Exoskeletons Upon the Air; Aldo vs. McGregor
by Ryan Johann Perry
“And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.” -Revelation 17:12
There is a beast behind everything, and in sports it often finds itself sans shadows, if you know where to look. When Conor McGregor, like a thieving bird, stole Champion Jose Aldo's belt at a Dublin press conference and raised it high above his head, the beast spoke. Dana White, the President of the UFC, held Aldo back, forcing him into a public humiliation before the spotlight of Irish cheers. As Aldo watched McGregor's and White's wet dream play out before him, the fat kid and the bully revealed themselves as fangs of the beast.
It was not to be the first humiliation in the press tour, where Aldo's Portuguese tongue struggled with the brash shit-talking of a fighter, McGregor, who not only studied tape to better understand movement from the great prizefighters, but to simultaneously study their poetics, how they spoke, played heel, or motivated millions. Despite this, the gnawing truth is this would also not be the first rodeo of tangled plots for scripted Aldo. He has outlasted and snuffed out proverbial torch passings to more marketable California boys with abs and surfer patois (Urijah Faber, Chad Mendez), GSP lites (Mark Hominick), and a slew of fan favorites (Frankie Edgar, Chan Sun Jung)who promised unforeseen pressure to the stoic Champion.
Jose Aldo violence is quiet, and grants no quarter to either his challengers or the UFC brass. Though Dana has suggested learning English to better Aldo's profile in a global sport, Aldo never bothered; I believe because he never cared to learn what White had to say. When Aldo fractured his ribs prior to his first scheduled meeting with McGregor, White visited him and insisted he consider the numbers – of spectators, of money. When Aldo refused to fight, White lambasted Aldo in the press, called his ribs merely bruised (despite scans from Aldo's doctors), and intimated fear in Aldo, citing previous withdrawals. Like Don Vito Corleone, Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC owner, sent Aldo a gift – a chest protector. “We want you to be able to fight”, the beast spoke, “we wouldn't want anything to happen to you before your big night, champ.” The media sounded the trumpets in the sky, signaling the end of of Aldo's era, and the grooming of a new champ, Conor McGregor and the Cameras.
In the sixties, Muhammed Ali was the most outspoken, boisterous pugilist. His dazzling of Norman Mailer and the press through lines such as “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” raised prizefighters from mouth breathers into a realm of drama and athleticism that compelled people to watch, that gave his words power. But there was a moment when Muhammed Ali broke from his bad poetry and unleashed unbridled Id at Joe Frazier – calling him “gorilla”, “Uncle Tom”. There were cameras there too. Ostensibly he was selling their “Rumble in the Jungle” fight, but maybe he was selling something else, maybe he was the beast of 1974. Maybe the beast devoured him.
McGregor is the new instrument of this idea. His rhetoric has spun his trek through UFC journeyman into a web of domination to those who were not paying attention. There is a thread between how McGregor’s career has been sold and an exploitation film, only there is no Curtis Mayfield, it is scored by hype.
In this world, braggadocio, apologies and promises are fettered by reality, their weight never exceeding the air by which they are expelled. Some words provide us pictures, others are merely exoskeletons upon the air. However, these ephemeral weights are the ones most cutting, most remembered and most said to ourselves and others. Their emptiness is infinitesimally tethered to each other. They represent the greatest crutch and glitch in the greatest of human accomplishment – language and its manifestations. To say Aldo vs McGregor is not a study of thought and action is to say it is merely two men throwing fists. To say sports are about you, the fan, is a foolish proposal. Sport is an art for degenerate gamblers and those willing to risk potentialities we have only ever seen on television.
The pathway McGregor took, through Denis Siver, Marcus Brimage, Dustin Poirer is no map the way to Jose Aldo, yet rivers change path, detours lead to new intersections, and the beast always slogs linearly, without logic or reason to us mere voyeurs.
We have arrived in no other possible world. McGregor has an undeniable beauty, innovation and skill in his violent works, and as of late has taken an off road journey through movement exercises with Ido Portal, a staggering investment in the power of self-belief and a giving of himself to be charted by his ego. This in stark contrast to Aldo, who reveals nothing and instead seeks to master and display fundamentals in the ring.
What this amounts to in the cage is Aldo, minimalist of impeccable timing, facing McGregor, a self-proclaimed movement artist who seeks to teeter on the edge of what he considers the old era MMA envelope. This creates very interesting variables that can expand or contract rapidly from the first exchange. Both fighters see holes in the others game, and in many ways the fight will be about which fighter can convince the other of their flaws.
There are plenty of discussions about the technical match-up between Aldo and McGregor, what interests me more in the experimental design of fandom and visualizing outcomes is that replicability of past performances don't mean shit.
The most interesting factor for me is toughness. The toughness that allowed McGregor to perpetuate offense against Max Holloway despite having blown his knee in the second round. The toughness that drove Aldo to drive through Chan Sun Jung with a broken, swollen foot in what was the most merciless finish in UFC history (realizing Jung's shoulder was dislocated, Aldo unleashed a fury of kicks upon Jung, each aimed towards the affected shoulder, until Jung collapsed from overwhelming pain).
These two fighters outlasted and destroyed their opponents through a pain and injury that would have immobilized most watching that night, and they did it by finding someplace outside themselves and their self-preservation. This is the arena where the fight will take place and it is outside the beast’s line of sight. It is two.
A fight such as this is a phenomenon by which we judge our precepts, worldviews and the pulse of our beliefs. It is a way of talking about the inertia that is behind our every moment and seeing ourselves, in relief, to how we responded to them, to how far within the beast-with-history-on-its-back we truly are.
Aldo is not fighting McGregor, he is fighting McGregor and the UFC's belief structures. McGregor is fighting a myriad of opaque colors between him and his sketched futures. The beast that swallows stars past and present and seeks to dehumanize all that is stellar in human potential is hot on Aldo's heels. There is a beast on his trail, and should he lose, Aldo and his legacy will be whitewashed by the UFC and summer-weather fans. Those who have never heard of Jose Aldo before this fight will likely never 'hear' of him again, because hype has no history and new eras always lose their past. Should McGregor fall, Aldo will be a background static behind all McGregor's future promises, apologies and braggadocio. Some say it is the old lion vs the young, I say it is ones past vs. ones future and the only thing certain is