Tonight (Aug. 17, 2013), on FOX Sports 1, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits TD Bank Garden in Boston, Mass., for UFC Fight Night 26. The card is headlined with a five round Light Heavyweight clash between Chael Sonnen and Mauricio Rua and a co-main event that features Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne.
But, if you've been following the media coverage coming out of Boston this week, you would have expected Conor McGregor to be fighting in the main event of the evening. McGregor had his own media work out (watch it here), a first for the UFC, which has never given such treatment to stars such as Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones or Brock Lesnar.
At the pre-fight press conference, it was McGregor who received the most attention from the attending media and fans. Heck, UFC even ran a contest for fans to design a McGregor poster! The winner was awarded a prize of $2,500.
This would be fine except for the fact that McGregor is fighting on the prelims. That's right, McGregor is fighting Max Holloway on tonight's "Prelims" card.
As far as I can remember, there's never been a "Prelims" fighter who has received so much promotional attention. This is especially true for a fighter that has only competed one previous time in the Octagon, a win over Marcus Brimage at UFC on Fuel TV: "Mousasi vs Latifi" in Stockholm, Sweden.
McGregor is talented on the feet, but for all intents and purposes, he's incredibly unproven. He's a 13-2 prospect who has never seen the the third round, and his best win is against the aforementioned Brimage. His two losses happened within the first 30 seconds of the fight by submission.
So to say that going all in on the McGregor hype is a little ludicrous, would be an understatement.
Joe Silva, the Vice President of Talent Relations and official match maker, has a great track record for evaluating a fighter's ceiling, but I just don't see the end game for McGregor. Ireland isn't a lucrative market like Brazil or Canada, and as far as United States cities go, the two with the largest Irish populations (Boston and Chicago) aren't exactly teeming with UFC fans.
The one reason that Brian Hemminger and I could come up with on this week's episode of the Verbal Submission is that UFC is preparing for a Featherweight division without current champion, Jose Aldo. Aldo has recently been considering a permanent move to the Lightweight division and 145 pounds will be in dire need of a promotable champion.
If UFC has scouted McGregor's talents correctly, he could be the future of the Featherweight division. At 25, he has the youth to be the face for at least a decade. And with a style that results in finishes, he's exactly the type of fighter who can help elevate a division that isn't viewed by some as marketable.
Tonight, he faces the first stiff test of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career when he enters the cage to face Holloway. "Blessed" is currently 3-2 in the UFC, and has only been finished once in his career. His wrestling has greatly improved and his striking is his best asset.
This is McGregor's sink or swim moment. Holloway isn't a shark, but he sure is a huge step up in competition. McGregor has the opportunity to show that he's the next Jon Jones. A loss would mean he'd be more like the next Josh Grispi, a fighter with potential who just couldn't do it on the big stage.