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UFC 205: Eddie Alvarez vs Conor McGregor - Keys to victory

Breaking down the UFC 205 headliner between UFC Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez and UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor

Editor's Pick 10 Nov 2016, 16:01 IST
credits: www.ufc.com

Finally, after a laborious detour against Nate Diaz at Welterweight, we harken to what would be Conor McGregor’s history defining moment in the UFC. Eddie Alvarez, of course, would be itching to play party-pooper and eke out a marquee victory for himself.

2 Champions from successive weightclasses go to war in the main event of UFC 205, in what is shaping to be as much a clash of personalities as it is one of styles. 

Conor McGregor, the larger-than-life showman who's fighting style mirrors his dynamic and explosive personality, against a rooted, grizzled veteran in Eddie Alvarez, whose grind inside the cage is only indicative of the path he has tread to reach the pinnacle of the MMA world.

While the world awaits to see how the fight finally pans out, let us explore the approach that each man has to take in order to close out the biggest PPV card in UFC’s history with his hand held aloft in victory.

Conor McGregor’s ‘touch of death’

As Firas Zahabi succinctly described, the most potent weapon in this fight is Conor McGregor’s left cross, or ‘touch of death’, if you will. He sets it up by backing an opponent against the cage and having him circle away from his left hand, which is in contrast to the conventional wisdom of a southpaw striker.

However, given that McGregor likes to extend on his left cross, he pressures them into inching towards his right side and gets his impeccable timing and distance management into play.

The other important facet of McGregor’s striking that came to the fore at UFC 202 was the accuracy of his counterpunching. When he realised that he couldn’t keep pressuring Diaz for the full 5 rounds and had to adopt a moderate approach, he masterfully employed the slip and rip technique where he repeatedly found the mark off countering Diaz’s jab.

While Conor wouldn’t be advised to use leg kicks against Alvarez the way he did against Nate, he could instead use his spinning Taek-wan-do and Capoeira techniques that he had shelved in favour of better cardio management.

While all this could translate into varying degrees of success for him, the single biggest threat that Alvarez has to reckon with in the fight remains to be McGregor’s piston-like left hand. Should he get tagged frequently by it, it could be an early night for the UFC Lightweight Champion.

Eddie Alvarez’s ground game

On the other hand, Alvarez seems to be a much more well-rounded fighter – well, at least on paper. His wrestling is arguably his most potent threat in this fight, and he would be looking to keep his average of landing almost 4 takedowns per fight in the UFC going against McGregor.

However, it is worth noting that Alvarez generally obtains his takedowns when he has his opponent pressed up against the cage and is grinding against them. This is in direct contrast with McGregor’s approach to the stand-up game, where he looks to assume control of the center of the Octagon and puts his opponents on the backfoot with his striking pressure.

Much of Alvarez’s gameplan could hinge on whether he manages to earn Conor’s respect on the feet and even land a few telling blows of his own, so that he puts the Irishman in a position where he could grind him against the cage.

If Alvarez shoots blindly for a takedown in the center of the Octagon – something that he hasn’t yet been successful with in the UFC – McGregor’s spatial awareness and ability to rapidly move into pockets of space and strike, could put his lights out.

Just ask Jose Aldo.

It makes sense that Alvarez would look to impose his wrestling game on McGregor. He must, however, set it up by ensuring that McGregor doesn’t have it all his way in the striking department. 

Although Alvarez does possess fight-changing power in his hands, McGregor has displayed a tremendous chin so far and is likely to outstrike him should they stand and trade on the feet. But before he looks to grind out a victory, it is imperative that he at least gives McGregor something to think about with his striking.

Cardio management

Cardio is, perhaps, McGregor’s weakest suit and is also an area where Eddie Alvarez excels in. McGregor showed signs of fatigue at the 8 minute mark in both his Diaz fights, and while he did manage to recover in the second one, there isn’t any doubt that his opponent is a hard-nosed 5 round fighter.

How McGregor meters his energy output to last the distance, if need be, may end up determining the outcome of the fight. Admittedly, he should have more in the tank at 155 given that it is the weightclass that his body is most suited to.

But should he spend most of the fight defending Eddie’s attempts to grind him against the cage, he may end up wilting under the incessant pressure and fade out towards the end. Should he ‘blow his load’ like he did againt Diaz in UFC 196, only for Alvarez to survive the onslaught, he may gas out again and fall well short of the distance.

Although Alvarez is no cardio machine like Nate Diaz, he does have the upperhand on McGregor in this department and should look to keep a furious pace on him by using his wrestling.

Mental warfare

Surviving McGregor’s mental warfare doesn’t seem to be as daunting a task as it did when he first burst onto the scene with his rambunctious approach. While Jose Aldo looked visibly shaken heading into their UFC 194 fight, Nate Diaz was dismissive of McGregor’s antics, stating that ‘even he doesn’t believe what he’s saying.’

The indifference worked a treat as McGregor seemed riled up in their fight and wasted too much energy in trying to put Diaz away to prove his point, instead of fighting smart against a bigger man at a greater weightclass.

Credit to him though, as he didn’t get sucked into playing mind games with Diaz for their rematch, and instead focussed his attention on lasting 5 rounds and staying the course as far as his gameplan was concerned.

Mental warfare in MMA doesn’t only earmark the ability to get into another fighter’s head, but also the wherewithal to not lose track of your goal in the face of aggression or wanton provocation from your opponent.

As such, the Irishman has displayed both in his career in the UFC so far.

In being derisory of McGregor’s verbal jousting, Alvarez shouldn’t make the mistake of taking his skill set too lightly. Even now, the Philadelphia native remarked that he has ‘never felt so unthreatened by another man in his career so far’.

If that leads to him coming out all guns blazing and looking to stand and trade with McGregor on November 12th, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who the happier fighter would be.

Who has the mental edge going into the fight? It is certainly hard to tell. As they say, however, the proof of the pudding is in eating it.

You can catch the action on Sony ESPN, Sony ESPN HD and Sony Six at 8:30 a.m (IST) on Sunday, November 13th

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