The biggest fight card of all time bar none. The UFC heads to New York for the first time ever, and Madison Square Garden is the stage where history will unfold.
Here we predict the outcomes for all of Saturday night’s fights.
Conor McGregor vs Eddie Alvarez
Featherweight champion Conor McGregor will look to become the first ever fighter in the UFC to hold two belts simultaneously as he takes on Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight championship.
McGregor is in fierce form. With history beckoning, it feels like his time. He should dominate the stand up against Alvarez, crisp jabs and straight left hands will be the order of the day, it doesn’t need to be overly complicated, perfect fundamentals, precision and timing are his keys to an early knockout victory. Expect him to limit kicks early on, fearing the take-downs of Eddie.
Alvarez carries big power, but tends to wing punches leaving him open to counters. If he doesn’t look to take McGregor down early and often, it could be a short night for the Philadelphia native. Alvarez needs to get the Dubliner to the ground early and attempt to drain his cardio, removing some of the pop from that left hand. He will look for chokes on the ground, but McGregor’s jiu-jitsu is criminally underrated and he should survive and look to scramble back to the feet.
Alvarez has the wrestling advantage and, on paper, the cardio advantage. He’s relentless and tough to finish. In a five-round war he should be the favourite. However, attempting to win rounds and tire the Irishman out is a risky strategy. Giving a knockout artist five rounds to find your chin is playing with fire.
The pre-fight mind games must also be taken into account with any McGregor fight. Alvarez was visibly flustered by the heavily partisan Irish crowds at weigh-ins and press conferences this week.
The opening five minutes will be very telling, and intelligent game plans may be the decisive factor here. Both men possess the tools and talent to win this fight. It’s a high stakes coin flip; a main event worthy of the octagon’s debut in Madison Square Garden.
Stay tuned for McGregor’s huge post-fight announcement.
Pick: Conor McGregor, via KO.
Tyron Woodley vs Stephen Thompson
Tyron Woodley played it smart when he was willing to wait for his shot at Robbie Lawler and UFC gold. He knocked out the indestructible Lawler within one round and took his place atop the welterweight division.
Training at Roufusport, Tyron carries big power in his hands and is always dangerous. He blitzes opponents with wrestling and is well rounded in all disciplines. Woodley’s only issues have usually been cardio-related. He’ll push a torrid pace and either finish you or fade in the latter rounds.
His opponent is the new age of old school. Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson is a stand-up specialist. With years of karate and kick-boxing experience, his attacks come from unique angles, often frustrating opponents who fail to get close. His jiu-jitsu is strong, he can wrestle and he’s in incredible shape. But for the most part, he’s going to try and kick you in the face, and he’s extremely good at it.
Woodley will need to walk through fire to get close enough to land on Thompson. He needs to keep up a relentless pace and look for take-downs. Taking Wonderboy off his feet is by far the safest approach and if Woodley can manage that, he might just hold on to his belt. However, this feels like the coming out party for Thompson, the birth of the ‘Wonderman’.
Pick: Stephen Thompson, via KO/TKO.
Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz
The battle of the undefeated Polish warriors. Both Muay Thai specialists, these women are among the best strikers in the UFC. They fought each other in an amateur MMA fight back in 2012, with Joanna taking the victory by submission that night. Now on the biggest stage in MMA, Karolina will look for revenge.
Karolina has won all of her UFC fights thus far via decision. She’s extremely tough and utilises a high output strategy to best opponents. Constant movement and attacks from all angles, she is a handful for anyone at 115 pounds. Everywhere she excels, however, Joanna dominates.
Jędrzejczyk’s striking is crisp, clean and without a doubt she is one of the best in the world on her feet. She picks opponents apart, rearranges their faces and maintains a ridiculously high output over five rounds. Expect this one to be contested on the feet, and for Joanna to put on a show.
Pick: Joanna Jędrzejczyk, via decision.
Chris Weidman vs Yoel Romero
Chris Weidman is representing New York and fulfilling a life long dream of fighting at the Garden. Looking to bounce back after losing his title, expect to see a man on a mission.
Romero is a very strong wrestler, but he can fade in the latter rounds. However, he possesses enough power to ruin anyone’s night. Chris may have an edge in MMA-specific wrestling, but he’ll need to be relentless to best Romero.
Pick: Chris Weidman, via decision.
Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Michael Johnson
Khabib Nurmagomedov is the best. He’s the best wrestler in MMA, has the best top control and pace in the division and he’s probably the best lightweight in the world. With a perfect undefeated record, his career has only been hampered by injuries.
His opponent Johnson is good everywhere without yet reaching the elite level. This could be the fight that finally puts him over the edge and into title contention. Strong wresting and big power are his strongest traits, and he’ll need them and more to stop Khabib. Octagon rust could play a part, favouring the far more active Johnson, but this is Nurmagomedov’s fight to lose.
Pick: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Miesha Tate vs Raquel Pennington: Tate
Frankie Edgar vs Jeremy Stephens: Edgar
Rafael Natal vs Tim Boetsch Natal
Vicente Luque vs Belal Muhammad: Muhammad
Jim Miller vs Thiago Alves: Miller
Liz Carmouche vs Katlyn Chookagian: Carmouche
Philip Hanna, Pundit Arena