UFC 205: Alvarez vs. McGregor takes place on Saturday, November 12th at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York (7PM/4PM ETPT). Below you will find: “Warmup” (now posted), in which I briefly introduce the event, highlight select fighters and fights, and discuss the significance of these bouts for their respective weight divisions; “Preview”, in which I react to the official weigh-ins (November 11th, 6PM/3PM ETPT) after they have concluded, offer select fight predictions (only for fights whose competitors I have watched compete, respectively, in the past), and discuss the dangers each fighter poses to their opponent, technically, athletically and otherwise; “Review”, in which I react next-day (November 13th) to the event, its outcomes, the post-fight press conference (November 12th, start time depending on duration of fight card) and—for fun—score the experience out of 50 (the same point total as a five round fight). Weigh-in and post-fight press conference can be streamed live directly from this page.
Please feel welcome to engage myself and other commenters in the comments section beneath this post before, during and after the event. Share your predictions, your reactions, and, if so inclined, your own score for the night—in whatever sum you wish. These write-ups are done for fun, and out of love and excitement for the sport; I look forward to interacting with you in that same spirit. ⊗
UFC 205 has been billed, like 200 before it, as the “biggest”, “most stacked” MMA card ever conceived. And as with 200 before it, it has been a ruthless reminder of the incorporeality of live events until they’re live. Former light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans was only days ago pulled from the card after “irregular findings” courtesy an MRI scan, and his middleweight debut opposite Tim Kennedy subsequently scrapped; then, immediately before weigh-in’s yesterday, whose conclusion makes fights “official”, welterweight Kelvin Gastelum missed weight (it’s rumoured by a lot) and his fight with Donald Cerrone evaporated into the crisp autumn air.
For many of us, these cancellations have had the fighting advantage of realistic expectations. We’ve been reminded enough by now that the ‘MMA gods’, for all their generous gifts, can exercise indifference at the best of times, which in this restlessly shifting world often coincide with the worst. But for all the losses on paper, a card lives or dies on how it unfolds. UFC 200 was largely considered a disappointment because, Jones or no Jones, the remaining bouts were, while not as uninspiring as some suggest, not quite extraordinary either. Even with past lessons in mind, however, I am highly skeptical 205 will disappoint likewise; I strain to think of underwhelming contests in most of these fighters’ histories, especially with regard to the five-fight main card and two preceding prelims on Fox Sports 1. In the absence of finishes, which I do not believe will be absent from—again—most pairings, I see fiercely and exhaustively competitive, hard-won decisions.
The UFC has taken years upon years of legislative battling at a state level (detailed in the promotion’s recent “Fighting for History” documentary) to legalize mixed martial arts in New York City, and ironically my excitement for McGregor vs. Alvarez and its undercard only crystallized finally when this undercard suffered blows. Personally, I cannot wait for these fights any longer, and neither, I hope, can you. Because finally, finally—oh reader, we aren’t made to.
To be posted November 11th after weigh-ins (6PM/3PM ETPT)
As excited as I am for Alvarez vs. McGregor, the main event tonight, for myself at least, is the welterweight championship between champion Tyron Woodley and challenger Stephen Thompson. Thompson is arguably the most talented, dynamic striker in the UFC today, as well as being an exemplary martial artist and human being; he’s humble, confident and kind. This is not to say Woodley isn’t humble, confident and kind, but that Wonderboy exemplifies these traits to a largely nonpareil degree. In my opinion, he is also the more exciting, electric fighter and would therefore make a more exciting champion. The betting odds for this contest began with Thompson as the favourite, and have remained so since; and while this is encouraging for those of us routing for “Wonderboy” to reach this peak in his MMA career, Woodley may be stylistically the worst match-up as yet for the Kenpō karate/kickboxing/Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt for one reason alone: explosiveness. Not ordinary explosiveness, Woodley explosiveness.
