The first man to simultaneously hold two UFC championships, and just the third to win titles in two different divisions, McGregor achieved something truly monumental in the UFC’s debut at #MadisonSquareGarden. Holding titles in two of the UFC’s deepest divisions, the Irishman has set a new benchmark for championship accomplishment within the organization.
Two of the sport’s finest counter punchers, McGregor and Alvarez battled in a hotly contested matchup on paper. The professional ballot overwhelmingly favored Alvarez, while McGregor was a slight betting favorite against the lightweight champion. In reality, the bout was not the war many anticipated, and McGregor won almost every moment of the fight, dominating Alvarez with superior striking while denying the American’s takedown attempts with ease.
From a technical perspective, it was one of McGregor’s most complete performances as a counter puncher, one in which his already remarkable precision was elevated to new heights. Battering Alvarez with left crosses almost every time the ex-champion attempted to lead, the now two-division champion was flawless, despite Alvarez seeming to understand exactly how to beat him. Early, "Underground King” committed to inside low kicks, causing McGregor to stumble in the opening moments as he threw a left straight.
In a battle of counter punchers, the fighter who leads is often the one who finds himself at a disadvantage. McGregor showed no fear of leading, throwing both jabs and straights at range before moving his head deftly out of the way of Alvarez’s returning fire. Willing to allow Alvarez the space to work, McGregor engaged the champion in neutral punching exchanges, forgoing his usual pressure fighting. Just a minute into the bout, McGregor pawed with his left, and Alvarez, sensing an opportunity, darted forward with two consecutive straight rights, each one intercepted by the challenger’s left cross. Alvarez crashed to the mat, but quickly returned to his feet.
From this point, issues with Alvarez’s offense began to present themselves. A fighter whose striking output comes primarily from his right side, the now-former champion’s preferred right hand leads proved to be prime fodder for the Dubliner’s counter punching. And with Alvarez’s lead hand repeatedly smothered by his foe’s own, he was left with few safe options for attack.
With no consistent method of leading which would not feed directly into McGregor’s counters, Alvarez looked inept in the striking exchanges, unable to do anything of consequence. McGregor had no such reservations, and repeatedly attacked the body with snap kicks, digging his toes into Alvarez’s gut, and stayed active with jabs and lead lefts. After attempting level-change feints into an uppercut and a desperation takedown, Alvarez looked to be out of ideas. Attempting the same sequence which resulted in a knockdown just a minute into the fight, Alvarez threw two lead right hooks, and was momentarily knocked down yet again for his trouble.
Soon after, McGregor threw another lead left, then a jab, and as Alvarez moved to attempt a right hand counter, a tight left intercepted him yet again, resulting in the third knockdown of the fight. After punishing a desperate takedown attempt with a right hook, the Irishman had seemingly left his foe perplexed. Denied all offensive options, Alvarez was neutralized, and was forced to rely only on his counter right. At a reach disadvantage and unable to evade the counter lefts and close the distance, his punches breezed over the arc of McGregor’s lefts, hitting only air. As the round progressed, he ceded more and more space to the challenger, occupying the area between the black lines of the Octagon floor and its claustrophobic fencing.
With under a minute left in the round, Alvarez attempted a lead left hook. Despite being the first time he had shown the strike to the now-champion, it was swiftly countered by a right hook. Moments later, a lead left clipped Alvarez. At this point, he was willing to attempt just about anything in order to find offensive options which would not result in more brutal collisions. Right and left hooks to the body followed by a right hook to the head formed the closest to a successful combination that Alvarez had attempted, and he quickly honed in on this. Several kicks and hooks to the midsection followed, but he wasn't unable to land anything significant as the first round expired. It was a dominant stanza for McGregor, as close to a textbook 10-8 as one could imagine.
In the second round, Alvarez’s problems with finding safe opportunities for offense only compounded. Reinvigorated, Alvarez opened the round with a body kick, before throwing more combinations of hooks to the head and body, missing entirely. Unwilling to erode into complete passivity, he attempted to fake a level change into another left-right hook combo, this time eating a quick jab before a huge left cross stunned him. Another takedown attempt was easily stuffed and met with a left elbow on the break, and Alvarez looked absolutely perplexed.
Though outmatched on the feet and unable to force the fight into any other phase, there was no quit in the "Underground King”. His eyes betrayed no fear, and seemed to think only of his next move. Victory, rather than defeat, was on his mind, even in the face of such an overwhelming disparity in striking skill. As courageous as the champion was, it proved to be for nought.
Opening up even more with combinations, catching Alvarez with a right uppercut into left straight, the champion was faced with two equally dismal options; refuse to lead, and allow McGregor to throw freely at range, or commit to his right hand, and walk directly into the lion’s den. Alvarez, a man of unending resilience, chose the latter. Leading over and over with right hooks, Alvarez found sparse connections, but after having a shot slipped, he found himself with McGregor on the outside of his stance, as a left hand sailed over his shoulder and momentarily dropped him yet again. Fighting desperately for a takedown against the fence, Alvarez ate repeated knees to the body in the clinch.
Sensing closure, McGregor stood confidently at range, burying his toes in Alvarez’s gut once again while jabbing with impunity. Pawing with his rear hand, McGregor was almost squared up as Alvarez lead for the final time with his straight right. A left cross intercepted him, then a right hook, another left straight, and a perfectly-placed right hook as the champion fell. This time, he would not return to his feet. A follow up left hand spurred referee John McCarthy to end the bout as Alvarez spat out his mouth piece, defeated.
In a titanic matchup of counter punchers, McGregor established his superiority in every area. Leading freely while avoiding Alvarez’s own counters, punishing his every attempt at offense, and easily refuting any efforts to drag the fight into another phase, the Irishman dominated the lightweight great in a way which no opponent had ever managed.
Through his sublime performance, McGregor accomplished the most incredible single feat in the UFC’s history, laying two world championships across his shoulders as he gave a theatrical post-fight speech in front of a roaring crowd. That he had achieved such a thing in the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden, where so many legendary pugilists have given their most outstanding performances, was fitting. History was made in a legendary venue, by an undeniably historical man.
With two championships to defend, and perhaps even aspirations for a third, the future is uncertain for McGregor. What cannot be denied is that the path McGregor walks leads to singular greatness, a path paved with gold and glory, with his most ambitious desire resting at the end. Should he continue to stride so confidently down this arduous road, he will very likely come to be remembered as the greatest fighter in MMA history. There will be many hurdles, and whether he can overcome them all remains to be seen. However, for Ireland’s favorite son, the greatness of the past is not enough. To transcend his era, and to transcend the sport, he must continue to defeat foes even more challenging than those who came before.