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Hindsight - UFC 205: Alvarez vs. McGregor in retrospect

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With UFC 205 in the rear view mirror, take a deep look into the fallout of each and every fight, from Conor McGregor’s historic title win to Liz Carmouche squeaking past Katlyn Chookagian in the curtain jerker.

UFC 205 has come and gone and it seemed to live up to the high expectations set for it. Conor McGregor made history by claiming his second belt, making him the first simultaneous champion of two divisions. That is ultimately what the pro-McGregor crowd paid to see and they got what they wanted. The other two title contests went well with Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Karolina Kowalkiewicz living up to expectations while Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson were able to exceed them. Number one contenders were established, former champions were retired, and the historic Madison Square Garden finally hosted a UFC event. Even the flubs like Bruce Buffer’s Steve Harvey-like moment have a particular charm to them. How could the event not be considered a success?

I apologize in advance as my analysis on many of the fights is longer than usual, but it is hard not get a little carried away with an event that was as historical as this one was. I believe you’ll all agree with me there.

Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on the fallout of the event, here’s my thoughts on UFC 205 with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.

Liz Carmouche defeated Katlyn Chookagian via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: Chookagian was the favorite with most prognosticators despite having only a single UFC contest on her resume. Most expected her superior striking to be the difference and though she was able to put it on display and even rock Carmouche with a head kick early in the third round, Carmouche controlled a big enough chunk of the fight on the ground in the first two rounds to curry the judges favor.
  • Carmouche: The veteran didn’t suffer from any ring rust despite this being her first appearance in over 19 months. That in itself is pretty impressive. There didn’t appear to be any improvement in her striking as Chookagian picked her apart when they were at a distance, but kudos to Carmouche for playing to her strengths. There are still holes in her wrestling and grappling, but she was able to make up for that with her brute strength which isn’t ever going anywhere. She is still a viable gatekeeper to the top ten at women’s bantamweight. I’d love to see her match up with Germaine de Randamie in a major clash in styles.
  • Chookagian: I very much feared this outcome. Not because I dislike Carmouche. It’s because I want to see an entertaining newcomer make a rise up the rankings and felt Chookagian would be able to do that so long as she was able to get past Carmouche. Chookagian still has an opportunity to become a contender, but it won’t happen until the UFC implements a women’s flyweight division. She’s too small to compete against the elite 135ers. There are still wins out there to be had by Chookagian at bantamweight, but not as many as I had hoped she could grab barring some major improvements in her wrestling.

Jim Miller defeated Thiago Alves via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: It was no surprise Alves missed weight given that he had done so numerous times while fighting at welterweight. Why would it be any different when he is trying to cut an additional fifteen pounds? It was expected he would be depleted, but he actually looked pretty sharp on his feet. The problem is he couldn’t stay standing. Miller hit takedowns in every round in addition to being competitive on the feet. His strikes may not have had the oomph Alves’ had, but combine that with the takedowns and the judges’ didn’t have a difficult decision to make.
  • Miller: We may have to take Miller’s revival serious now. He dominated Takanori Gomi in July, but Gomi is shot. He barely edged Joe Lauzon in August in a controversial and entertaining decision, but he matches up extremely well stylistically with Lauzon. Alves’ takedown defense appears to have disappeared at 155… but when are we going to stop making excuses for Miller’s wins? He’ll never be a contender again, but I think it is safe to say that he can be looked at as a viable gatekeeper once again. Anyone else interested in seeing what happens between him and Abel Trujillo?
  • Alves: Alves had many months to prepare for his drop to 155 lbs. and couldn’t come anywhere near making weight. He should make his way back to welterweight as most believed the drop to lightweight was ill-advised in the first place. His striking appeared to be sharp as ever even if it wasn’t quite as powerful. But the lack of takedown defense is the most damning offense. I’m guessing the lack of strength is what killed him there as he always had solid defense at welterweight.

