MMA Review: #568: UFC 205: Alvarez vs. McGregor

-This was undoubtedly the year’s biggest show – even bigger than UFC 200 – because shit, that one was only big because of its number while this one was the first ever UFC show in Madison Square Garden and the first in New York since MMA was FINALLY legalised there after years and years of battling with corrupt politicians. And naturally UFC loaded the card to insane proportions, giving us three title fights on PPV for the first time since UFC 33 and a champion vs. champion fight in the main event, the first one of those since 2009’s huge GSP/BJ Penn clash. All in all this looked AWESOME and even the injury bug didn’t touch the bigger fights although we did lose Rashad Evans vs. Tim Kennedy from the prelims (injury to Rashad) and Donald Cerrone vs. Kelvin Gastelum from the main card (Gastelum missed weight). A small price to pay, I say!

UFC 205: Alvarez vs. McGregor

11/12/16
New York, New York

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Miesha Tate vs Raquel Pennington

After her pretty surprising title win over Holly Holm was followed by a devastating title loss to Amanda Nunes, this was Miesha’s chance to get back to her winning ways against an opponent in Pennington who was looking to break into the real elite level herself after picking up three straight wins since September 2015. Despite Pennington being super-tough I couldn’t see her managing to stop Miesha’s takedown, and I figured the former champion would probably grind out a decision win.

Fight begins and the crowd are behind Miesha, not her biggest reaction ever though for sure. They exchange punches in the opening seconds and it looks like Pennington might have a slight advantage with hand speed, as she lands a couple of decent shots on Miesha early on, including a clean left hook and a stiff jab. Few more jabs land for Raquel and she’s backing Tate up. Leg kick into a combination from Pennington and Tate has to cover up. Right hand sets up a clinch for Miesha and she works some dirty boxing before Pennington forces her into the cage. Tate switches position and drops for a takedown, but Pennington defends well and then looks to lock up a front choke variant. Miesha – having evidently watched UFN 98 the week before – tries to clamber up the cage ala Diego Sanchez to escape, and it’s just about successful as she has to do it three times before freeing her neck for a takedown. Pennington sprawls to avoid though, but Miesha keeps driving forward and finally gets her down into full guard. Miesha works to pass as Pennington tries to work up to her feet, and then the former champion slips onto the back and gets one hook in. She tries to swing herself around to take the back proper but Pennington seems super-calm and lands some elbows in defense while standing and controlling Miesha’s right arm. Tate almost ends up in the Elvis Schembri koala position, and then the round ends as she pulls guard and tries to take the back that way. I’d go 10-9 Pennington I think as she clearly outstruck Miesha and never really found herself in trouble in the grappling either.

Into the 2nd and Pennington moves forward and avoids a potential takedown attempt as Miesha leans forward. Stiff jab lands for Raquel. Another one sets up a sweet right hand and Miesha is on the retreat. Left hook from Pennington and she’s pretty much tagging her consistently now. More jabs land for Pennington and she follows with an uppercut and a right. This is the best I’ve ever seen Raquel looking. Takedown is stuffed by Pennington but Tate clinches and forces her into the fence, eating an uppercut en route. Couple of knees to the body connect for Miesha from the clinch and then she drops for another takedown, but again Pennington stuffs it. Left elbow lands from the clinch from Tate but Pennington fires back with a hard left hand. Miesha stays on her but Pennington manages to slip around to take the back standing, and it looks like Miesha might be holding the fence for leverage. Good uppercut from Raquel and they end up back in the regular clinch. Really good dirty boxing from Pennington and she’s in firm control now. Did not expect this at all. Miesha comes back with some solid knees to the body from the plum, but Pennington continues to work with dirty boxing too. One minute to go and they continue to exchange from the clinch, and again it’s advantage to Pennington. Seconds to go though and Miesha tags her with a right hand as they break. Round ends there; 10-9 Pennington again and Miesha needs to get something going in the third for sure.

