A Fan’s Guide to UFC 205
While hyperbole is attached to many events over the UFC’s recent years, UFC 205 is truly the biggest card of all time. The first UFC event to be held at Madison Square Garden was sure to provide the greatest representation of mixed-martial-arts possible to the New York audience.
With a stacked card of fights, there are many names and storylines to keep up with. We’ve put together a basic guide to all of the main-card action, as well as two fights to look out for on the televised prelims.
ALVAREZ (c) vs. MCGREGOR (ftw c)
The Matchup: Fittingly, the biggest card in UFC history is headlined by the sport’s biggest star. Conor McGregor captivated the MMA world when he entered the UFC in 2013. He blazed through a handful of featherweights, talking trash and backing it up along the way, before finding himself with Jose Aldo, the king of the 145 lb. Division. When he knocked out Aldo in 13 seconds, McGregor took on a nearly-mystical quality. He may have been brought back to earth with his loss to Nate Diaz this year, but he avenged that defeat in August and is back to his confident ways. McGregor is known for his unorthodox movement, but his flashy kicks and feints are all a smokescreen for his real money-maker: a lethal left hand that only Diaz has been able to withstand.
Eddie Alvarez, like many of McGregor’s opponents, is being overlooked, which is unfair to “The Underground King”. Alvarez has been champion in every organization he’s fought in, winning the Bellator lightweight title before coming to the UFC and replicating that achievement with a stunning knockout of Rafael Dos Anjos in July. Alvarez has the wrestling skills to test McGregor on the ground, but he will be wise to turn off his brawl-seeking instincts: He’s shown that he is hittable in the past, and McGregor’s left hand is one to avoid.
The Stakes: History. That’s what McGregor is chasing at UFC 205. If he defeats Alvarez, he will become the first UFC fighter to hold two belts in two different divisions (featherweight and lightweight). Alvarez has the chance to prove that McGregor is the “easy opponent” he’s been calling him. It’s the biggest stage Alvarez has ever been a part of, and the Philadelphia slugger has the chance to show the world what he’s capable of. No matter what way this fight goes, the MMA world will feel its ripple effects. A McGregor win means he is more powerful than ever, while another loss would be damaging to his brand and potentially the UFC’s near-future.
WOODLEY (c) vs. THOMPSON
The Matchup: Tyron Woodley was counted out by many when he stepped into the cage to fight welterweight champ Robbie Lawler in July. Woodley silenced the doubters by knocking out Lawler in one round. An explosive wrestler with one of the deadliest right hands in the game, Woodley is one of the most impressive fighters in the world from an athletic standpoint. The Ferguson, Missouri product feels he hasn’t been given the respect he deserves as champion, and his first title defense is the most important fight of his career.
He will face perhaps the trickiest matchup in the welterweight division: Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. The karate specialist earns his nickname every time he steps into the cage, as his highlight reel contains several devastating knockout kicks. He is a master of maintaining distance and attacking opponents from all angles. Thompson is on a seven-fight win streaks, and this year he destroyed former champion Johny Hendricks and beat former #1 contender Rory MacDonald. Ever since Wonderboy has added a stellar takedown defense to his spectacular striking arsenal, nobody has been able to solve the puzzle of fighting him.
The Stakes: It is obvious that this is the biggest fight of either man’s life, but that goes doubly for Tyron Woodley. Though he holds the belt he has felt disrespected by a fan base that seems to already have counted him out against Wonderboy. If he loses the welterweight belt there is no guarantee he will get a crack at it again soon. For Thompson, a victory means achieving the life-long goal of winning the most coveted prize in combat sports. It means proving he is the best welterweight in the world, and potentially beginning a long title reign. Already a fan-favorite, Thompson now has the chance to become a superstar.