Vicente Luque defeated Belal Muhammad via KO at 1:19 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Even though the odds were extremely close, most MMA media members were picking Muhammad due to Luque’s victories coming over a lower level of competition. Luque coming in on short notice didn’t help either as it was originally supposed to be Lyman Good in his spot. Instead Luque landed a left hook while Muhammad was in mid-combination to send him to the floor. A few follow-up punches from Luque later and Muhammad was out cold.
  • Luque: I didn’t think Luque was ready for this step up in competition. I was clearly wrong. He never looked better on the feet than he did here, switching stances, attacking Muhammad with kicks, and showing beautiful timing on his counter. I’m still very curious to see how he combats a wrestling-heavy approach as that is still his Achilles heel, but no doubt he has graduated to tougher competition with his fourth in a row.
  • Muhammad: Well, I guess the hype-train behind Muhammad is officially derailed. Durability was supposed to be one of his hallmarks, but it seems as though he is too prone to getting hurt. Remember how many times he was rocked against Alan Jouban? Muhammad is still capable of winning against a good number of fighters on the roster, but it is going to be hard trusting his chin moving forward.

Tim Boetsch defeated Rafael Natal via TKO at 3:22 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: You never really know how a battle of veteran middleweights who’ve spent the majority of their career middling in that division will turn out. There were arguments to be made for why one side or the other would win. Boetsch pressured the entirety of the contest, throwing hard rights and front kicks to keep Natal moving backwards. He eventually landed a heavy right amidst an exchange that caught Natal cleanly, dropping the Brazilian. A few follow-up strikes later and Dan Miragliotta had seen enough.
  • Boetsch: Unlike many Boetsch victories, there wasn’t a moment of that fight in which Boetsch wasn’t in control. Far too often he has looked tentative and unsure of himself, not quite sure how to deal with the athletic advantage most opponents have over him. That never seemed to cross his mind this time, showing much improved footwork to cut-off Natal and land his brawling, short-range punches. The belief was that he was declining, dropping six of eight in one stretch. He has now picked up two wins in a row and did so impressively in both contests. Elias Theodorou would be my choice to match him up with next.
  • Natal: Tough break for the Brazilian. He goes from a four-fight win streak to dropping two in a row, deflating all of the momentum he had built up in that streak. I doubt he ever gets an opportunity to challenge top 10 opponents again, but I probably would have said that about Boetsch less than a year ago and now he is on the verge of getting that opportunity. You never know in this sport. I knew he didn’t like being pressured, but I didn’t think he would struggle that badly against Boetsch. Natal will need a win in his next contest or he will assuredly be cut loose as there isn’t nearly the leeway the Fertitta brothers once provided for longtime vets.

Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Michael Johnson via submission at 2:31 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: I picked Nurmagomedov going into the contest, though I did so with major hesitation. Johnson was demonstrating why I was hesitant the first two minutes of the contest, picking apart the Russian with his fast hands. Johnson never had another moment in the contest where he was winning after that. Nurmagomedov took him down and kept him down, dominating the positioning and delivering relentless ground and pound to the point I was yelling at the television for the fight to be stopped long before it was. Nurmagomedov eventually went the route of a submission and got the finish with a kimura.
  • Nurmagomedov: He knew he needed to come out and dominate if wanted to have any chance of getting a title shot and he did just that. Sure, the first few minutes were shaky, but no one has ever thought of Nurmagomedov as being dominant on the feet anyway. Once he did get the fight where he wanted, he looked better than he ever did. He’s probably still in bad position for a title shot as Tony Ferguson appears to have a better resume – though Nurmagomedov did just tear through the last man to beat him – and fans are still clamoring for a third fight between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. Don’t forget the slim possibility that McGregor returns to 145 to defend the featherweight belt, a division already impeded by McGregor’s dance with history. What Nurmagomedov does have going for him is his willingness to call out McGregor, something Ferguson didn’t do when he had the opportunity. The UFC tends to listen to callouts that make sense and that simple feat may have been enough for the Russian to get his shot. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that will be the case. Expect Nurmagomedov to square off with Ferguson sometime soon.
  • Johnson: Johnson is not a scrub. He is a tough, durable, and athletic lightweight who is capable of beating the best in the world. And Nurmagomedov ragdolled him like he was a scrub. Johnson appeared to be mentally broken at the end of the first round as he never showed the confidence on the feet he displayed early in the first round to begin the last two rounds. He may not have quit, but he was done. Even worse, it’s easy to forget following his own dominant win over Dustin Poirier that this was his third loss in four fights. Johnson badly needs a win in his next fight. His reputation dictates that he should be fighting elite competition, but I think it would be wise to rebuild his psyche following the drubbing Nurmagomedov just put on him. Adriano Martins and Rashid Magomedov aren’t easy fights, but they are a step down from what Johnson has been getting as of late.