3rd and final round and Miesha’s face is all marked up. She comes out SWINGING and that forces Pennington to clinch, and from there Miesha surprisingly jumps for guard into the koala position again. Pennington moves her into the fence and then decides to go into the guard with her, where she drops some strong elbows. Armbar attempt from Tate but Raquel postures up to avoid it and so the former champ goes for a triangle instead. Pennington defends and so Miesha goes back to the armbar, but still has no success. Big elbow gets through for Pennington and she’s defending the submission really well too. Pennington works free and goes into north/south, but Miesha uses the fence to swing into a reversal and goes for a double leg of her own. Pennington defends it well and then looks for another guillotine variant, but Miesha avoids it and goes back to guard. Leglock attempt now from Miesha and she begins to roll for the heel hook, but Pennington stands to avoid it and then slips free, standing over the former champ. Couple of kicks to the legs from Pennington and then she sprawls to avoid another takedown, controlling the head again. They end up clinched on the fence and Raquel continues to land punches, and with less than a minute remaining it’s looking like her fight. Takedown from Pennington puts a stamp on it as she works Miesha over with punches to the body and head. Round ends with a quick flurry from Raquel. Got to be 30-27 for Raquel Pennington in a massive upset.

Official scores are 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 for Raquel Pennington. Really good fight overall I thought with a heavy pace, and it was probably one of the biggest upsets of the year, too. Tate was coming right off a title run while Pennington had never really proven herself anywhere near the elite level, but to be fair she had looked capable at times and so it’s really cool to see her put it all together. She basically outstruck, outgrappled and generally outfought Miesha here and that’s a really big deal as not many can say they’ve been able to do that. Pennington vs. Shevchenko to decide the next title challenger anyone?

And then in a pretty big moment post-fight….Miesha announces her retirement in a bit of a shocker. Can’t say that I don’t get her reasoning as she explains it’s largely because of this fight and how she couldn’t really get anything going, but just two fights ago she was winning the title! If she doesn’t think she wants to continue to fight though more power to her, she’ll be healthier in the long run. And she definitely goes down as a real pioneer in the division; if you ignore the brief Gina Carano phase, it was basically her rivalry with Ronda Rousey that put women’s MMA on the map. I personally was never her biggest fan but she probably belongs in the Hall of Fame at some point.

Middleweight Fight: Chris Weidman vs Yoel Romero

After being involved in a lot of the lobbying to legalise MMA in New York it was a no-brainer that Weidman would be on this card, but in no way was he given a softball to look to bounce back from his loss to Luke Rockhold, rather he was faced with one of the most dangerous fighters in all of MMA in Romero in basically a match to decide the next challenger to Michael Bisping’s title – even if Romero was coming back from a semi-drug bust (I don’t want to get into tainted supplements!). This seemed like a tough out for Weidman given Romero’s insane athleticism and his ability to suddenly finish an opponent at any time, but I was still a believer in Weidman and thought he’d weather an early storm to put the Cuban away late on.

Big reaction for Weidman who also breaks a UFC record (I think) by using FOUR SONGS as his entrance music. Bit excessive there, Chris! Romero’s cartoonish physique has somehow gotten BETTER since the whole PED bust thing too which is wild. Dude is a freak.

Round One begins and Weidman opens with an outside leg kick. Weidman continues to back him up, putting a lot of pressure on him albeit not really landing much early on. More kicks from Weidman but Romero fires back with a body kick, his first strike of the fight. Takedown attempt from Weidman and he gets the Cuban down, but Romero springs right back up. Weidman goes for it again but this time Romero shrugs him off. Body kick from Weidman and he follows with a sweeping right hand. Two more body kicks land for Weidman and then he goes for the takedown again, but Romero uses a whizzer to defend it. Leg kick connects for Weidman. He’s coming up slightly short on his punches though. One minute to go and Weidman ducks for a takedown, but again Romero defends and this time he pushes forward. Glancing elbow from Weidman stops that though. Left hands connect for both men albeit on the end of the punches. Another takedown attempt is successful for Weidman and this time he takes the back in the scramble. Romero stands with Weidman controlling him, but the former champ can’t get any hooks in and as the buzzer goes the Cuban looks for a standing kimura. 10-9 Weidman but he didn’t have a ton of success, it was more that Romero got backed up a lot.

