I was a bag of nerves watching the prelims and undercard of UFC 194.
As someone who has had the pleasure of interviewing Conor McGregor before, meeting and working with him turned me from a fan of his, into an even bigger fan of his, and I always get nervous ahead of his fights, such is my desire to see him succeed.
Having been bitten by the bug when the UFC first came to Dublin in 2009, I have been a fan of the sport ever since. Granted I am no expert on mixed martial arts, and I don't claim to be either, but I've seen a lot of things change over the past six years, and I've seen a lot of very big, massively-hyped fights take place, yet never once did I see a fighter look like José Aldo did on his way to the Octagon.
I had no clue what was going to happen going into this fight. While I 100% believed that Conor could win, I also knew that José Aldo was a magnificent champion, and a cold blooded killer in every fight of his that I had seen, dating back to the WEC. I saw the comments after the weigh-ins, about how good and calm José looked, and I'll admit that I became a bit more worried. What if the mental warfare had no effect on him at all?
Those fears were squashed at around 5.55am on Sunday morning.
Aldo never once looked at Conor McGregor, until the very last moments before Big John McCarthy summoned them to fight. That's fair enough, some fighters prefer to focus on the task at hand rather than get emotionally involved, but this was different.
No, this was not the pound for pound #1 fighter in MMA trying to remain focused, this was different. When the fighters were called for the routine instructions, I looked not at Aldo, but at McGregor, and what I saw was a man who acknowledged that his opponent was already beaten:
Just look at Conor McGregor. He's almost disappointed in Aldo.
At that moment my nerves went away. I wasn't celebrating victory, I was looking at the screen, puzzled. For the next 13 or so seconds I sat on the edge of my seat in anticipation of a big moment, which came far sooner than I expected, even after seeing how Aldo looked.
So what happened to José?
If you, like me, were fixed to the action of a truly memorable card, you would have seen Joe Rogan talk with Dana White just before 3am, as the main card was about to switch to a PPV in the US. The idea here is to hype the fights up and convince the punters who are on the fence that they should buy the fight, but both men admitted their complete lack of a clue as to what what going to happen.
Joe Rogan expressed my feelings exactly when he said that we've never seen Conor McGregor face an opponent with this much talent before, but then again, we've never seen José Aldo fight after the mental warfare that Conor has put him through, or words to that effect.
The mental warfare that Conor McGregor started, and the Irish fans continued, caused Aldo to buckle. Conor planted a seed of doubt in José's mind that he had never dealt with before, and that seed flourished into a crippling weight of self doubt. And Conor knew it.
Immediately in the Octagon post-fight he was respectful when having his hand raised, as he always is, but he genuinely looked sad for José. He knew this man was a magnificent champion, but he broke him down mentally and then embarrassed him with the World watching.
It was hard for me to feel bad at the time, such was my delight that Conor McGregor did exactly what he repeatedly told the world he was going to do, but on reflection it's difficult not to feel sad for the former champ, especially after seeing his reaction in the dressing-room.
But that image of Conor's face when Aldo couldn't raise his head to make eye-contact before the fight stuck with me, and it remains the defining image of the night for me.
Well, along with this one:
It is so rewarding to be a Conor McGregor fan. His continued delivery of performance is something I have never experienced as a fan of Irish sport. But aside from that, the way he thinks outside of the box and challenges the perception of how to prepare for a fight has been utterly fascinating to watch unfold.
I spoke to him before his fight with Diego Brandao, a man who I thought at the time was a very dangerous striker, and a threat to Conor. His complete and unwavering self confidence before that fight made me a firm believer, and around 18 months later, here we are.
Even up until minutes before the fight there was still doubt niggling away at me, but as soon as I saw that look, that doubt was gone.