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UFC 205: Eddie Alvarez vs. Conor McGregor Toe to Toe Preview - A Complete Breakdown

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Eddie's title defense against Conor's title challenge at Madison Square Garden, and everything you don't about the future of Featherweight.

Eddie and Conor hog the spotlight where Mark Messier once claimed ultimate victory this November 12, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.Single sentence summary:

One sentence summary

Phil: The Underground King takes on the face of the sport.

David: Conor and Eddie fight to pick up where the Fabulous Freebirds left off*.


Record: Eddie Alvarez 28-4 Conor McGregor 20-3

Odds: Eddie Alvarez +105 Conor McGregor -125

History / Introduction to both fighters

David: Alvarez has the soul of a ham and egger in a blue chip body. He's fought his way to the top, red in tooth and claw all over. And he did it in the way that usually captures the attention of fight fans: by doing it outside of Dana's grasp. Success outside of the UFC has always been an enchanting achievement to fight fans. Like Fedor, Mousasi, etc, there's a rage against the machine like quality to the select few. Except Eddie isn't a symbol of rage. He's a symbol of responsibility. This could either be a metaphysical emphasis on his narrative, beating the brash Irish iconoclast, or a momentary lapse in judgment from the MMA gods, who normally work so hard to subvert normalcy.

Phil: Alvarez, like Gilbert Melendez, represents a type of fighter who I doubt we'll see much in the future. As our friend Connor Ruebusch has pointed out, McGregor called Eddie a "journeyman", and he is, in nothing but the purest sense of the word. He's someone who travelled the world (DREAM, Bellator, Bodog), building a career from disparate pieces, taking a small step up in fame and fan interest at every point. Throughout, Alvarez has gone through small fine-tunings and adjustments, evolving from a wild brawler into a crafty, protean strategist, albeit one who can still turn the brawling on when he wants to.

David: Conor has already achieved a cultural status that won't soon be matched. So even though he's young, it feels like the weight of history is already perched atop his broad shoulders. I've always held a quality degree of respect for his journey. And it goes back to a point I made when I dismissed Chael Sonnen's presence: Conor has the presence of a caricature, but the depth of a fight character. He's not a hollow punctuation in MMA's history, catheterizing from the spectacle of raw rhetoric (like Chael), or raw physics (like Brock). He is speaking the language of theatre within the dialogue of combat.

Phil: The synergy of the gift of the gab and being an elite, championship fighter is something which has eluded every other UFC fighter until this point in time. In terms of igniting interest, generating controversy and building long-lasting rivalries which would percolate throughout the rest of the division, the next closest champion would be... uh... Tito? Jesus.

What's at stake?

David: A 155 pound singularity, basically. Conor isn't the cause of divisional unrest, but the divisional unrest is a byproduct of his success. If Conor wins, he calls the shots. No only at lightweight, but at featherweight, though I'm optimistic he'll relinquish if he wins lightweight gold. Can he even make 145 at this point? I'm sure he could, but he's just old enough to be smart about the next two years, when his body will begin to actively disagree with his habits. Alvarez winning means a perfunctory round robin of title challengers to be knocked over. Damn, I'm sucked into the McGregor Distortion Field, cynically describing how divisional hierarchy works, aren't I?

Phil: Can't lie to ourselves or the readers: the MDF is the single most important element in the division, maybe the sport. We have a clear and straightforward UFC-mandated narrative here: Conor wins and he drops the featherweight belt; Conor loses and he goes back to 145 to defend.

However, if he wins, expect those narratives to suddenly start to falter under the warping power of the MDF and the boggling amount of money and interest Conor generates. "Maybe we'll just let him keep the two belts for one fight..."

Where do they want it?

David: Conor is a fascinating breed of boxer/puncher. I should clarify. Unlike in boxing, the boxing part isn't a function of his strategic dexterity (switching between the technical and the savage), but an outgrowth of his punching: which achieves a similar effect. The effect of pressuring with an offense that is dynamic but not static in defensive situations. With his long reach and forward attack, it's easier for him anticipate counter offense, not with counter striking, but with resets. His offense wouldn't be so propulsive without that predictive spider sense.

Conor is often open for counter attack but only in a nominal sense: counter attacking him becomes a risky proposition given his positioning and movement. That Mayweather-sequel left is his most precise strike, but his body kicks are the most percussive. The combination make his attack one of the best in the business. His grappling is often overlooked by laymen, but he's worked hard to improve defensive elements. I don't buy the argument that Nate Diaz "let" him sweep him in their first bout. It doesn't make him skilled as if mark hunt I'd suddenly a good grappler because he got Fedor in a precarious position for a few seconds. But I do think he's proficient enough to keep his head above water.

Phil: I'll freely admit that I'm not as educated in jiu jitsu as many of our contemporaries, and it's hard to get a grip on something that we've seen so little of. However, if I had to summarize what I see as the construction of Conor's ground game, I think he has a few basic building blocks (his guard-passing and top game in the Holloway fight), and some exotic pieces like the pass he hit on Denis Siver and the sweep he hit on Diaz. This somewhat mirrors the construction of his stand-up, and I suspect it has some of the same problems, but exaggerated, namely a lack of interstitital depth. However, it's also bolstered by Conor's best strength, namely the ability to calmly and quickly commit to a choice.

