Sports

Comparing UFC Champion Conor McGregor to WWE HOFer Bruno Sammartino

The reality of Conor McGregor’s epic win over Jose Aldo, and especially considering the circumstances, the talk and the decisiveness of his defeating a once unbeatable Champion, begs a lot of comparisons.

Over the years, the discussions of combat sports industries, of which MMA and professional wrestling share vast connections and are different in significant ways, always come back to the Champion, and how they are made, how they can be made, and how they actually play out their reigns.

McGregor’s 13 second win can obviously be compared to Ronda Rousey.

But McGregor needs several more wins to get to her level of dominance. Until he destroys opponents in round one, like Rousey mostly did, like Mike Tyson did (more than half of his decisive KO’s and TKO’s were done in Rounds 1 and 2), he’s not going to be considered a force of nature.

Then again, McGregor is 15-0 since 2011, and only once went into the 3rd round.

And yet McGregor is already much more of a performer, someone who can talk the talk of a ”drawing card’, and not just rely upon the awe of the MMA fanbase in how he can win. This weekend, Conor McGregor connected his promotional ability to his awesome ability in the ring. This week, when the Pay-Per-View numbers are released, and despite the presence of a very impressive Middleweight Champion on the card, those numbers are going to get attributed to the brash young Irishman.

(Whether Luke Rockhold or Chris Weidman can trump Anderson Silva is the first thing that comes into mind for that Championship, but that’s another piece to ponder. For now, a 13 second win overwhelms discussion of that epic battle).

The talking up of the battle with Jose Aldo had been masterful. Talk about besting the “king of the jungle” and taking all he has – spoken over the image of McGregor stealing the Title Belt from Aldo – that’s the kind of stuff that could be scripted, would be scripted, should be scripted, but WWE Creative has no clue about making it make sense.

What McGregor does in the ring is not scripted at all.

I don’t want to overwhelm this piece with “WWE Creative sucks” commentary, but there was a time and an era where professional wrestling hit all the same cylinders. I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Talking has been a staple of professional wrestling, but neither the hyperbole of long time NWA Heavyweight Champions nor the catch-phrases of late 1990 professional wrestlers turned Hollywood movie actors can match the patter of the current UFC Featherweight Champion.

Undisputed, current, UFC Featherweight Champion that is.

Professional wrestling has had guys who could talk like McGregor talks now. Ironically, the one example that I have also won a Title in record-setting fashion, under a minute, over an aging but respected Champion whose loss in such a fashion put an exclamation point on the situation, and set the stage for domination.

Neither Rousey nor Tyson jump-started their careers with a win like this.

Both of those dominant Champions continued their mastery of opponents on through their Championship reigns, but neither really needed a mouthpiece, nor did they talk up the game so much as McGregor.

Rousey was handed a Championship, and Tyson bested Trevor Berbick, but not in a 13 second or a 48 second match.

Neither set the stage with talk that exuded their confidence, rankled their opponent or continued their reigns with amping up each match by connecting to the fans and riling them up to watch. Rousey lucked into Bethe Correia being more a heel than anyone could have hoped for. Tyson merely steamrolled everyone in put in his way.

Until Buster Douglas showed up.

I don’t mean to disrespect Tyson, and if Mike’s getting angry I’ll take the path that Chris Cruise used, and tell him that I’m a friend of Bruno Sammartino.

Because if Conor McGregor compares to anyone at this stage of his career, it’s to Bruno Sammartino.

Analogies are rarely perfect, and this one has a glaring flaw, since Conor McGregor is anything but a babyface in his talk, bravado and actions, and Bruno Sammartino has never been anything but a babyface in his career and public image.

(I’ve also made comparisons in the past, but Erick Stevens never caught on above Full Impact Pro, despite his physical presence and ability to work different styles, and Mercedes Martinez had a Championship run in WSU that made me think of the former WWWF Champion).

But Conor McGregor doesn’t just look like a potentially dominant Champion, and draws comparisons on several levels. He has that unmistakable level of charisma, the ability to connect with the fans, and an unmistakable correlation between talent and talk, between talking up a match and delivering it in the ring, between the aura of a Champion and most likely the ability to be a long term champion.

Like Bruno, Conor McGregor made a name for himself before making a huge splash.

While the controversies that plagued both early in their career are completely different, both bided their time before getting that big opportunity on the biggest stage of their sports.

What impresses me with Conor McGregor is that he’s now the Champion, based on a work ethic that is obvious and world-class, an entertainment style that sets him apart from his peers, and a physicality that cannot be denied.

Time will tell, but perhaps like Bruno, we’ll see a Champion that appeals to his ethic roots all the while making a broader appeal to all fans. Perhaps we’ll see McGregor sizing up his opponents, talking up the bout, connecting with his fans and making everyone want to watch him.

Like Bruno, Conor is already telling the fans what he’s going to do, tackling the monster put in front of him, and delivering on the promises made by executing them without error.

Sure, professional wrestling is a different animal in many ways, but there’s something that Bruno Sammartino mastered in his record-setting first title reign, which lasted 8 years, and saw him build fans to a crescendo for each battle, all the while making a special connection to them.

Maybe McGregor will be the antithesis of Bruno’s approach, but he also seems to see the bigger picture of entertainment within the reality of his sport. McGregor seems to present himself, portray himself, and be himself as a larger than life figure.

Time will tell if McGregor can surpass Ronda Rousey’s stint as unbeatable, or if he’ll make a dominate career like Tyson, but by storming the big stage and dethroning Aldo like he was a rag doll, there’s not been a Champion in a long time who got launched in such a fashion, with much of the hype coming from his own actions.

Professional wrestling should have learned so much from the 1960’s, but instead used analogies to diminish instead of build up. Professional wrestling is a sport that controls so much, but displaying dominance and allowing talent to shine on multiple levels of fan interaction is its greatest weakness.

Conor McGregor stands today as a man who has his career in front of him, and controls his destiny. But with his mouth and his work ethic, let alone his talent, it will be interesting to see what kind of Champion he is in eight years.

Joe Babinsack can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

Joe Babinsack

Joe Babinsack can be reached at [email protected] Thanks to Eric for giving me a platform to talk about my passions, and look for reviews (like Vintage Quebec wrestling) coming soon.

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