Round Two…is delayed because Romero’s covered himself in water and Mario Yamasaki needs a towel to wipe him down. Dude is an INCREDIBLE villain. Left hand glances for him in the opening exchange but Weidman answers with a body kick and then shoots. Romero shows some incredible defense though and shrugs him off again. Couple more low kicks from Weidman and the fans are chanting for him loudly now. Inside low kick from Romero and he wings the left hand out a few times and then stuffs another takedown attempt. Good right hand to the body from Weidman. Couple of wild punches miss for Romero but he does connect with the left hand. More kicks from Weidman and he backs Romero up with a knee to the body, but then Romero claims an eye poke and Yamasaki has to call time. Romero decides he’s okay to continue and they go on, with Romero coming forward a little more now. Big body kick from Romero is caught, but Weidman can’t get him down and so he kicks him in the head instead. Takedown attempt from Romero now is avoided. He clinches though and hits a RIDICULOUS foot sweep takedown before suddenly getting Weidman’s back as he stands. That was ludicrous athleticism. Weidman looks to keep hold of Romero’s wrists to stop him going for a possible suplex, but the Cuban manages to drag him down anyway. Weidman pops back up, but Romero spins into him and tackles him right back down. This time he stands over him to deliver a left hand, then gets in some punches as Weidman turtles up to end the round. 10-9 Romero largely for the last two minutes of the round.

Round Three and Weidman lands with a hard body kick. He follows by shooting….but dives right into a CRUSHING FLYING KNEE and goes CRASHING DOWN! He looks out right away but Mario Yamasaki allows Romero to DESTROY him with punches on the ground, and then we get a scary scene as Weidman sits up and he’s got BLOOD LEAKING FROM HIS EYE LIKE A TAP. Holy shit that’s nasty. Romero meanwhile embraces his inner villain by MARCHING AROUND THE OUTSIDE OF THE CAGE LIKE A FOREIGN SOLDIER!~! Well, he IS the Soldier of God I guess!

Fight wasn’t all that until the crazy ending, and in fact Weidman was doing perfectly fine, winning the first round and then probably narrowly losing the second, but the ending was just what I feared would happen to him as Romero’s just a next-level athlete and is capable of doing something like that at any time. It was one of the most vicious flying knees I can ever remember seeing in MMA in fact. Coming off two brutal losses like this one and the Rockhold one – as well as a ton of surgeries – this might well be it for Weidman at the very top. I hope I’m wrong but I really worry for the guy now. Crazy how a career can spin on its head after two fights. As for Romero, realistically he’s probably the best MW in the world right now and I really worry for Michael Bisping when they inevitably fight – Bisping’s got the heart of a lion and the best cardio in the division but I just don’t see how he beats an athlete like Romero. And speaking of Bisping he shows up on the big screen to flip the bird at Romero, who threatens him in a really scary way in broken English, saying that Bisping knows what happened when he brought him (Romero) to Germany to help with his wrestling, and he’ll be seeing him soon, boy! Jesus. He’s just a scary, scary man. Can’t wait for that fight in 2017 even if it ends badly for Bisping.

UFC Women’s World Strawweight Title: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz

The first of the three title fights, this was unsurprisingly the first time two Polish fighters had contested for a UFC belt and I’d guess – unless they rematch! – it could be the only time too. Pretty crazy given the talent pool coming from Poland right now (pretty steady but not like say, Brazil) and hey, it must’ve been Mike Goldberg’s nightmare match at least! Kowalkiewicz had of course earned her shot by beating the top contender in Rose Namajunas but for me it felt like a bad match for her as everything she does, Joanna basically does better, and so I was taking the champion to take another clear decision in a competitive fight.

Round One begins and they circle as Goldie butchers both girls’ names right away, ha. Lot of movement from both early on as they exchange some leg kicks. Combination lands for Joanna. Couple of good chopping low kicks from the champion. Quick combination follows for her and ends in another leg kick. Counterpunch from Karolina narrowly misses. Another good combination connects for Joanna and she’s just about getting the better of these exchanges. Beautiful combo from Joanna and she tags Karolina with a hard left hand. She lands with another crisp counter combo but the challenger comes back with a couple of decent shots of her own. Nice counter right hand lands for Jedrzejczyk. Clinch from Kowalkiewicz and she muscles Joanna into the fence and looks for the takedown, but Joanna spins her around and they muscle for position. They exchange some knees to the body and then Karolina exits with an elbow. Combinations land for both women. Another exchange sees Joanna catch the challenger with the better shots before forcing her back into the fence. They exchange some more knees before breaking, and Joanna ends the round with a hard one-two. Clear 10-9 for Jedrzejczyk.

