Anticipation has now officially reached fever pitch. This weekend we will finally get to see the long-awaited super-fight between UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and the man with history firmly in his sights, ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor, the current champion of the featherweight division.
Madison Square Garden will finally host its first MMA event, and given the historic nature of this night for the sport as a whole, the UFC have gone above and beyond to guarantee the most electric match-ups possible all the way down the UFC 205 card.
But in this piece, there are only two fighters under the microscope.
Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez has had a career worthy of the highest praise. He has held a world championship in virtually every organisation he has ever fought in and despite the odds often being stacked against him, he now stands with conclusive proof wrapped around his waist that he is the best 155-pounder on the planet.
All the way throughout his career Alvarez has made a point of challenging the guys who claimed to be the greatest lightweight on the planet, no matter where on Earth that took him. He didn’t do it to satisfy a craving for fame or for money or for any level of exposure winning might grant him. He simply did it because he firmly believed that each and every one of them were wrong.
Conor McGregor needs virtually no introduction at this point. His rise to the top of the MMA game has revolutionised and upended several key pillars that have held strong since the sport’s inception and love him or hate him, he draws the eyes of the public with his every move.
Things became very interesting when McGregor first stepped into the UFC octagon in April of 2013 and destroyed Marcus Brimage. The buzz generated by this kid thereafter – according to UFC color-commentator Joe Rogan – was unlike anything he had ever seen.
McGregor enters the war zone this Saturday with an entire nation of people behind him and the type of raw passion he inspires in people – whether it be tinged with hatred or admiration – is truly a wonder to see in action.
Stylistically this match-up is a very interesting one. In Eddie Alvarez, you have a highly skilled wrestler-boxer whose main strengths lie in his grit, determination and spirit. His experience will be key in this match-up. Eddie has fought some of the toughest fighters in the division’s history consistently throughout his career and in order for Conor to get his respect, he will have to show him something he has never seen before.
We’ve seen Eddie grind down opponents before, with the main reference point drawn by many being his decision victory of Anthony Pettis. Pettis, like McGregor, fights out of a southpaw stance but definitely relies on open space more than Conor does in order to wind up those big kicks. Conor’s strength lies in his counter punching ability, something he can definitely use effectively in the pocket.
Conor McGregor’s main keys to victory lie in his striking and his movement. He will come into this bout holding a 5-inch reach advantage over his opponent, a luxury he enjoyed quite often during his 7-0 run in the featherweight division. Conor will be looking to end this fight quickly and efficiently.
McGregor’s new focus on cardio may serve to prepare him better for the possibility of a 5-round war, but if he can drop Eddie early, do not expect to see him call his foe back to his feet in the manner he did with Nate Diaz. The guard of Alvarez is nowhere near as treacherous as the one possessed by his previous opponent.
On the feet, you’d have to think the advantage lies with McGregor. He has the reach, diversity, technique and probably the power to best Eddie if the fight stays standing. In the realms of wrestling, endurance, experience and pure grit, Alvarez is king.
The big question coming into this fight is whether Eddie can successfully drain McGregor enough to reduce the power in that big left-hand shot. We’ve seen Conor gas before and it will be interesting to see how his body reacts to this weight class.
One route towards success for Eddie is to pressure Conor against the fence and grind out a decision or late finish but there are so many unknowns going into this fight that it’s very hard to be sure exactly how it will play out. The thing about Eddie is that he gets dropped quite often, and despite not knowing exactly how much of Conor’s power will translate to lightweight, my inclination would be to believe that he has more than enough power to drop Eddie Alvarez in this bout.
Can he get the finish, though? One thing that defines Eddie as a fighter is his unnatural ability to take damage, recover and somehow pull a win out of the bag. We’ve seen comeback wins from him on countless occasions, the most dramatic of which being his all-time classic second contest with Michael Chandler in Bellator, but for me, the real question going into this bout is whether or not Conor can finish Eddie with strikes, something no-one has been able to do since 2007.
5-rounds is a long, long time and should this bout get out of the opening rounds, expect to see momentum shifts aplenty as these two warriors battle on the biggest stage in MMA history. It’s Conor’s artistic striking against Eddie’s tried and tested animalistic determination and as you can probably tell by reading the article, this writer has absolutely no idea which way it’s going to go.
Saturday, November 12th cannot come quickly enough!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena