The buildup to the headlining event at UFC 194, the Mcgregor-Aldo fight to unify the featherweight belt, was unlike just about anything else that I've ever seen in MMA- or in just about any other sport. The only comparison point that I have is probably the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal. The sheer amount of anticipation for that event, featuring as it did two of the finest and most skillful strikers in the UFC in one headlining fight, was unbelievable.
And after watching Chris Weidman get his ass kicked by Luke Rockhold in the previous fight, I was looking forward to seeing Conor McGregor get put in his place by someone with superior skills and greater humility.
But I was wrong.
McGregor proceeded to knock out Jose Aldo is just 13 seconds- in a finish so improbable that if I hadn't seen the replays from other angles, I would have refused to believe that Aldo got knocked out by just a single punch.
Now, I personally had not paid very much attention to the match-up between McGregor and Aldo prior to the fight. I was much more interested in Chris Weidman's title defence, and in replaying Holly Holm's epic, spectacular, wonderful head-kick knock-out of Ronda Rousey. (I still haven't gotten tired of seeing that kick.) As a result, I didn't realise just how much trash-talk McGregor had engaged in before the fight. I was peripherally aware of it, of course, but only dimly so; eventually, all trash-talkers get their comeuppance, or so I thought.
In fact, I missed something critically important- and in so doing, very nearly missed a major lesson.
The reason why Conor McGregor won is not necessarily because he was a superior striker or fighter. We won't know for a while if he was at that, not unless he gets in the Octagon with Jose Aldo and the latter actually, y'know, makes a fight out of it instead of getting knocked the frack out in under a quarter-minute. McGregor won because of timing and precision, as he himself said in his post-fight interview within the Octagon itself, but we won't know what could have happened if it had turned into a multi-round war, the way things did with Lawler-Condit last weekend.
No, the reason why McGregor won is because he believed in his heart and soul that he would win.
That belief is what gave him the ability to stand up and dance around one of the finest fighters in the world, of any size or weight, and gave him the ability to throw a punch that, in all honesty, looked like a love-tap when I first saw it. McGregor's total and complete self-confidence, his ZFG attitude, and his outrageous trash-talk, are all different facets of his personality.
Much like Orks in the Warhammer 40K universe, who find that if they all simply believe that "Da red wunz go fasta!", then red vehicles actually do go faster, McGregor essentially put up a field of his own that, in a way, warped reality for everyone around him.
And as the video above made clear, Jose Aldo was not immune to the effects of that overweening self-confidence.
Where other fighters would have been more cautious and willing to give credit to their opponents, McGregor simply shut down his opponent through the sheer force of his will. He imposed his will upon Aldo from the beginning, and as the behind-the-scenes footage shows, Aldo simply had no idea how to respond.
In some way, Aldo was defeated before he ever set foot inside the Octagon.
And that was the lesson that I almost missed.
McGregor's example is not one that I recommend following in its entirety. I don't particularly like or approve of the guy; his style is a literal polar opposite of my own. I find his crassness a bit ridiculous and his over-the-top lifestyle more than a little absurd. But I respect and admire what he has accomplished. And I think that he is entirely right to believe in himself the way he does. He will never stop believing in himself until he meets someone so much better, so much more terrifying, and so much more skilled, that he can no longer impose his will with impunity.
The fact is that confidence creates its own reality. When you are at peace with yourself and the world around you, things seem to just... happen the way they should, almost without conscious intervention on your part. When you have the confidence that comes from total knowledge of your strengths, from mastery over your weaknesses, from complete ownership over your present and future, things simply work for you. That confidence creates its own reality, in a way.
About 10 years ago, when Roger Federer was at the absolute peak of his powers, most opponents mentally crumbled before him the moment they walked onto the tennis court. They were defeated before the first serve because Federer simply didn't believe that he could lose. The only person on the tour that held even a moment's fear for him was Rafael Nadal- as it turns out, with very good reason. Federer's confidence simply created this aura of invincibility around him that nothing and no one could penetrate, at least for as long as it lasted.
That which applies for great athletes, also applies for ordinary men. Confidence comes from more than just feeling good about oneself. It comes from physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It comes from knowing yourself, inside and out, and therefore knowing that there is nothing that can stop you.
If you are in the best shape of your life, and only getting stronger and fitter every day, then you know that no physical ordeal that you are likely to face can break you.
If you know how to handle yourself in a fight, and you keep your skills sharp by sparring regularly with others who are better and stronger than you- and you find that you can not only keep up but on occasion even teach them a thing or two- then you know that you are ready to do what is necessary when things go wrong and your loved ones need help.
If you know exactly how good you are at your job, and you know that you are simply better than everyone else at what you do- and at what they do- and you go out of your way to make yourself useful to people who need your skills, then you know that you have a secure source of income.
If your bank balance is healthy and can cover multiple months' worth of expenses, if your retirement accounts are flush with cash and growing, and if having enough money to live and eat well is not an issue, then you know that no matter how hard life knocks you down, you can get back up.
If your woman is loving, supportive, comforting, and creates a relaxing and nurturing environment for you, then you know where your sanctuary is, and you know your priorities in life.
And if you have faith in a Creator, and you have seen that faith rewarded, then there really isn't much else to worry about.
The problem is that very few of us have ALL of these things sorted out simultaneously. I doubt even the formidable Conor McGregor can claim to have all of his sh*t together at all times. But he seems to have things sorted roughly 98% of the time, and that's plenty good enough. And because he is so sorted out, because he is ready for anything, he simply keeps winning. There is no combination so powerful and so useful as breathtaking arrogance backed up by matchless ability.
As long as confidence does not turn into outright hubris- which ultimately comes down to a lack of awareness of one's limitations- then working systematically and rigourously to rid oneself of insecurities and failings will ultimately positively reinforce itself. You will go from strength to strength, and victory to victory, simply by doing everything you can to get your mindset right.
If you have complete confidence, then there is very little, if anything, that can stop you from getting what you want out of life. That is the lesson that Conor McGregor teaches, and it is one that is worth heeding.