History will be made -- perhaps in more ways than one -- when the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday visits Madison Square Garden in New York for the first time. UFC 205 (online betting) will be headlined by a rare champion-versus-champion showdown, as Eddie Alvarez defends his lightweight crown against featherweight titleholder Conor McGregor and seeks to prevent the Irishman from becoming the first fighter to ever hold two UFC belts simultaneously.
Two other title fights share the marquee, as welterweight champion Tyron Woodley locks horns with Stephen Thompson and women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk squares off with Karolina Kowalkiewicz. The rest of the six-fight main card features a middleweight clash pairing Chris Weidman with 2000 Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero, a welterweight tilt pitting Kelvin Gastelum against Donald Cerrone and a women’s bantamweight affair matching Miesha Tate with Raquel Pennington.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC 205 “Alvarez vs. McGregor” matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Lightweight ChampionshipEddie Alvarez (28-4) vs. Conor McGregor (20-3)
THE MATCHUP: Feel that buzz in the air? Hear that whisper on the wind? Smell that faint hint of glove sweat and Guinness wafting in the breeze? It is McGregor time once again, and what a firecracker of a matchup we have to look forward to this time.
During the lead-up to this bout, McGregor spitefully declared Alvarez “one of those journeyman fighters.” He is not entirely wrong, though for me the term feels more complimentary than “The Notorious” intended. Alvarez is a journeyman in the best sense of the word. His fight career has taken him just about everywhere, from Costa Rica, Russia and Japan to Mexico, Canada and right back to the United States. That wandering path has seen Alvarez fight -- and beat -- warriors of every description. He thumped a submission ace in Shinya Aoki, strangled a karateka in Katsunori Kikuno, flatlined a brawler in Patricky Freire and thwarted the ferocious pressure of Rafael dos Anjos. The road has been long and the schedule hard: Alvarez began his career nearly 12 years ago, racking up 32 professional fights in the process. However, like Fabricio Werdum and Robbie Lawler before him, the journeyman has arrived. Alvarez is the UFC champion.
All of that experience is a good thing. Alvarez is unlikely to be surprised by anything McGregor brings to the table, and he has built himself a very well-rounded skill set. The 15 knockouts on his resume mark him as a boxer-puncher, but Alvarez started as a wrestler and owns a few impressive submissions, to boot. By bandying about the term “journeyman,” McGregor was trying to disparage Alvarez, but this irony seems to have escaped him. Alvarez is not the only elite journeyman in the UFC’s lightweight division. He shares that grimy podium with one Nate Diaz, the only man to beat McGregor in nearly six years.
Alvarez has a good bit in common with Diaz that works in his favor. Mentally, he is as tough as they come. Alvarez can be goaded into a brawl, but he seems to relish the opportunity and throws combinations with devilish speed and violent intent. Like Diaz, he knows well how to navigate the cage, and his footwork looked more polished than ever in the fight that won him the title, thanks in part to his renewed relationship with trainer Mark Henry. Alvarez lacks Diaz’s excellent jiu-jitsu, but he makes up for it with much stronger wrestling.
Unfortunately for Alvarez, he faces McGregor after his loss to Diaz and not before. As he showed in the rematch with Diaz, McGregor is less likely to be surprised by the same kind of tactics and perhaps is even content with a decision win. McGregor has also begun focusing heavily on conditioning after gassing out badly in the first Diaz fight. In the rematch, he showed that he has at least come to terms with the feeling of exhaustion, if not exactly fortified his body against it.
We cannot only ask what McGregor is prepared to deal with. After all, Alvarez has never faced a man quite like him. McGregor will be the hardest puncher Alvarez has had to fight since Michael Chandler, only with a few extra inches of reach and height and a better idea of how to set up his beloved left hand. McGregor will likely pressure Alvarez just like Dos Anjos did, but he will be more willing to flex and bend as the fight requires. Rather than waiting in the pocket with his guard up, McGregor will dip in and out, forcing Alvarez to miss before firing back. Rather than chopping away at the legs and diving on takedowns, McGregor will spin and flourish, guiding Alvarez into the path of his deadly cross. McGregor brings a unique level of craft to the table and bolsters it with a headstrong attitude the likes of which Alvarez has never seen before.
THE ODDS: McGregor (-154), Alvarez (+134)
THE PICK: Like all McGregor fights, this one is tough for me to call. To be honest, I have not called a single one correctly since his bout with Chad Mendes. The man bedevils me. I see a bad style matchup, and McGregor overcomes it with sheer grit and determination. I see an interesting fight, and McGregor knocks his man out cold in seconds. I see a short-notice sacrifice, and McGregor fails spectacularly, only to smartly overcome the same obstacle mere months later. What is an analyst to do? As noted above, Alvarez has a lot of Diaz in him, with a few notable differences. He lacks the reach and height but makes up for it with speed. He sacrifices submissions in favor of takedowns. He tends to get hurt more frequently but has never once been knocked out; and he does indeed have the conditioning that McGregor so obviously lacks. In the end, however, that tendency to take punishment early seals the deal. That is not a good way to go about fighting McGregor. If the Irishman fails to finish early, Alvarez’s chances will skyrocket. Unfortunately for the lightweight champ, I do not see that happening. The pick is McGregor by first-round knockout.
Next Fight » Woodley vs. Thompson