Conor McGregor takes on Dennis Siver in the main event of UFC Fight Night 59 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 18th
Single line summary:
A competitive and competitively rational match-up built upon the principles of competition, where two Top 10 fighters will... will compete to... oh, fine, I give up.
So who's the TBA Conor McGregor is fighting?
History Lesson / Introduction:
Phil: Dennis Siver is one of the long-tenured veterans of the UFC who has quietly and almost imperceptibly rounded out his game until it bears little resemblance to what it once was.
His small runs of success in the UFC's lightweight division were generally stopped by upper-level competition. When he dropped to featherweight (145), many thought that Siver would be in deep trouble with the weight cut- whilst stocky, he's built like the proverbial brick scheisshaus. Instead, he's established himself as a decent upper-level fighter.
David: Siver's a really strange case. When he first debuted in the UFC, I didn't expect much from him. His striking is a little stiff, and robotic, but it's also active and versatile. After rounding out his grappling, he's become a steadier, more durable presence in the octagon. It's hard to predict him from fight to fight, but in the grand scheme of things he's a solid fighter who will always have a future in the UFC.
Phil: Conor McGregor is "the coming man", as the boxing pundits used to say. The hugely confident Irishman's rise to fame in the UFC is made all the more impressive by the fact that he did it in the modern era, distinguishing himself from literally hundreds of other fighters. He's done this to the extent that he is now headlining a card in Boston in his fifth fight with the company. Why? Because he's loud, cocky, he has a funny accent, and he's had a marked tendency to absolutely blow his opponents away.
David: McGregor is like an Irish stew of promotional credence: he fights well, speaks well, and does both loudly enough to draw the attention from everyone without it ever feeling so forced as to be eye rolling. I've written about it all before, and I stand by my view of Conor is someone that sounds like an actual man of the sport who happens to be bombastic instead of as a man promoting a sport he can't otherwise carry.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Jose Aldo has cleared the deck of challengers, so the Siver fight is the last obstacle in the path of the McGregor hype train before its final stop: a title shot against the only man to ever hold the UFC featherweight belt.
If Siver wins, we're in serious "best-laid schemes of mice and men" territory here. He'd completely shatter Zuffa's hopes and dreams. Gone would be the exciting, unstoppable, firebrand challenger, and in his place would be a quiet foreigner who looks like a vertically-compressed Boris Becker, and who is two fights removed from a drugs suspension.
David: Oh man. Dana White is a pretty bipolar dude. We'd either get the angry, frothing "McGregor needs to decide if he wants to fight, or if he wants to talk, because that was fucking embarrassing!!" speech, or the subdued (which has happened a bit more lately), catatonic "I don't know what happened. I honestly have no clue. I'm not a fighter. I know you guys like to think I'm controlling these fighters like what's those fucking puppets called with strings attached and shit? But this is the fight business. Anything can happen. Anything did happen..." speech.
Phil: I like McGregor, but let's not pretend that just watching that wouldn't be hilarious.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Nominally a striker, Siver has really come into his own as a grappler. He started off his career at welterweight, with "better-than-regional-European" grappling, which has slowly morphed into decent offensive and defensive wrestling.
Takedowns lead to top position, which is definitely the safest place for him to fight McGregor. While Siver is a solid kickboxer, he also has very defined limitations. He has good striking fundamentals, and these sometimes carry him pretty far (as they should): the purpose of fundamentals is to maximize efficiency by drawing the shortest distance between two points and wasting little energy. However, they can't mask Siver's innate flaws: he's not quick at all, he has little power in his hands, and even for 145 lbs, he still has limited reach. He's got some quick, snapping kicks (enabled by his TKD background), but it's going to be difficult to use them if he's getting forced backwards, as he likely will be.
He's physically strong, but once someone gets his timing down, he's rarely been able to push back in the striking exchanges. Witness, for example, George Sotiropoulos(!) starting to take over the boxing in the third round. Extended periods on the feet are a near-guaranteed death sentence for Siver against McGregor.
David: For some reason I had actually managed to forget just how lopsided this matchup actually is. I mean, everyone sees it for what it is: a softball to get McGregor a title shot. But stylistically it's just so dreadful. So we know pretty much what Conor will do: use his movement to cut into Siver with his left leg, and then punctuate those strikes from distance with combinations in close and at range. McGregor is adept at turning a proximity fight into a long distance pugilism relationship, and vice versa; it's why he's so successful on the feet. So the real question is what Siver can do to make him look human. Or more importantly, what he can do to give Aldo some potentially good ideas.
Phil: Everything McGregor does is designed to force the opponent into a game of inches. He throws the arsenal of wacky kicks and forces the other guy backwards into the cage. He taunts them. He uncorks flurries of strikes. But... he doesn't get out of position. His posture remains utterly stable at almost all times. The aggression is discombobulating -and it's meant to be- but it's largely window-dressing for the end-game, which is the left hand. The moment the other guy makes a single positional error it snaps out like the spring-loaded bar in a trap: the upper, the cross, or the straight, depending on whether they messed up moving forwards, laterally, or backwards respectively.
David: The biggest thing is, as you said, getting the fight to the ground. Even though Rosa was coming in on short notice, he's a solid fighter who Siver had trapped on the ground, and was able to outduel. Siver can theoretically just try to make this a wrestling match. Since he's decent enough getting low, and driving through, it would a nice change of pace to see Conor deal with someone actively trying to avoid his offense on the feet. TL;DR version: Siver is dead on the feet, but could be less dead trying to win Mark Coleman style.
Insight from past fights:
Phil: There are a few here, but I'll take Siver's last fight, against Charles Rosa. I don't think many people expected much from Rosa, but he turned the contest into a scramble-heavy grappling contest. It was a lot of fun, but it wasn't really very "good" in a purely technical sense. Siver showed that while he has underrated grappling chops, he really doesn't have the airtight top control that he'd need to keep someone like McGregor down for an entire 25 minutes, nor does he possess strong finishing tools on the mat.
David: You read my corn fed mind. But I think the biggest takeaway from that fight was the success Rosa had against Siver with his left leg. Rosa would switch to southpaw, and on multiple occasions, even in succession at one point, caught Siver with a high kick. If Rosa can get Siver ducking and losing sight, McGregor should be able to make it look like child's play, horror movie violence and all.
Phil: Overconfidence? McGregor said he'd finish the fight in two minutes, then his coach said he'd do it in one. There's still a few days left so there's plenty of time left to try and subdivide that period down.
David: See, this is the kind of smack talk I enjoy. When the competition is not scripted, predictions flavor the event with sincere zeal as opposed to post-hoc dominance. MMA needs more Mark Messier moments. Not Doink the Clown. Something in between, like Jamie Casino's attorney commercial could work too.
Phil: Are the odds crazy? Yes, because they've undoubtedly been inflated by countless parlays. Is Siver going to win this fight? No. Historically, when faster, rangier strikers have decided that they want to finish Siver off, they've been able to do it. Conor McGregor by TKO, round 1.
David: I sense a Lee Murray vs. Jorge Rivera moment with Siver feeling the weight of the hype becoming happenstance, and losing as much by gaffe as domination. Conor hurts Siver with a leg kick, but commits to a submission to show everyone he's ready for Jose Aldo. Conor McGregor by RNC, round 1.