The standing betting odds are no doubt highly influenced by Wonderboy’s decimation of another powerhouse wrestler, former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks; Woodley, however, poses more threat to Thompson not only for his increased strength over Hendricks, and therefore his notorious right hand (also Hendricks’ hallmark), but the distance he can cover almost instantly in deploying it and the fact he doesn’t need that distance. In other words, Woodley can unleash this punch (which is preceded by two rapid feints) from within the innermost “pocket” of exchange. Wonderboy, it seems to me, though he nonetheless has the speed and striking advantage, will be susceptible to Woodley’s looping fist from any distance: his sidelong, primarily kicking range karate stance, as well as his comparatively hips-forward boxing stance. Of course, Wonderboy also has the cardio advantage, as his five-round chess match with Rory MacDonald showed. If Woodley is known for his explosions, be it with grappling or striking, he is also known as a fighter who becomes significantly less dangerous after and beyond the first round. This fight in all likelihood hinges on Thompson’s ability or not to break Woodley down with volume while also dragging the champion into deep waters. Weathering a storm alone and at sea for twenty-five minutes is a considerably easier task, though, than avoiding it altogether—and Wonderboy may essentially be forced, paradoxically, to do both.
I expect former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar to be tasked similarly as he faces Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens in the featured bout of UFC 205’s FS1 prelims. In this contest, however, the roles are reversed, with the slighter, less powerful fighter having the wrestling advantage, which I believe Edgar must use, absolutely must, to see his hand raised after fifteen or less minutes. If he opts to combat Stephens on the feet, I cannot envision him posing any threat of knockout while he avoids what analyst Dan Hardy calls Lil’ Heathen’s “kettle bells.” If Edgar concedes his striking power disadvantage from the word go, alternatively, a wrestling-heavy approach could eventually yield him a submission victory or unanimous decision.
Note the gravity of these if’s, because former middleweight champion (and unfortunately sole New York City native on the card) Chris Weidman will contend with much larger “kettle bells” (more anvils, actually) in Cuban knockout ace and Olympic wrestling silver medalist, Yoel Romero. The problem with Weidman’s scenario versus Edgar’s is, as per the attributes just mentioned, the fact that the “All-American” not only has less powerful hands but no grappling advantage, despite being a collegiately decorated wrestler himself. Weidman does have the conditioning advantage, however, and—like Edgar—the perhaps all-too-underappreciated weapon of consummate well-roundedness. (Which another former champion, who also happens to be coming off a belt-losing performance, Miesha Tate, possesses against opponent Raquel Pennington to begin the main card.)
I’m never sure to what extent a fighter’s demeanor at weigh-in’s (and stare-downs) can foreshadow their emotional and psychological fortitude come fight day, only twenty-four hours after give or take, but #3 ranked lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov and #7 ranked Michael Johnson betrayed next to nothing in either regard. The “X factors”—as always, one could argue—are external to fighting as a physical event, and here the primary unknown is Khabib’s not having fought since April this year (on account of Ramadan). Because neither his nor Johnson’s state of mind were easily read (at least by this writer) at weigh-in’s, I’ll relinquish my expectation for this fight to the customary “style versus style” angle, and say that Khabib will likely (or should) look to grapple his way to a submission or decision, and Johnson will (or should) do his best to avoid the clinch with the powerful undefeated Russian and score a knockout or technical knockout (TKO).
Finally, the main event—the real main event. I may be more invested in Woodley vs. Thompson but my hair will be standing on end, as I’m sure everyone’s will be, when McGregor’s entrance music begins to play (if a repeat of UFC 202, Foggy Dew by Sineád O’Connor remixed with Hypnotize by Notorious B.I.G) and the enigma that is not only Conor McGregor, but a Conor McGregor fight, follows suit. Alvarez will be looking to put a pressure on McGregor that “the Notorious” has never felt, for five rounds if necessary, whereas McGregor will behave, at least in the first two rounds should the fight last as long, as if time doesn’t exist—like it’s a high-stakes, high-frequency playground for his electric striking suite and Zeppelin of personality. The talking anyway, is done for the time being. Below are my (partial) predictions for the biggest event in Madison Square Garden history. Whatever does happen, let’s take McGregor’s advice to heart, and enjoy the moment.
