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Aldo grinds it out as McGregor looms

Jose Aldo versus Chad Mendes is the lead candidate for 2014's Fight of the Year -- and even still, it couldn't escape the Conor McGregor effect.

Of all the amazing things Saturday's featherweight title fight offered in Rio de Janeiro, perhaps the most eye-opening was that within minutes of its conclusion, both Aldo and Mendes had mentioned McGregor.

To recap, we are talking about a highest-of-stakes UFC title fight rematch, between rival camps, producing the best back-and-forth fight of the year -- and immediately afterward, both men involved could not wait to talk about the Irishman sitting front row (who has just four UFC fights under his belt).

For the record, Aldo (25-1) did not technically identify McGregor in his post-fight comments, referring to him as a joker. That might actually heap even more attention on McGregor, though, one of those, "he who shall not be named" type deals.

"I didn't speak his name," said Aldo, at the post-fight news conference. "My kingdom is full now. I'm the king. Chad is the prince and there is a joker in the court."

Joker or not, McGregor has the division's attention. As much as Aldo wants to refer to him as a guy who "just talks," it's not 2013 anymore, when McGregor sparked a few headlines by basically calling out every 145-pound fighter in the UFC. McGregor (16-2) -- and this is the visual he likes to create -- is claiming heads this year, with back-to-back first-round knockouts.

And in a way, Mendes' success against Aldo on Saturday opens a conversation about whether or not McGregor (who is scheduled to fight Dennis Siver in January in Boston) is the right man to dethrone the champ.

At this point, it might be established that wrestling is not going to be what ultimately topples Aldo. Mendes possesses arguably the best MMA wrestling in the division, but it was not very effective against Aldo, even in later rounds when the champion has been made out to be most vulnerable.

What nearly beat Aldo on Saturday was an A-plus athlete who believed in his hands, had the ability to slip Aldo punches and the courage to plant and stare him down in the pocket. McGregor, who watched the fight cageside in an unmistakably bright pink shirt, represents all those qualities well.

As UFC president Dana White knows, discussing a fight before it's booked can be an enormous waste of time. This sport has a way of ripping apart even the best-laid of plans. McGregor has to win in January.

"Before we can talk about [Aldo versus McGregor], he's got to beat Dennis Siver," White said. "I think too many people are expecting it to be a walkover. There's no sense in talking about it until he fights in Boston."

That may be true, but it certainly won't stop everyone from doing so anyway.