Round Two and another quick combo opens things for Joanna. Kowalkiewicz tries to draw her into a trade but she’s not having that. Takedown attempt from the challenger is blocked and Joanna exits with an elbow. Hard leg kick follows. Front kick into an elbow lands for the champion and Karolina doesn’t seem to have much answer for the varied striking attack as a pair of leg kicks follow. Nice left hand from Kowalkiewicz allows her to close distance again, but Joanna breaks with an elbow right away. More leg kicks set up more combinations before Joanna clinches and forces the challenger into the fence. They break off and Joanna lands more and more leg kicks, really slowing Karolina down. Takedown attempt from Kowalkiewicz but she still can’t get the champ off her feet. They break off and then Joanna tags her with a left hand coming out of another clinch. Couple of head kicks glance for Karolina before Joanna glances on a head kick of her own. Karolina catches it and forces her back into the fence, but somehow Joanna manages to defend again and this time she nails her with a left elbow. Big head kick gets through for the champ but Karolina takes it well. Round ends with another combo from Jedrzejczyk. 10-9 for the champion.

Round Three and another hard leg kick opens proceedings for Joanna. The crowd seem to have totally died on this fight now which is sad. Clinch from Karolina and they drive into the fence and muscle for position, but Joanna shrugs her off. They exchange some kicks before Joanna lands a hard elbow and a kick to the body. Kowalkiewicz clearly has a solid chin to take all of these shots because Joanna hits HARD. They exchange more kicks and the crowd are booing lightly now which is ridiculous. Combination connects for Jedrzejczyk and she shrugs off another clinch. Another really nasty combo lands for Joanna and she follows with a glancing front kick to the face. Leg kick fully buckles Kowalkiewicz and then she eats another combo. Joanna isn’t close to a finish or anything but this is basically a whitewash at this stage as for every shot Karolina lands, she’s eating four or five. Beautiful combo from Joanna sets up a front kick and then the plum, where she lands a hard right elbow. Kick from Joanna is caught and they exchange knees from the clinch, before Karolina goes for the takedown again. Jedrzejczyk blocks it and manages to take the back to land a couple of shots, and she considers a takedown of her own before giving that up. Seconds to go and a pair of elbows break for Joanna and the round ends with a glancing left from Karolina. Another one in the books for Joanna.

Round Four and they exchange some more low kicks with Joanna landing the better ones again. She’s really worked the legs over in this fight. Flurry gets through for Karolina though and Jedrzejczyk has to clinch to slow her down. They break off and a couple more leg kicks connect for Joanna. Left hand glances for Karolina and she’s really swinging now. Spinning backfist narrowly misses for her though and she eats a couple more leg kicks. BIG RIGHT HAND suddenly lands for Karolina though and Jedrzejczyk is ROCKED BADLY! She stumbles backwards and Karolina’s all over her, opening up with punches and JEDRZEJCZYK IS DOWN! She pops right back up and tries to fire back but she’s in deep trouble here, holy shit. Couple of kicks allow her to make some distance but Karolina tags her with another combo before eating a big right herself. She keeps coming forward, but a head kick lands for Joanna to slow her down and off that she manages to take the back and drag her down. Karolina reverses back to her feet and they stay clinched and NOW the crowd are wildly into the fight. Good punches land from the clinch for Kowalkiewicz and they break off. Big left from Karolina and she catches a kick and forces the champion into the fence. Joanna spins her around though and breaks with a right elbow. Couple more kicks from Joanna but Karolina catches the leg and lands a pair of right hand counters. Wild exchange sees both girls land. Spinning backfist narrowly misses for Karolina and she gets hurt by a leg kick. Seconds to go and a hard combo lands for Karolina, but Joanna works her over with some knees and an elbow at the end. 10-9 Kowalkiewicz and she came close, but she still needs a finish in the fifth to win.

Round Five and the crowd give them a big hand as they hug, and then go back to trading strikes. Big combo from Karolina backs Joanna up and forces her to clinch. Big elbow breaks for Joanna as Joe Rogan gets really silly and tries to suggest Kowalkiewicz didn’t win the previous round! Lot of kicks from Joanna as Karolina pushes forward. Jumping kick from Joanna sets up a bit of a trade with both girls landing punches. More leg kicks from Joanna but Karolina is still pushing forward. Awesome counter combo lands for Jedrzejczyk. Spinning attack misses for the challenger and Joanna makes her pay with an elbow. Left hand follows and then they trade off pretty wildly with both girls landing again. Jedrzejczyk actually looks worse cosmetically. Spinning backfist misses for Karolina again and she eats a hard left. Another wild trade leads into the clinch and we’ve got one minute to go now. Combo breaks for the champ and she masterfully defends another takedown before landing a flush knee from the clinch. They break off and Karolina comes forward swinging, but can’t land the killer shot and that’s the fight. 10-9 Joanna, 49-46 for her on my scorecard.