Frankie Edgar defeated Jeremy Stephens via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Since Edgar’s very first loss of his career to Gray Maynard, he has only lost in title fights to Benson Henderson and Jose Aldo. Nobody expected the narrative to change for the future Hall of Famer in terms of his record in non-title fights. It didn’t. Edgar danced in and out of range, peppering Stephens with strikes while mixing in well-timed takedowns. Stephens landed a switch kick to the faced of Edgar midway through the second round and continued to land heavy punches, leaving Edgar wobbly for an extended period. As he always seems to do, Edgar weathered the storm to finish the round strong and pick up where he left off in the third to earn a clear but competitive decision. Excellent way to end the prelims.
  • Edgar: Maybe Edgar wasn’t as sharp as he had been leading into his contest with Aldo at UFC 200, but he still looked like he belonged in the discussion of the elite in the sport. Sans the switch kick to his face of course, but Edgar’s resilience after being hurt is part of his legend. He was accurate with his striking while avoiding most of the return fire that Stephens put out there. As the fight progressed, he was able to get a feel for Stephens’ tendencies and take him down almost at will. While Edgar may be 35 and running out of time to regain a title belt, he appears to be most comfortable in the underdog role anyway. Ricardo Lamas picked up an impressive win last week. There isn’t a better time for the two to meet to help establish the divisional hierarchy.
  • Stephens: I don’t know a single person who actually expected Stephens to walk out of MSG with a win. The fact that he was able to hurt the former lightweight champ may not have been entirely unexpected, though it can also be said that he ended up exceeding expectations in the process. His inability to stuff the takedowns of the much smaller Edgar later in the contest sealed his fate. He has fallen short in his challenges against Edgar and Max Holloway, so it doesn’t seem appropriate to give Stephens another opportunity against the elite until he can pick up at least one more win. Hacran Dias makes the most sense in terms of the traditional Joe Silva style of matchmaking, but I favor an up-and-coming youngster testing their mettle against the longtime veteran. Brian Ortega, Yair Rodriguez, and Andre Fili are all fantastic options stylistically.

Raquel Pennington defeated Miesha Tate via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Some felt the UFC was giving Tate a softball following her destruction at the hands of Amanda Nunes at UFC 200. There was every possibility that Tate needed to rebuild her confidence following that loss, so they were fine with that idea. By the time the fight started, it was clear that Tate’s confidence was lagging. She never looked like she wanted to be in the cage at any point of the fight, showing zero aggressiveness and struggling to get the fight where she was most comfortable. Pennington outboxed Tate, bullied her in the clinch, and was aggressive looking for the finish, particularly with a deep guillotine in the first. Pennington was awarded a deserved unanimous decision and Tate announced her retirement following the decision.
  • Pennington: I feel kind of bad for Pennington. This was supposed to be her moment in the spotlight only for Tate’s announcement to overshadow Pennington’s performance. Kind of a shame. Pennington fought very smart, targeting Tate’s nose -- which had been brutalized by Nunes -- early on with the jab and searching for choke holds as Tate searched for her takedowns. She showed strong submission defense herself once Tate pulled guard in the third round, avoiding the triangle and armbar attempts. Riding a four-fight win streak with a win over a former champion on her ledger, Pennington will no doubt get another high profile fight next. I like pitting her against Sara McMann while having Valentina Shevchenko and Juliana Pena square off to determine the next title challenger. But that’s just me….
  • Tate: I’m a bit disappointed Tate decided to announce her retirement with her emotions running high following her loss. Yes, she had been expressing before the event that she wanted to take time off and no one will deny that she didn’t look like she was all the way there. But why not take a few days to think it over and let the emotion of the moment pass? I’ve already touched on the idea that it took away from Pennington’s accomplishment as well as I’ve heard few words about her win while plenty has been said of Tate’s retirement. Bottom line: I hate in-cage retirement announcements, particularly when they come out of nowhere. That said, I do believe it is better to retire a fight too early rather than a fight too late. I hope this proves to be a decision she doesn’t regret as I fear she may try to attempt a comeback not too far down the line. Only time will tell.

Yoel Romero defeated Chris Weidman via KO at 0:24 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: A lot of mystery surrounded this contest. How would Romero look following his brush with USADA? Would Father Time begin to catch up with the 39-year old? Would Weidman resemble his championship self following neck surgery? What about his mental state following the beating Luke Rockhold put on him? So many intangibles at play that no one knew what to expect. It started out very tedious with neither throwing much. Weidman took the early lead with body kicks and brief takedowns, though Romero looked to take the second round with takedowns of his own. None of it mattered. Weidman shot for a takedown early in the third and Romero launched himself at the ex-champion, nailing Weidman in the head with a flying knee that was gushing blood immediately upon contact. Romero landed a couple of unnecessary punches before being pulled off and became the favorite to get the next title shot.
  • Romero: How the hell does Romero continue to win seemingly without strategy? All he seemed to do was wait for an opening, leaping at it – literally – once it materialized and pulling out the highlight reel KO. I know fans don’t want to see it, but he rightfully deserves a title shot next. He has beaten three former champions in a row in Lyoto Machida, Jacare Souza, and now Weidman. Yes, his wins over Tim Kennedy and Jacare were controversial, but they are what they are and we can’t change that. As for his PED failure, he was found innocent of intentional banned PED use and did the time for the crime. Why isn’t Tim Means getting as much hate as Romero? Romero’s banter with Michael Bisping after the fight was fantastic promo material that will help sell the fight. I hope to see that contest come together as soon as possible.
  • Weidman: Is it just me, or did Weidman look smaller than usual heading into this contest? I’m not going to rip on how he looked other than that, but I don’t remember his physique appearing so… drab. I digress. Weidman actually had a sound strategy, trying to wear down the heavily muscled former Olympian with takedown attempts and staying on the outside with kicks to avoid giving Romero something to counter at. The problem is that he didn’t mix things up, going to the well one too many times, and Romero was able to time Weidman’s takedown attempt early in the third round. Weidman could still come back and earn a title shot, but it appears it will be a few years down the line. Though I know it isn’t the Joe Silva style of matchmaking, I’d love to see him matched against the winner of Robert Whittaker and Derek Brunson.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk defeated Karolina Kowalkiewicz via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Jedrzejczyk is considered to be one of the most dominant champions at this time. She had beaten Kowalkiewicz in an amateur contest a number of years ago and she has only looked better with every proceeding contest. Why would things be any different now? Aside from a beautiful right in the midst of a combination from Kowalkiewicz in the fourth round that rocked and stumbled the champion, the fight played out exactly as expected. Jedrzejczyk landed about three strikes to every one Kowalkiewicz was able to land, taking every round but the fourth when Kowalkiewicz hurt her. Much like Edgar and Stephens, it was a competitive yet clear decision.
  • Jedrzejczyk: Some may see the champion being rocked a sign of weakness. I see it as Jedrzejczyk proving to be extremely difficult to put away. She bobbed and weaved to avoid the rest of Kowalkiewicz’s follow-up strikes, showing good awareness of what was happening and avoiding danger until she was able to clear her head. Her attack was in full effect thanks to her hand speed and high volume of leg kicks. Ever since taking the title off of Carla Esparza, she has taken her game to another level as no one throws the level of volume that she does. Getting past Claudia Gadelha and now Kowalkiewicz, it doesn’t look like there is anyone on the horizon who will take the belt off of Jedrzejczyk anytime soon. As for who gets the next title shot, there appears to be only one option. It could be argued Jessica Andrade hasn’t done enough to deserve a title shot quite yet, there isn’t anyone else who could be mentioned in the same breath. If nothing else, it would be a hell of a striking battle as Andrade throws at a pace almost as ridiculous as Jedrzejczyk.
  • Kowalkiewicz: Even though she lost about 90% of the fight, Kowalkiewicz acquitted herself with new fans about as well as could be expected. She continued to step into the pocket in an attempt to get the kill shot on Jedrzejczyk which appeared to be foolhardy until the fourth round. Then again, she had to do something after losing the first three rounds. She never gave up and because of that she damn near pulled off one of the biggest championship upsets in recent memory. It’s plausible that she could work her way back into a contest with Jedrzejczyk, but I fear that may be a few more years down the road. In the meantime, it feels appropriate to match her up against Gadelha sooner rather than later as the hierarchy of the division is still very fluid. Gadelha is expected to fight Cortney Casey later this week, though the Brazilian is very heavily favored.

Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson fought to a majority draw

  • Expectations/Result: It’s rare the champion is a sizeable underdog going into a fight, but that was the case going into this contest. It was thought if Woodley couldn’t finish Thompson within the first two rounds, he stood a snowballs chance in hell of winning a decision. It didn’t end up playing out that way. Well, Woodley did dominate the first round only for Thompson to win rounds two and three, but Woodley didn’t fade as expected from there. He delivered a vicious beating on Thompson in the fourth, rocking him multiple times and sinking in a DEEP guillotine choke. Somehow, Thompson not only survived, but even delivered some ground and pound at the end of the round once he escaped the submission. Thompson won the final round, though it was only enough to have the fight scored a draw rather than going in his favor.
  • Woodley: Much credit to Woodley as he didn’t rest on his laurels as champion. The book on Woodley has to be different following this contest, though none of his strengths have been erased. He was still strong in the fourth round when he hurt Thompson multiple times and almost finished the contests. Sure, he gassed in the fifth, but almost anyone would have been gassed after expending the amount of energy Woodley did attempting to finish Thompson. In other words, Woodley’s stamina problems don’t appear to be the same issue they once upon a time were. He’s had almost two years to work on that given the lone fight in that time didn’t get out of the first round. He still has a horrible habit of backing himself against the cage, though he has been stating that is part of his strategy. A rematch appears to be the only sensible thing to do as he’ll probably be accused of dodging Thompson if that doesn’t happen. It seems Woodley can’t win no matter what he does.
  • Thompson: The main thing everyone took away from this contest was the outright toughness of Thompson. He survived a brutal beating at the hands of Woodley and how he remained in that guillotine choke as long as he did without tapping or passing out, we’ll never know. While questions of Thompson’s wrestling have been reopened, those are a bit unfair as the list of people who can outwrestle Woodley is incredibly short. He’ll probably need to make more adjustments than Woodley come their rematch as he didn’t seem to account for Woodley’s explosiveness as well as he should have, though that isn’t an easy thing to deal with. I don’t know if he’ll be favored in the rematch that seems inevitable, but I do know that I’m looking forward to it more than I was the first time.

Conor McGregor defeated Eddie Alvarez via TKO at 3:04 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: The general consensus is that McGregor didn’t earn his title shot at lightweight, riding his wave of popularity into the shot thanks to his ability to sell PPV’s. Thus, many believed Alvarez would be able to run over the featherweight champion, using his bulk to wrestle McGregor to the ground and wear him out. However, just as many believed McGregor’s assessment of Alvarez being far too hittable and unable to withstand McGregor’s early onslaught. The latter end up being true. McGregor knocked Alvarez down thrice in the opening round as Alvarez couldn’t navigate the long reach of the invincible looking McGregor. Unable to make the necessary adjustments in the next round, McGregor floored Alvarez again and finished him off this time to make history as the first simultaneous champion of two divisions.
  • McGregor: As difficult as McGregor can be to stomach, the man deserves all the credit in the world for his willingness to take great risks. He speaks boldly and has usually backed it up every time except for his first contest with Nate Diaz. Now he has done something no one else has ever done. However, if you believe Jose Aldo it’s because management told him he needed to give up his featherweight title if he were to go for the lightweight title. Nonetheless, McGregor holding two titles creates a serious problem: he needs to be defending the title in both weight classes if he hopes to hold onto both belts. I know that he wants to take a break, but with two titles comes twice the responsibility. If he doesn’t want that responsibility, he needs to drop one of the belts. If McGregor doesn’t defend the featherweight belt in his next contest – and the hope is that he does it in a timely manner – than he should relinquish the title. So either a contest with Jose Aldo is next – though I severely doubt it – or I’m guessing a title fight with Nate Diaz. It will sell like crazy and they can tout the title as raising the stakes for their third contest. No matter what happens, we all know the only thing McGregor is interested in is making more money.
  • Alvarez: Early on it seemed Alvarez was executing a solid game plan. He wasn’t rushing into the pocket and brawling with McGregor, staying on the outside and landing kicks. The problem is that McGregor punched through his defenses first and Alvarez abandoned that strategy afterwards. He didn’t look like he had any confidence in his own abilities after the first round and fought like that as well. He was knocked down three times after all, so it isn’t all that surprising. Now, it appears Alvarez will never get anywhere near a title shot given the depth of the weight class. At least he can put on his resume he was the UFC lightweight champion for a brief period of time. In fact, look for him to have a sizeable drop in competition as the opponents that would make sense for him at this time he either won’t fight (i.e. Edson Barboza whom he trains withgm) or he has already fought. Dustin Poirier and Will Brooks appear to be the best candidates.

Well, those are my collective thoughts. Until next time...