What do you do when you put on a show in Madison Square Garden? You go big or go home.
The UFC has finally made it to New York and we can thank a few shady politicians and the Culinary Worker’s Union for the long delay. But let’s not dwell on the past. Let’s look to November 12th for a UFC card that could be considered one of the largest in the promotion’s history, potentially even bigger than UFC 100 and 200.
This card was pretty stacked from the outset. Then the UFC added the likes of Conor McGregor and New York native Chris Weidman at the last minute, looking to make some history.
Speaking of making history, McGregor, the UFC featherweight champion, wants to make some of his own by holding two different belts in two different weight classes. No UFC athlete has ever done that, and the brash Irishman gets his chance when he takes on 155-pound champ Eddie Alvarez in what should be an entertaining showdown. Well, at least McGregor provides the entertainment part, all Alvarez has to do is show up and collect his lottery money for “red panty night.”
In the co-main event, Tyron Woodley defends his shiny, new welterweight title against top contender Stephen Thompson. Will Thompson continue his meteoric rise to the top or will Woodley be taking the “Wonderboy” back to the wood(ley) shed for a wrestling lesson?
There is so much going on with this card that we’ll skip the rest of the foreplay and get right to it.
Conor McGregor (-150) vs. Eddie Alvarez (+130)
There are far too many people overlooking Eddie Alvarez (28-4) in this fight. I get that all the Conor McGregor (20-3) bravado can do that, but don’t sleep on Alvarez.
McGregor must keep an eye on Alvarez’s takedowns, in particular. Alvarez is not afraid to utilize his wrestling skills. McGregor would be wise to use his reach advantage and superior boxing fundamentals to keep Alvarez at a distance.
Although the Philadelphia native has been in some wars in the past and has cardio for days, you wonder if he can handle McGregor’s laser beam left hand. Alvarez’s best bet is to avoid those heavy hands by closing the distance, wearing McGregor out with takedown attempts, and grinding him down against the cage. He employed a similar strategy with success against Anthony Pettis back in January.
In McGregor’s last fight, he was able to edge Nate Diaz because Diaz opted to stand and box; in some ways, Diaz let McGregor off the hook when he was clearly gassed.
If Alvarez can avoid being knocked out, which he hasn’t been since a TKO loss back in 2007, he has enough tools to grind the fight out into the championship rounds, and that’s when Alvarez should really start to have an advantage. Not only does he have better cardio than McGregor, but you have to wonder how injured McGregor’s foot is. He says it’s fine, but UFC President Dana White says otherwise. Can “Mystic Mac” survive another fight in deep waters only a few months apart?
You just have to look at the wars Alvarez had with Michael Chandler in Bellator to see why this guy is a winner and a tough out. I like the value here, and I see it getting even better as money trickles in from Ireland in the build up.
Pick: Eddie Alvarez (+130).
Stephen Thompson (-175) vs. Tyron Woodley (+150)
Some guys get title shots based on name recognition and/or dollars, while other guys earn it. Many critics argued that current welterweight champion Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley (16-3) didn’t deserve his title shot back in July. But the man took full advantage of his opportunity when he ran through Robbie Lawler at UFC 201, earning the right to be called champ. Will it be short lived?
The hottest thing going in the UFC welterweight division is Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (13-1). Thompson has definitely earned his shot. With seven straight wins, including Ws over Rory MacDonald and Johny Hendricks, “Wonderboy” seems to be the heir apparent for the belt.
People talk about Woodley’s wrestling prowess and, no doubt, it’s a powerful weapon in the champ’s arsenal, but Thompson’s takedown defense and overall game have improved dramatically.
Look for Thompson to approach Woodley much the way Rory MacDonald did back at UFC 174, i.e. use timing and distance to baffle Woodley’s compact fighting style. You know Thompson can do it, too; it’s basically the same game plan he used on Hendricks last February.
In this contrast of styles, I see Thompson’s striking – which is on another level – overwhelming Woodley and preventing the champ from taking the fight to the ground, the only place he might find an advantage.
Pick: Stephen Thompson (-175).
Below are the rest of my picks for the main card:
- Joanna Jedrzejczyk (-330) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (+270) “Battle of the unpronounceable names” – Pick: Jedrzejczyk
- Chris Weidman (-165) vs. Yoel Romero (+140) “Battle of Gay Jesus” – Pick: Weidman
- Donald Cerrone (-175) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (+145) “Budweiser Brouhaha” – Pick: Cerrone
- Miesha Tate (-175) vs. Raquel Pennington (+145) “Cupcake Clash” – Pick: Tate
Photo credit: Andrius Petrucenia (UFC 189 World Tour Aldo vs. McGregor London 2015) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.