Judges have it 49-46 all round for Joanna Jedrzejczyk. There was only one possible result really despite that big 4th round for Karolina. Really good fight, but I wouldn’t call it great and even with that wild fourth round I’d still say Joanna’s previous fight with Claudia Gadelha was better – I felt like there was more drama in that fight because Claudia seemed more in the fight throughout despite not hurting the champion as badly as Kowalkiewicz did here, while this one was much more one-sided.

Post-fight both girls seem pretty popular with the crowd and hey, I’d say they did Poland proud with this one. Who’s next for Joanna? I’d actually throw a curveball and give her the winner of Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson, basically because I don’t think Kowalkiewicz (nor Gadelha) did enough to get another shot right away; the other top contenders (Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres) are coming off losses, and Joanna could really do with a highlight reel finish to help her popularity and I think she’d put away PVZ or Waterson within the distance.

UFC World Welterweight Title: Tyron Woodley vs Stephen Thompson

After Woodley won the Welterweight title with his KO of Robbie Lawler – one of the best knockouts of the year for the record – he was actually calling for a “money fight” with GSP or Nick Diaz and largely ignored the fact that Wonderboy was the clear-cut #1 contender following wins over Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald, but of course when push comes to shove the UFC were able to make this fight pretty easily with little complaining from Woodley. And you wonder why I’d rather the UFC stay how it is rather than change into boxing? Anyway! Despite most people taking Thompson to win, figuring his use of range and tricky striking game would be able to force Woodley into a shell in a similar way to how Rory had done, I was behind the champion as I didn’t think Wonderboy had ever faced someone capable of covering a distance in such a short time as Woodley, and figured he’d catch Wonderboy with his hands down and knock him out. Last time we had a match like this though was Evans vs. Machida and I picked Rashad then, so I wasn’t exactly 100% confident.

First round begins and Wonderboy comes out with his usual wide stance and looks to force Woodley back towards the fence. One minute in and neither man’s landed a strike. Side kick misses for Thompson. Crowd begin to boo a little as Wonderboy glances on a body kick. Low kick from Wonderboy is caught by Woodley, and a sweeping right hand lands and puts the challenger on his back. Thompson tries to get to full guard, but can only make half-guard, and Woodley wraps him up and begins to land some short strikes. Thompson looks like he’s reaching for a sweep, but Woodley’s base is too strong and he lands a bunch of short elbows to the face before opening up with punches to the body for good measure. More strikes get through for Woodley with little answer from Thompson until he manages to shift himself into full guard. Looks like one of the elbows has busted Wonderboy’s nose up quite badly, too. Woodley stands over him to drop some really big shots, and then drops back into the guard to bust him up further with elbows until the round ends. Clear-cut round for the champ; you could argue 10-8 I guess as Thompson did so little, but to be fair I don’t think Woodley came close to a finish or anything, so I’d go 10-9.

Second round and Thompson pushes forward to begin, backing Woodley into the fence again. Body kicks glance for both men. Not much volume again from either man. Combo from Wonderboy is stopped by a clinch from Woodley, and he lands some knees inside. Thompson manages to spin him around momentarily but Woodley switches that around quickly and the action slows down a little as they trade more knees. Thompson manages to break, and then backs the champ up with a side kick. Quick rush misses for Woodley but Thompson immediately backs him into the fence again. Spin kick lands for Thompson but Woodley shakes his head. Body shot and a left hand follow for the challenger. Flicking left connects for Wonderboy and a combination puts Woodley well on the retreat. Body kick from Woodley but Thompson tags him with a clean left hand. Couple more lefts miss for Wonderboy and Woodley jukes and jives a bit before he eats another quick combo. Wild rush misses for Woodley. Round ends with Woodley pushing forward to land a combo. 10-9 Thompson for me as he backed Woodley up for the majority of the round and landed the better strikes.

