At the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday night, UFC megastar Conor McGregor will attempt to capture his 2nd UFC belt. He’s currently the featherweight champ, and he’s moved up to lightweight to fight the champ there, Eddie Alvarez.
The difficulty of being champ in 2 different classes at the same time is such that it has never been done before in the UFC. Randy Couture was the champ at heavyweight and at light-heavyweight, but not at the same time. Equally, BJ Penn held the welterweight and the lightweight belts, but not simultaneously.
One of the difficulties is that a fighter usually has a natural weight class that they fit in best, and so when they go to the weight class above, they can be undersized and outmatched. Randy Couture was certainly a natural light-heavyweight. When he lost the heavyweight belt to Brock Lesnar, it looked like a normal guy fighting a polar bear.
However, this problem shouldn’t exist too much for McGregor. The weight cut down to featherweight for him was brutal- all evidence suggests that lightweight is actually is ‘natural’ weight class. The stats back this up. Conor will have a pretty handy 5 inch reach advantage over Eddie, while they both stand at 5’9. So, why do I think Conor will take this one? Let’s break it down:
Most will agree that McGregor has the advantage here. He has a far longer boxing history than Alvarez does, who focuses more on being well-rounded than having technically brilliant stand-up. That’s not to say Alvarez doesn’t have good striking and heavy hands- he does. But he’s more your predictable volume striker, relying on his excellent chin to keep him in the game and land the shots he needs to win. His KO of Dos Anjos was epic, and he could do the same here, but Conor’s understanding of range is on a higher level than Dos Anjos’. Expect Eddie to come out swinging, hard and a little wild. Expect Conor to avoid most of the big shots, and counter accurately with his big straight left.
Just as most will agree on the striking, most should agree here too. Alvarez has far more experience in wrestling, and likes to shoot on opponents and use his cardio to make them work. Alvarez is your classic ‘embrace the grind’ kind of wrestler-fighter, and knows that if he works hard enough, most opponents will break. However, his wrestling isn’t super high level. When Conor fights a Frankie Edgar or a Michael Chandler level wrestler, I will most likely bet against him. But against Eddie, Conor doesn’t need to be an elite wrestler himself- he just needs to have his defensive wrestling on point. He’ll have been drilling stuffing takedowns every day for the last 6 months- and I believe he won’t spend much time on his back during this one.
As for BJJ- neither man uses it as a primary offensive weapon and it won’t be a factor in this fight. If the fight does happen to end in a submission it will be because one was simply given up due to strikes.
Cardio and durability
We saw some cardio problems for McGregor against Nate Diaz, but I think this is somewhat misleading given that the 2 fights against Nate were up at welterweight. Conor’s style can be a tiring one, as he puts a lot of power into the big straight left shots that he expects to land. Up at welterweight that drained him fast, but I think down at his natural lightweight he’ll deal with a championship length fight much better.
On the other hand, Eddie has a great gastank. He combines this with an iron chin to make up the core of his style. However, for me this could be why he’s shown to be a little one-dimensional, a little ‘old school’. Eddie relies too much on the basics. Before smashing Dos Anjos, Eddie scraped through 3 split decision wins, and had 1 loss. He didn’t exactly set the world on fire. It’s because he’s predictable. His style doesn’t change. This leads me to my final point…
A big weakness for Eddie for me is that he’s too easy to train for. You can emulate him almost exactly in training, and that’s what Conor will have done. It also means that a fighter like Conor with a relatively good fight IQ will be able to come into the match-up with a solid game plan, and even a back-up game plan too.
Watching the recent series ‘UFC 205 Embedded’ on youtube, it seems that Eddie’s training was less ‘opponent-specific’. He’s training in a small camp, but with top, top guys. The New York boys stick together, so Eddie has spent his time with the likes of Frankie Edgar and Chris Weidman. This is most certainly not a problem, but I didn’t see any ‘here’s how we’ll counter what Conor does’. Eddie focuses on Eddie in training. This is fine for a lot of UFC fighters, but at the highest level it’s smarter to train for a specific opponent.
I think if Conor were to lose, it’ll be a lot like the first Diaz fight. He’ll win the early rounds but put too much into them, and tire. Eddie is super-durable and could capitalize on a tired McGregor later in the fight.
However, if Conor is able to keep his cardio in check by countering well and not throwing an extreme amount of volume, he will chip away at Eddie and make him less and less dangerous as the rounds go on. Expect Eddie to attempt a lot of takedowns, but each time Conor defends one, they should become more laboured and less dangerous.
I predict either a big 2nd round KO for McGregor, or a gruelling Diaz-style 5 round war- 49-46 for McGregor.
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