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UFC 189 preview: With untimely injury to Jose Aldo, UFC forced to double-down on Conor McGregor

Buda Mendes/Getty Images

When Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White flew to a remote island to meet with "Vadummy" and his prized thoroughbred, Fedor Emelianenko, the leader of the mixed martial arts (MMA) world warned the "crazy Russian" that his "Last Emperor" was one fight away from being worth... well, nothing.

We might same the same thing about Conor McGregor.

The "Notorious" Irishman will battle Chad Mendes for the promotion's interim featherweight title this Saturday night (July 11, 2015) in the UFC 189 pay-per-view (PPV) main event, which takes place inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It was originally billed as a battle of ruthless strikers between McGregor and reigning featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo, which reeks of irony when you consider it was an errant body kick from an unknown (and overzealous) training partner that sent "Junior" to the injured reserves.

Imagine what McGregor would have done.

Perhaps nothing, but the way he's been carrying on these past few months, fans may expect his ascension to the throne to be accompanied by a parade of rosy-cheeked cherubs playing flame-shooting electric guitars, while buxom babes in skimpy bikinis trail behind on red deer, pounding pints of Beamish.

Even if McGregor handily defeats Mendes this weekend in "Sin City," he still can't call himself the king of the 145-pound mountain. Not while Aldo -- expected to be back in action by October at the absolute latest -- is still in town.

Interestingly enough, that's probably the best-case scenario for everyone not training at Team Alpha Male.

We already knew McGregor was a spectacular striker, evidenced by four technical knockout victories in five Octagon appearances, but what we didn't know was how well his tall, wiry frame would hold up in the face of relentless takedown attempts.

Smashing Mendes not only makes him the interim champion, it legitimizes his place among the featherweight elite after a string of good, but not great competition -- most of whom specialized in throwing hands.

More importantly, his fight against Aldo lives to see another day, which means anyone who gives a rat's ass about UFC or MMA can once again have a reason to get excited about combat sports. That's not so easy these days, especially the way UFC is pumping out events.

That brings us to the worst-case scenario.

The very real possibility exists that Mendes -- a two-time All American wrestler out of Cal Poly -- covers and smothers McGregor for 25 minutes, sucking the wind from the live crowd and setting up a third featherweight title fight against Aldo later this year.


In addition, a Mendes win transforms McGregor from mainstream superstar to sideshow barker, a charismatic pitchman who talks better than he walks. In short, he becomes Chael Sonnen, another talented fighter who couldn't win the big one, but compelled you to watch him anyway.

The past three months, filled with excitement and emotion, will have been for naught.

That said, shortchanging "Money" doesn't guarantee that McGregor beats Aldo in October. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. The point is, winning at UFC 189 keeps the Irish gravy train barreling down the tracks. More mainstream coverage for UFC, more excitement for upcoming events, and more arguing in our comments section.

The promotion has been forced to double down in the wake of Aldo's injury, but with double the risk comes double the reward.

Especially with the blinds going up another five bucks.

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