Third round and a right hand glances early on for Woodley. He forces Thompson back a bit now until a missed side kick puts him on his back foot a little. Big rush of punches just misses for Woodley and Thompson counters with a right hand to stop another. Right hand glances for the champion. Wonderboy backs him into the fence again before he throws a head kick that narrowly misses. Lot of feints here from both men. Strong leg kick from Thompson but Woodley answers with one of his own. Left hand fires back for Thompson and backs Woodley up, and he follows with a one-two. Clinch attempt is avoided easily by Thompson. Thompson is really forcing him back to the fence now. Clean left hook lands for Thompson but a wheel kick misses. Jab connects for Woodley. Couple of jabs land for Thompson but Woodley counters on him with a quick combo. Clinch from Woodley is quickly broken but now he pushes forward a bit. BIG LEG KICK drops Thompson for a second but he pops up and fires off with a jab. Right hand connects over the top for Woodley. Action slows up a bit with seconds to go before Woodley lands with a combination at the end of the round. Super-close round to score actually despite Joe Rogan really selling Wonderboy, but I’d still lean very slightly towards the challenger I think. 10-9 Thompson but could easily have gone the other way.

Fourth round and this time Woodley takes the center of the cage as they circle. Lot of feints again from both before a leg kick lands for Thompson. Wonderboy begins to come forward again, landing a beautiful right hand counter before switching stances. He flicks out a couple of right jabs, then lands with a flurry, but Woodley comes back and DECKS HIM WITH AN OVERHAND RIGHT! Wonderboy pops back up but he’s on rubber legs, and Woodley closes in and hits him with some more punches before putting him down with a BRUTAL RIGHT! Thompson looks out as he hits the mat, and Woodley pounces, looking to seal the deal, but somehow Thompson clings on for dear life and referee Dan Miragliotta lets it go. Thompson almost gets up, but goes back down under the weight of the punches and this could easily be stopped. He manages to get up again but he’s a MESS and Woodley KEEPS ON LANDING, switching to some nasty knees before snapping him down into a guillotine! It looks tight, but Thompson manages to survive that too somehow and so Woodley drops to guard to look to finish it off. Jesus. Woodley really squeezes on the choke, but Wonderboy has MAD HEART and he keeps squirming and manages to pop his head free! Unbelievable. Crowd are going APESHIT and rightfully so. Action slows down as both men clearly need a bit of a breather, but incredibly the round ends with Thompson landing some punches from the top. 10-8 round for Woodley though, no doubt there as he came literally millimetres away from finishing the fight. I’d have it 38-37 for Woodley going into the fifth.

Fifth round and the crowd are basically treating this as like the Fight of the Year now which is crazy. To be fair it has been pretty great though! Lot of respect coming into the round and then Thompson gets right back to backing the champion up into the fence. Hard to believe he even got out of that previous round. Jumping kick misses for him. Combo from Thompson and he’s standing right in front of Woodley now. Nice right hand lands through Woodley’s guard for Wonderboy but a head kick doesn’t land cleanly. Wonderboy continues to back the champion up, but he isn’t landing all that much right now. Good leg kick lands for Woodley but a haymaker right misses. Leg kick fires back for Wonderboy. Body kick from Woodley but a combination from Thompson backs him up. Two minutes to go now. Big right hand misses for the champ and Thompson counters with a clean right hook. One-two follows. Woodley’s coming up short with everything suddenly. Sharp leg kick from the challenger. Big right hand glances for Woodley. Right to the body lands for Wonderboy. Right again misses for Woodley as Thompson gets out of range before landing a jab. Big flurry backs Wonderboy up but doesn’t land cleanly. Low kick from Woodley answers a right hand from Thompson. Right hand lands clean for the challenger. Wild swing misses for Woodley and that’s the round. 10-9 Thompson, so I’d call it a 47-47 draw! Put a gun to my head and force me to pick a winner and I’d go for Woodley though for coming closer to finishing and doing far more damage. Like, PRIDE rules you’d have to go with Woodley.

Judges – after a LOT of deliberating – score it 47-47…..47-47….and 48-47 for Tyron Woodley to WIN A SPLIT DECISION. Or so says Bruce Buffer, because two 47-47 scores means a MAJORITY DRAW. Bizarrely, both Woodley and Wonderboy seem to accept the call and we go right into the post-fight interview with Joe Rogan and Woodley before someone picks up on the mistake and it’s correctly announced as a draw. Woodley keeps the title regardless though so it doesn’t *really* matter, outside of looking a bit unprofessional. Woodley admits he probably should’ve kept punching rather than looking for the guillotine in the fourth, but doesn’t really say much more through shock I’m guessing, while Thompson puts Woodley over massively by saying he kept him guessing throughout, and then he calls for the rematch which I’m guessing we’ll get based on the previous title fight draw (Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard back in 2011). And I’d say that’s fine even if it fucks Demian Maia over a bit.