McGregor does his best work with his opponent's back to the cage, where he's able to feint, snap kick, and then counter over-commitments coming back at him. This isn't exactly revolutionary news of itself, but looking back on the Diaz fight , I was genuinely surprised by just how much the cage was the story: I don't think it was really about Conor's "terrible gas tank" or whatever, but more a tale of positioning. When McGregor had Diaz' back to the cage he was winning easily, yet the minute he himself got forced back into the moat he started getting slaughtered, at least in part because he went into a clearly pre-trained "escape mode" where he stopped firing back. It allowed Diaz to open up the floodgates of his offense with no fear that anything was coming back at him.

Being able to intelligently move off the fence and attack at the same time doesn't seem like it should be an incredibly rare trait, and yet it is. Enter Eddie Alvarez, fresh off knocking out Rafael Dos Anjos.

David: Eddie is a natural boxer/puncher. Except unlike Conor, Eddie fights the style in their classic sense. You brought up the comparison to Karolina Kowalkiewicz which is fitting: both make efficient use of lateral movement offensively and defensively. Alvarez gets pegged as a brawler because some of his fights have been suitably violent, but that speaks more to stylistic matchups and his tendencies: it doesn't, or shouldn't indict him as a loose fighter. He's highly skilled at masking punch attempts with punch feints, punctuating his boxing with designed rhythm.

Eddie's best asset in this bout will be his grappling. He's been known to stick to a strictly strike-grapple-grapple-strike formula. The top control he displays, angling for strikes with his extensive knowledge of grappling, would be just as devastating as Nate's submissions,IMO. So if he can work hard to push this fight there, a route to victory is violently assured.

Phil: Like McGregor, Alvarez has accepted that sometimes you get hit, but that it's OK as long as the risk-reward is tilted in your direction. As opposed to the McGregor camp's (now-abandoned?) philosophy of not studying for opponents, Eddie is a notorious tape junkie. I think that explains some of his problems with getting hit early, in some ways: essentially, he watches the fights so much that he feels that he's laid out in which way his opponent will respond before he gets in there. He'll commit to risky boxing approaches like his darting right hand early in the fight, and often gets in trouble, because tape study just never gives the full story and opponents change a lot between fights. Essentially, he gets caught up in the tactical over the strategic.

The approximate dynamic here is very similar to RDA-Alvarez: McGregor does his best work on the cage, but Alvarez is one of the best around at getting off the cage and not losing his head. He feints changes of direction, and more importantly mixes up punching his way out with the times when he just escapes. The difference is that McGregor likes to sit a touch further away than RDA does, and is far less pathologically aggressive, focused on precision over power. This will make it harder for Alvarez to land the looping countershot as he weaves off the cage, as will McGregor's tendency to step or slip backwards (as opposed to RDA, who normally slips his head sideways, who was more vulnerable to the horizontal arc of Eddie's punches).

Insight from Past Fights

David: Andre Dida? That was a long time ago, but Dida was a tall, rangy striking specialist who had Alvarez on the ropes early. With his speed and range, Eddie had a tough time dealing with a fighter who could pot shot him with long strikes from range. He got dropped and hurt, but eventually pulled out the stops with some brutal ground and pound. The old Dream bout serves as a template for how Eddie wins, and how Eddie loses.

Phil: Dida, Cerrone, Kikuno. Eddie has traditionally struggled with long kickers, where all his clever shifting footwork and feints on his entries can be largely ignored by kicking him in the gut or the leg. Pressure is normally the key to beating kickers, and Eddie isn't really much of a pressure fighter, instead dipping in for brief bursts of information gathering violence and then moving back out again. Whether Eddie can deal with the snap kick is a big story of the fight.


David: How committed Eddie is to his wrestling. This is still the part of Conor's game that has gone relatively unchallenged, and why so many believe Khabib would be a nightmare for him.

Phil: The gas tank / grappling interplay is an interesting one. Alvarez was able to successfully pick up rounds off Pettis with wrestling, but it visibly exhausted him, and he did very little damage. Eddie's wrestling has traditionally worked best by the cage, where it will be difficult to force Conor due to his lack of a pure pressure style. So, the question with regards to wrestling isn't so much "can Alvarez do it" but more "how much does it cost him" for me.


David: This is genuinely difficult to predict. On one hand, I think Alvarez has what it takes to capitalize on the ground game Conor's never really had to engage in, but on the other, I can see him getting caught, and not being able to recover. Alvarez was only TKO'ed once in his career against the biggest, baddest municipal prosecutor in the world. However, with 32 fights under his belt, a good portion of which have been wars, I can't help but feel being ‘shopworn' will play a factor into this fight. Conor McGregor by TKO, round 3.

Phil: I feel like Eddie has been underplayed in his UFC career thus far... but for this one I think the pendulum has gone too far in the other direction. In a lot of important ways Conor is a nightmare for him. He has a rangy kicking game and a hefty reach advantage. He won't get sucked into a brawl if he hurts Eddie (and if Alvarez brawls when hurt he is likely toast). Alvarez will likely give him the cage, where he does his best work. Eddie has been dropped many times in his career, and Conor has to the best of my knowledge never been knocked down. All this spells early Conor finish for me, although if it goes late we may get the opportunity for a truly magical fight. Conor McGregor by KO, round 2

*I need to work on my Highlander references.

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