✓ Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Michael Johnson via rear-naked choke (R2) or decision ✖
Frankie Edgar def. Jeremy Stephens via decision ✓
✖ Miesha Tate def. Raquel Pennington via decision ✖ Chris Weidman def. Yoel Romero via TKO (R3) or decision ✖ Stephen Thompson def. Tyron Woodley via TKO (R3) or decision ✖ Eddie Alvarez def. Conor McGregor via TKO (R2)
To be posted November 13th
At this point, UFC cards are most shocking when they are not shocking; and when, if ever anymore, is that? “The Chosen One” versus “Wonderboy” had many plausible outcomes, including a KO from either side, or conversely twenty-five minutes resolved by an always contentious must-system. But a draw, of all things? A draw? And if that word strikes you as somehow innocuous, don’t be fooled: this was a harrowing, harrowing contest—one which I have been unable thus far to rewatch despite it being my custom for these reviews. It’s beautiful, of course, but also exhausting. And was doubly so live, as is always so; for a fight of these stakes, between martial artists of this caliber, is almost excruciatingly intense if one dares (he says as if there is any choice) to add favour to the mix.
How Thompson survived almost two minutes (in the fourth round) inside Woodley’s cinching, grimacing guillotine choke is anyone’s guess. Why Thompson fought in such restrained fashion comparative to his win-streak entering this fight is a little more clear: he was fighting on the biggest stage, under the biggest spotlight, of his life, and he was fighting someone who would grant almost no margin of error unless in the circumstance that he, Woodley, became too tired to punish said errors—which, on the whole, and surprisingly to many of us, he didn’t. Thompson relied heavily on his boxing versus kickboxing, ostensibly because the latter would have likely compromised him more to Woodley’s takedown attempts, but in hindsight this choice to lean disproportionately on punches almost got him knocked out multiple times. In the lead-up to 205, Thompson claimed he would operate on the usual advice of his coach (who is also his father) to “just have fun” as a means to loosen himself up, which is good advice when we consider the fact that a “loose” elite striker is often the most dangerous kind.
But even before the perils began in earnest, Thompson was tight-rope walking out there. Hindsight is a post-fight luxury, obviously, so I say the following with that caveat: if Thompson had ignored the heights from which he could fall in this fight, and kicked as if he was on a solid octagonal canvas and not a thin wire, perhaps he would never have had to show (almost) incomparable heart in the aforementioned penultimate round. This is a hypothetical, however, and entirely useless; the only resolution to this fight will be a rematch, against which there really is no valid argument. Happily, the UFC has yet to argue.
The only other fight from UFC 205 over which the judges argued was its inaugural one: Liz Carmouche vs. Katlyn Chookagian. Otherwise, though there were five bouts total which went to decision November 12th, they were all clear verdicts and—as I predicted—hard won. Edgar weathered Stephens’s stand-up game on his way to victory, including a close call that was far from a game; as did champion Jędrzejczyk whom Kowalkiewicz stunned with a surprise flurry deep into the first of the card’s three consecutive title fights. Romero’s out-of-the-blue flying knee finish of Weidman, followed by his wind-up soldier march around the octagon’s exterior played the role of ‘token-surreal-system-shock-fight-outcome’ which is now nearly a given for major UFC events (199 had two). This finish complimented by Vincente Luque’s efforts, as well as Tim Boetsch’s.
And to crown all this, McGregor’s second crown: the new UFC lightweight champion. As with his first go at gold, McGregor met with essentially no resistance, almost as if he were opponent-less under the prism of lights which Alvarez, nonetheless, shared. Several striking parallels to Holm’s championship winning domination of Rousey here, the first being the disparity between the challenger and champion’s striking. As in UFC 193‘s headliner, the challenger established his advantage with the first combination he lighted on his adversary, and the remainder of the bout was a surreal and literal percussion on the fact until the finish arrived mercifully like an unpunctual guest. Witnessing an elite, highly and pluralistically dangerous fighter such as “The Underground King” rendered offenseless, and thereby defenseless, would have been a disappointing cap to the night if it weren’t so toxically entrancing. One-sided fights can hold their own to any war, really, as a matter purely of spectacle, and thus one of the most competitive cards the UFC has ever produced ends with minimal, save for the Notorious’s ongoing challenge to himself, not only conceptually outside of fights like this one, but in their every moment. He’s been stopped in his tracks before, but it’s clear now—if it wasn’t already—that it’s only gained him steam.