So yeah, pretty crazy fight in the end. It seems like a polarising one online too as I’ve seen some people saying that it stunk and others calling it a FOTYC. I’m somewhere in the middle, I didn’t think it was anywhere near as good as the best fights of 2015 – Lawler/Condit, Bisping/Silva, McGregor/Diaz and Bisping/Henderson, and I think it might’ve been a bit overrated by some people who seem to get a massive hard-on for title fights that go back-and-forth, but it certainly wasn’t a staring contest like some have made out and I enjoyed it for the most part. It was interesting too in that both men had success with their games – Thompson by backing Woodley into the fence and using his range, and Woodley hurting Thompson on the ground and also with a haymaker from nowhere – but even though Woodley came closest to finishing I’d be tempted to give an advantage to Thompson in a rematch. Well, unless Woodley comes out to use his takedown more. I don’t know, all I know is that it really needs to happen again.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Eddie Alvarez vs Conor McGregor

Without a doubt – even if there were some questions over how it was put together, with the rumor being Khabib Nurmagomedov being used to bait either Alvarez or Conor into signing for the fight – this was the biggest fight of 2016, point blank. It was only the second-ever champion vs. champion match in UFC history, the first being BJ Penn stepping up to challenge Georges St-Pierre back in 2009, but there were a couple of differences with this one. Firstly it was a much bigger fight, simply due to the fact that Conor is the biggest star in UFC history at this point, far bigger than even GSP was in 2009. And secondly, where it was widely recognized that Penn would probably be moving back down to 155lbs win or lose, with McGregor there’s basically been questions over his ability to make it back down to 145lbs to defend his title there since the day he won it, meaning a loss here could potentially leave him stuck with a title he wouldn’t be able to defend. Going in though all Conor was focused on was becoming the first fighter in UFC history to hold two titles at the same time. More on that later, though. As far as how the two matched up, despite Alvarez’s undeniable skills – heavy punches, excellent boxing, strong wrestling and a great chin – I actually felt it’d be a relatively simple fight for Conor just because I couldn’t see anyone shorter than him – particularly a wrestle-boxer like Alvarez – being capable of beating him as they wouldn’t be able to get into range to hit him without being killed dead by that nasty left hand. I was basically expecting a re-run of Conor’s 2015 fight with Chad Mendes.

Entrances aren’t quite as epic as we’ve seen before but one thing’s for certain, the crowd are firmly behind Conor, booing Alvarez for the most part which is pretty surprising. Guess there’s a lot of Irish in New York! And in the staredown Conor looks like the bigger guy.

Round One begins and Conor looks supremely confident, coming out with a wide stance and his hands low. Leg kick from Alvarez causes him to lose his balance though and then he gets up a little higher. Another inside leg kick lands for Alvarez. Front kick to the body from Conor. He paws a bit with the right hand while Alvarez feints, and then a pair of right hooks from Eddie are countered by a CRUSHING LEFT from Conor and DOWN GOES ALVAREZ! He’s in trouble right away. Conor comes over the top and looks to finish, but Eddie pops back up. He’s still hurt though and he misses a head kick. Conor closes him down ad paws with the right again before shrugging off a half-hearted clinch attempt. Front kick again to the body from Conor. Big right misses for Alvarez and McGregor clips him with the counter left and drops him again for a split-second. Head kick glances for McGregor. Another left drops Alvarez hard again and this might be it. Conor pounces on him and looks to finish, but Alvarez clings onto him from the bottom of north/south and manages to survive. Hard punches land from the top for Conor but Eddie spins and manages to escape to his feet. Crowd are deafening. Another head kick glances for Conor as he uses the right hand to back Alvarez into the fence. Takedown attempt is stuffed by McGregor who lands a knee and an elbow on the way out. Eddie can’t hit him at all. Snapping left hand connects for Conor as does a front kick to the body. He’s making Alvarez look silly. More of the same follows as Conor paws at him with the right, looking to set up the left while easily dodging Alvarez’s shots. Body punch does land for Eddie. Right hook glances too but to no effect. Body shot again from Alvarez and he ends the round with a low kick. 10-8 round for McGregor – how can it not be with THREE knockdowns?

