As Conor McGregor gets ready for his unification bout with lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez there is an unsettling confidence in the demeanour of his latest opponent.
Madison Square Garden hosts the inaugural New York UFC show this November. In a blitz of media interviews and major press conferences, Alvarez appears clear-eyed and unfazed by the bright lights and bombastic behaviour of the Notorious one.
Alvarez is different in many ways. The 32-year-old looks at McGregor’s opponents with wide-eyed bewilderment much of the time.
He is critical of their approaches and recently stated:
“There’s a simple way to win against this guy and nobody seems to be doing it. It’s really frustrating to watch.”
He is talking about wrestling, of course, and the delusional approach of fighters who believe they can trade punches with McGregor.
Alvarez simply believes that McGregor cannot cope with wrestlers and the intricacies of the ground game. Those who disagree use Chad Mendes as an example. Mendes is a wrestler of considerable calibre and was soundly beaten by McGregor within two rounds. However, the California native took the fight on short notice and his conditioning was well below par.
It seems there is little possibility of Alvarez trading with McGregor, who is arguably the best striker in the UFC. McGregor foresees angles and openings that an ordinary fighter can’t begin to fathom. At 170 lb he put Nick Diaz on the canvas with tantalising ease.
McGregor can circumvent a defence like a master thief picking a lock. For those who are unlucky enough be lightweight or featherweight there is simply no escape. His 13-second dismantling of the legendary Jose Aldo didn’t only upset the apple cart – it was a major rupture for the UFC hierarchy.
His first loss in the UFC to Diaz may have tarnished McGregor’s shine but the brand wasn’t even scuffed. His rematch against Diaz tore up the old pay-per-view records, and all this against a durable, but ultimately mediocre, journey man. However, nothing should be taken from McGregor. He went up two weight classes and descended into the pit for a dogfight. The Dubliner’s response to a crushing defeat was commendable. And the greats will always answer a loss with a few questions of their own.
The choice language and colourful expletives mean nothing when the dust settles. It is the fight that will ultimately be remembered; however the fighter’s mental toughness can be gauged on that rocky road to the Octagon.
Alvarez appears lucid and he has made no secret of his game plan. He intends to take this fight to the canvass by fully utilising his wrestling skills. Statistically, McGregor’s takedown defence stands at 70% and he has proven time and again that he can cope with this type of pressure.
It appears Alvarez has no plan B. He will need to be fully conditioned for this confrontation as ultimately he will use a huge amount of energy trying to implement his plan. McGregor’s coach, John Kavanagh, will be painfully aware of what awaits. Kavanagh is the man with the plan and he will painstakingly plot a defence with his protégé.
Alvarez is of Puerto Rican-Irish heritage and this adds an enticing dimension to the fight for Irish fans. He has a record of 28 wins and four losses and his takedowns are accurate up to 41% of the time. His striking is crisp and his conditioning is excellent. Alvarez fights at a fast pace and he is known to ‘take two punches’ in order to land one. Against McGregor that will not work. The featherweight champion can take punishment, and the return for an opponent’s investment is never profitable.
Reports suggest that Alvarez has received no more money for this fight than his contract stipulated. Nick Diaz faced a similar problem and his stock soared after his defeat of McGregor. Alvarez will be fully aware of this, and despite the lack of money there will be no lack of motivation.
Alvarez views McGregor as a puzzle he has solved. There is nothing in his utterances that would suggest otherwise.
Regardless of the outcome, Ireland will still have a champion after UFC 205.
Jonathan Dunne, Pundit Arena