JEDRZEJCYZK (c) vs. KOWALKIEWICZ
The Matchup: Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejcyzk has as many tools in her striking arsenal as she does letters in her last name. The Polish phenom has dominated her opponents with a kind of brutality that is rare in women’s MMA. She is best at range, where she picks opponents apart with her precise punches, but when she enters the clinch her brutal elbows and knees have sliced up many a face in the strawweight division. She will fight fellow Polish striker Kowalkiewicz, a tough and game opponent that will keep the fight interesting. Unfortunately, Kowalkiewicz’s best skills are similar to those of “Joanna Champion”, except lesser. Jedrzejcyzk is the biggest favorite on the card for a reason, but this could make one of the most exciting fights of the night.
The Stakes: There is a sense that this is an unofficial battle for Polish bragging rights. If Kowalkiewicz somehow can pull off the upset, she would be the first to defeat Jedrzejcyzk and would become the undisputed strawweight champion. But for Jedrzejcyzk — who will likely win in a violent, exciting fight — UFC 205 represents the opportunity to break out into a mainstream audience. She’s likable outside the cage, exciting and intimidating inside of it, and could captivate casual fans if the UFC gives her the same push they’ve given some other female fighters.
WEIDMAN vs. ROMERO
The Matchup: Chris Weidman is the former middleweight champion, an elite wrestler with unrelenting pressure on the feet. Romero, a Cuban Olympic-level wrestler, is one of the most physically imposing and explosive fighters in the world. He has trouble sustaining energy through a full fight, but don’t look away: Romero’s highlights seem to happen out of nowhere, and he has the power to end Weidman’s night at any moment.
The Stakes: Weidman is the definitive New York fighter, and he finally has the opportunity to fight in The Garden. It’s imperative that he wins in front of his hometown crowd if he wants to get a crack at the middleweight belt, which is now held by Michael Bisping.
TATE vs. PENNINGTON
The Matchup: Miesha Tate won the women’s bantamweight championship when she choked out Holly Holm in March, finally achieving the goal she so-long chased. Then in heartbreaking fashion she was beaten by Amanda Nunes at UFC 200. She will look to rebound against a gritty Raquel Pennington, who Tate actually coached on a season of The Ultimate Fighter.
The Stakes: A win over Tate gives Pennington the high-profile victory she needs to climb the rankings. For Tate, who carries with her a big fanbase already, a win means she is closer to regaining the title, which will be on the line when Nunes faces Tate’s former rival Ronda Rousey in December.
EDGAR vs. STEPHENS
The Matchup: It is not unfair to call Frankie Edgar the “Rocky Balboa” of MMA. Edgar held the belt at lightweight despite being comically smaller than his opposition. For the last few years he has been chasing the featherweight strap, only Jose Aldo having the answer for his breakneck pace, lightning-fast takedowns and crisp boxing. He will fight a much bigger and more powerful Stephens, who is as ruthless as any fighter in the Octagon. Frankie will hold the speed and technique advantage, but Stephens has proved that he is one of the most devastating knockout artists in the sport. All it takes is one.
The Stakes: For Edgar, this fight is simply about getting back on track after a rare loss, and it doesn’t hurt that the Jersey kid will get to do so at Madison Square Garden. With the future of the 145 lb. Division up in the air due to McGregor, Edgar can remain in the title picture. Stephens has the chance to be the first man to knock Edgar out, and if he does so he will skyrocket into championship contention at 145 lbs.
NURMAGOMEDOV vs. JOHNSON
The Matchup: Undefeated lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov’s only challenge so far has been his own body: While running through all of his opponents in his UFC career, Khabib spent years on the sideline with a myriad of injuries. Now healthy, the Russian will look to utilize his elite, ferocious wrestling and ground-and-pound to bully the slick striker Michael Johnson.
The Stakes: Nobody has been able to beat Khabib in the Russian’s twenty-plus fights, so an upset victory would send Johnson into title contention. If Khabib can dominate a fighter of Johnson’s caliber, he has the strongest case to be next for the winner of UFC 205’s main event between Alvarez and McGregor.