Round Two and Alvarez opens with a solid body kick, but he takes a front kick to his own body in reply. Right hand comes up short for Eddie. Conor’s use of distance and range is phenomenal and he springs in to rock Alvarez with the left again. Low kick from Eddie but a takedown attempt is shrugged off easily and Conor exits with the left. Conor follows by putting his hands behind his back to taunt Alvarez, who does nothing in return. Couple of low kicks from Conor and he glances on a one-two before avoiding a right hook. Right hand lands for Alvarez but he misses a couple of big haymakers and Conor makes him pay by wobbling him with the left hand counter again. This time he clinches and forces McGregor into the fence, but he still doesn’t come close to getting him down. Knee to the body separates and Conor jabs with the right hand before landing the front kick to the body. Eddie tries to push forward, but walks right into a VICIOUS COMBO – left-right-left-right, all clean – and goes down and this time Big John McCarthy’s seen enough and steps in to rescue him. Insane.

Post-fight Conor goes apeshit about the fact that the UFC haven’t brought a second belt for him (apparently he should’ve brought the FW belt himself and in the end Dana White had to borrow Tyron Woodley’s belt to give him for the photos) and then says he apologises to ABSOLUTELY NOBODY for all the shit he’s talked. Dude is a rock star, point blank.

First off then that was one of the all-time great title fight performances from Conor McGregor. It was as one-sided as his beatdown of Dennis Siver, for instance, as Alvarez looked overmatched from the off, couldn’t get inside to hit Conor, couldn’t come close to taking him down and kept on eating that left hand nuclear missile. I mean, taking five knockdowns in a fight is absolutely ridiculous. And bear in mind Alvarez was the LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPION, the top guy in the world. I caught some flak for saying this at the weekend but for me, on strength of accomplishment alone I think you have to put Conor up there with the greatest UFC fighters of all time. Maybe not with GSP and Anderson Silva, but certainly up there with the rest. All he’s lacking really is longevity and I mean, people consider BJ Penn one of the greats and I wouldn’t really say he had massive longevity on top. Conor crushed the longest-reigning champion in years in Jose Aldo, took out the top contender before that in Chad Mendes, and even ignoring the whole Diaz issue he’s just dismantled the 155lbs champ. General consensus from those who disagree seems to be that he needs to defend one of his titles to really be considered great but I’m pretty confident he’ll do just that.

Who he faces next though is a big question. First off I don’t think he’ll move back to 145lbs either to rematch Aldo or fight Pettis or Holloway, and so I expect the UFC to either persuade him to vacate that belt or strip him outright. There’s been some suggestion of him jumping up to 170lbs to fight Woodley (!) but I don’t see that happening as the likelihood is they run the Thompson rematch there. Which leaves us at 155lbs and one of either Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov, or as much as I’d dislike it, Nate Diaz. Gut instinct tells me he calls for Diaz in the rubber match, leaving the other two to fight it out, but the one I want to see is Khabib (who cut a hell of a promo calling him out on the prelim card). I actually think Conor would knock him out, but that’s another story. The toughest fight for him in my opinion is Ferguson but that’s also the lowest-drawing one of the three which probably gives him reason to avoid it. That isn’t even getting into this issue of him demanding equity in the UFC, but hey, I’m sure they can work something out and I’d rather him ask for that than attempt to promote himself. Regardless, he’s a once-in-a-lifetime fighter and I’m just glad I’m getting to see him do what he’s doing. Tremendous main event.

-Show ends with some highlights and plugs for the next few shows. Rousey by armbar, for the record!

Final Thoughts….

There was a lot of hype on this show and it was always going to be difficult to live up to it – UFC 200 missed the mark by miles, for instance – but for the most part I thought this show delivered. Granted it was a long one – it’s one of the drawbacks of booking close fights all the time rather than squashes – but Weidman/Romero had a sick finish even if it wasn’t a great fight, Jedrzejczyk/Kowalkiewicz heated up nicely in the end, and Woodley/Thompson came close to being a truly great title fight. Topping it all off though is the amazing performance from Conor McGregor and so if you missed this show and still call yourself an MMA fan you’re insane. Thumbs way up.

Best Fight: Woodley vs. Thompson
Worst Fight: Pennington vs. Tate

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com