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Opinion: Win, lose or draw at UFC 229, Conor McGregor is one of the greatest ever

Roy Billington argues that McGregor’s legacy isn’t on the line at UFC 229

The story of Icarus is one synonymous with sporting superstars. As legend goes, Icarus and his father were imprisoned by King Minos of Crete. In an effort to free himself and his son, Icarus’ father – master craftsman Daedalus – constructed two sets of wings made from wax and feathers. Daedalus imparted in his son two pieces of advice: Do not fly too low or the wings will get wet, nor fly too high or the wax will melt and fall from the heavens. Once Icarus soared through the sky, he was consumed by the ability to fly and forgot his father’s advice and continued to fly higher and higher. Eventually Icarus flew too high and the wax melted, sending him plummeting to his death.

This may not be the first time this tale is related to the story of Conor McGregor and likely it will not be the last. On Saturday night, when McGregor walks to the cage surrounded by a chorus of “The Foggy Dew,” there will be a lot of questions answered.

Perhaps the biggest slight on McGregor’s career so far is that he may have sacrificed his fighting prime in pursuit of riches. While May/Mac was an obvious commercial success, it is truly a pity that the fight – and the birth of his son – have caused McGregor to step away from the Octagon for 2 years. MMA fans have been robbed of two prime years of watching one of the greatest fighters that the sport has ever seen.

In his absence, a revisionist history has surfaced regarding McGregor’s career and achievements thus far. Fans have slated McGregor for his inability to defend titles, and some question the legitimacy of his Lightweight championship reign. They argue that he only fought once in the division. And that the man he defeated, Eddie Alvarez, has only gone 1-1-1 since that fight. With UFC 229 fast approaching, there is a narrative emerging that everything is on the line for Conor McGregor. And that narrative is absolutely wrong.

In reality, even if Khabib Nurmagomedov walks straight through McGregor’s fabled left hand, takes him down and decimates the Irishman in under a minute, it does nothing to the legacy of Conor McGregor. If McGregor were to fight 5 more times and lose every single fight, it would not take away what he has already earned. In the heat of the moment the stakes always seem higher than they actually are. Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson SIlva and BJ Penn have all suffered embarrassing loses and yet, as the dust has settled, these fighters’ legacies remain intact. The same will be the case for McGregor.

Regardless of what fans’ thoughts might be about McGregor’s antics outside of the Octagon, his body of work inside it is truly remarkable. McGregor’s tear through the featherweight division was simply astonishing. While at the time his wins over Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes were his standout performances at 145, his victories over Dustin Poirier and Max Holloway have aged well – considering both have gone on to have their own great careers inside the cage.

The pair of Diaz fights highlighted flaws in McGregor’s game, but battling through the adversity to win the rematch seems to have really cemented McGregor as a mainstream star. In his lone UFC lightweight fight, he showed all his skills and dominated the extremely durable Eddie Alvarez in dazzling fashion. With the Alvarez victory as his crowning achievement, the fact that McGregor became the first man to hold two UFC titles simultaneously has secured his status as an all-time great.

There is a very real possibility that McGregor will lose and lose convincingly. Part of what makes fighting so fun is the fact that nobody is infallible. Every great has been embarrassed at some point in their careers, most inside the cage (and others embroiled in PED scandals outside). It’s hard to believe that a loss would even impact McGregor at all. The options for him are endless and he will probably rebound with either a title shot or a rematch with Nate Diaz that will make him even wealthier than he already is.

Regardless of what’s on the line on Saturday, one thing is certain: Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov is the most anticipated fight in the divisions history. And while constructing career defining narratives is fun, the truth is – when all is said and done – both fighters have already won UFC gold and their legacies are, very likely, already cemented in the annals of time.