On November 12, the UFC debuted at New York City’s Madison Square Garden – the “Mecca” of combat sports – with UFC 205, quite possibly the finest fight card in MMA history.
The organisation’s first event in the Empire State since 1995 could not have been more successful: the night’s gate revenue stood at a colossal $17.7 million, shattering both UFC and MSG records. This success was in no small part due to the presence of featherweight kingpin Conor McGregor in the night’s main event in a lightweight title bout against defending champion Eddie Alvarez. Ruthlessly knocking Alvarez out inside of two rounds, McGregor made good on his promise to become the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight divisions, and firmly cemented his place as the biggest star that MMA has ever produced.
Veteran commentator Joe Rogan described McGregor’s performance as “flawless,” and this statement is in no way hyperbolic. While Alvarez did successfully land several hard leg kicks in the bout’s opening minute, he soon realised that he facing a totally different class of striker in Conor McGregor. The eight minutes the Dubliner and Philadelphian shared together inside the octagon saw McGregor land punches and kicks at will, but the deciding factor in the fight was the Irishman’s lightning bolt straight left hand. McGregor dropped Alvarez five times over the course of the fight, and every knockdown was facilitated by this trademark.
Famed for his grit and determination, Alvarez rallied to stay in the fight, but he simply had no answer for McGregor’s striking. Although bravely attempting to land punches of his own, Alvarez’s boxing is more notable for its power than its finesse, and McGregor used his superior footwork and head movement to easily evade Alvarez’s reckless attacks and counter with his patented cross.
Even Alvarez’s attempts to wrestle McGregor to the floor – his surest avenue to success – were futile. Every one his takedown attempts were stifled and ended with the “The Notorious” flinging him across the cage. After felling Alvarez for a fifth time with a cross-uppercut-cross-uppercut combination, referee John McCarthy mercifully pulled McGregor away from his semi-conscious opponent.
However, the success of UFC 205 did not rely solely on “Mystic Mac’s” brilliance. Alvarez vs McGregor was the night’s third title fight; the other two saw Tyron Woodley and Joanna Jędrzejczyk each successfully defend their welterweight and women’s strawweight belts against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Woodley’s wrestling pedigree and power-punching and Thompson’s karate stylings combined to produce the fight of the year. After being taken down and battered on the ground in the first round, Thompson recovered and proceeded to back Woodley up against the fence and punish him with his accurate straight punches and dynamic vocabulary of kicks in rounds two and three. However, Thompson was downed three times in the fourth courtesy of Woodley’s right hand, and miraculously saw out the round after surviving a salvo of punches and knees before escaping from a vice-like guillotine choke.
Capitalising on Woodley’s depleted energy reserves, Thompson finished the fight on a high as he returned to frustrating Woodley with his rangy striking. While neither the fighters themselves nor the attending fans were satisfied with the judges’ verdict of a majority draw, few will complain of the UFC’s plans to rematch the pair.
Jędrzejczyk extended her undefeated run at 115 pounds by picking up a unanimous decision win over Polish compatriot Kowalkiewicz. A former amateur world champion in Muay Thai, Joanna possesses some of the best striking in MMA, and the New York crowd was treated to a stand-up clinic as she continually peppered and overmatched challenger Karolina with her famed combinations of punches and spiteful kicks to the legs and midriff. Kowalkiewicz dropped Jędrzejczyk with a massive overhand right in the fourth round, but the champion recovered and saw out the rest of the fight, passing the first real test of her chin with flying colours.
Lower down the card, several fighters secured wins with major implications for their respective divisions. In a fight to establish the number one contender at middleweight, Yoel Romero scored a sensational third-round flying knee knockout over ex-champion Chris Weidman in what had otherwise been an even contest.
At lightweight, 24-0 Sambo maestro Khabib Nurmagomedov picked up a sensational win over fellow contender Michael Johnson. “The Eagle” took Johnson down at will and mauled him with punches and elbows before submitting him in the third-round with stomach-churning kimura. In his post-fight interview, the typically soft-spoken Russian called out Conor McGregor, saying he “tapped like chicken” in his first fight against Nate Diaz, and forced Joe Rogan to concede that he “definitely deserved” a title shot.
Perennial featherweight contender and former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar returned to winning ways after outpointing the heavy-handed Jeremy Stephens, while former women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate announced her retirement after being dominated by ex-pupil Raquel Pennington.
Tim Boetsch and Vincent Luque picked up impressive first-round knockouts over Rafael Natal and Belal Muhammad, while Jim Miller and Liz Carmouche walked away with points victories over Thiago Alves and Katlyn Chookagian.
Jamie Duff | Sports Writer