGregor is referred to as the ‘Irish Muhammad Ali’, and is indeed the closest MMA athlete to reach that level, he will never equal that prestige. Ali was the greatest sportsman of all time and nobody, not even McGregor, will steal that crown from him.
However, comparisons between them do exist, after all, wasn’t Ali’s great grandfather from County Clare?
But seriously, there are similarities. And that in itself is monumental for McGregor, who is only 27 years old.
When the brash talking Muhammad Ali came to prominence following his Olympic gold medal triumph in Rome, he immediately targeted the heavyweight champion of the world, the menacing Sonny Liston.
And like Jose Aldo, Liston had a fearsome reputation. He once fought a guy named Wayne Bethea, who after the bout, had his mouthpiece removed with seven teeth lying inside. Liston threw only one type of punch in the contest, which was a jab. The fight lasted 58 seconds.
Barely any bookies allowed for bets on the 22 year old Ali to beat Liston.
When McGregor prepared for Aldo, he famously said he would end it in one round, which isn’t the first time the Irish man has successfully predicted outcomes. And as we know, Ali, then Cassius Clay, was the master of picking a round to finish his opponent and executing his prophecy to perfection.
Imagine if social media had been prevalent in Ali’s era? Surely his tweets would be the most audacious and poetic ever seen by an athlete online.
A social media platform is a recent phenomenon and most present day fighters are taking advantage of it. If it was around in Ali’s day, he, reminiscent to McGregor, would be the outstanding talking point being shared by the internet.
An image is circulating showing both the iconic shot of Ali standing over a beaten Liston and of McGregor watching Aldo hit the floor.
Both are quality photographs. There is debate whether they can be placed side by side. Sonny Liston had connections to the infamous mob, and it’s rumoured both his bouts with Ali were fixed. That doesn’t make the picture any less historic, its more Ali being the ‘King of the World’ that’s memorable. It’s also poignant because since that loss, Liston’s life delved to an even darker place, eventually leading to his mysterious death at age 38.
Therefore, Ali’s famous moment of retaining boxing’s heavyweight belt in the Liston rematch is more symbolic.
But for kids growing up now, it will be Conor McGregor’s 13 second destruction of Jose Aldo that will be placed on their bedroom walls.
McGregor has achieved one thing Ali hasn’t; he’s inspired a generation to follow a sport that previously was seen as incomparable to boxing. And whether they admit it or not, that’s something that hurts those who focus solely on the sweet science.
But unfortunately for McGregor, Ali had the better dance partners. In the sixties, incredible heavyweights like Joe Frazier and George Foreman emerged, and Ali conquered them both.
Nobody in today’s featherweight or lightweight UFC divisions appear as if they are capable getting McGregor entrenched in classic encounters.
Fight fans remember wars. McGregor may never have his ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ or ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ but credit to him for that. The Chad Mendes fight was a thrilling contest, but McGregor entered that bout just 60% fit reportedly. Maybe McGregor is indomitable?
It wasn’t just Ali the fighter that accomplished greatness, it was Ali the man. At ten years old he would cry in bed wondering why black Americans had to endure such reviled racism. He went on to be the most significant sportsman the world has ever seen. By refusing to go to Vietnam, he inspired politically too, and after his three year suspension, he defeated Frazier in a rematch to regain his title against all the odds.
Conor McGregor and Muhammad Ali are both great fighters with engaging personalities. However, Ali reached a height of greatness that will never be paralleled.
But in the fight game today, in both boxing and MMA, only one man stands at the top of the mountain, with other fighters lagging a long way behind, and his name is Conor McGregor.