The Fighting Irish Return to New York City: Alvarez v. McGregor

At my challenge, by the ancient laws of combat, we are met at this chosen ground, to settle for good and all who holds sway over the five points: us natives, born rightwise to this fine land, or the foreign hordes defiling it.

     The line above is proclaimed by Bill ‘the Butcher’ Poole in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, a film that chronicles the conflict between the ‘natives’ and the multitudes of Irish fleeing a famine torn country in the mid-nineteenth century. While there may not be clashes between both sets of fans, rivalries and support for each countries respective representative remains, for the majority, along national lines. With McGregor on the card, a new generation of Irish fans will visit the city that is proud of the original ‘fightin’ Irish’, the 69th New York Infantry Regiment that helped assimilate an often times alienated people into the life and culture of that great city.

     While the arrival of Irish UFC fight fans may not match the thousands of Irish landing at the time the film is set, 27.9 per cent of Manhattan’s population was Irish in 1855*, the Irish fans will do their best to ensure a rousing atmosphere for their man. The Irish have contributed considerably to the east coast, and their descendants (like the O’Reilly’s and the Hickey’s) and newly arrived Irish still do to this day. Even Eddie Alvarez’s hometown of Kensington, Pennsylvania has a history of Irish habitation (the Irish immigrants were forced out of the township following anti-Irish riots on 6 May 1844*.

    While supporters of each fighter may be divided in their loyalty, they are united in their anticipation to the outcome of the bout for their respective fighter. In this article I will highlight two main factors of importance that both friends and colleagues have highlighted in the build up to the fight. The first is cardiovascular conditioning; a factor that allows a fighter to confidently enter the cage and to compete freely in any given style, The second factor is striking: both competitors are incredibly skilled and this aspect will dictate the outcome of the fight. The striking element of the contest will pressure one, or both of the competitors, to change the style of the bout to a grappling match. It is here where fans of both fighters are excited: Alvarez’s because of his supposed advantage, and McGregor’s fans because of the advances he has made in recent months.

 

Cardio

     While countless social media and forum debates have extolled each man’s cardio regime, many still highlight McGregor’s perceived difficulties in rounds two and three of his UFC 206 rematch with Nate Diaz as an example of Eddie Alvarez’s advantage. Conor McGregor has since identified his difficulty to perform at his peak levels due to carrying the extra twenty-five pounds from the 145 pound division many saw him first compete at in the UFC. At 155 both McGregor and his head coach, SBG Ireland’s John Kavanagh, believe McGregor will be fighting at optimum ability: inevitably bringing back the ‘timing’ and ‘precision’ that served him so well in his 145 title unification bout with the Brazilian Jose Aldo. Kavanagh sees McGregor as being able to display his skills best at lightweight: 

“I would like to see him at 155. I remember that [Ivan] Buchinger fight [for the Cage Warriors 155 pound belt] and he looked like a tank to me.”

     Alvarez has been lauded for his cardio and conditioning, and during his victory against former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, Alvarez displayed a high output in putting the Brazilian away.

Striking

     When Conor McGregor delivered the now famous left hand against Jose Aldo ten seconds into their featherweight title unification bout, he was praised universally for his precision and striking. Many analysts began watching his previous UFC and Cage Warriors bouts in order to gain more insight into ‘the Notorious’ one’s striking ability, none more so than Robin Black. McGregor’s exemplary boxing ability began in Crumlin Boxing Club and he has enhanced it working alongside SBG’s Owen Roddy and training in the Collin’s brothers Celtic Warrior gym. While McGregor’s boxing has lauded, McGregor showcased an ultra-effective kicking ability against Nate Diaz, and also in his fight against Chad Mendes.

     Eddie Alvarez’s offensive stand up has improved since joining Frankie Edgar at Mark Henry’s gym in New Jersey. Alvarez’s ability and willingness to stay in the pocket and trade with the best that Bellator and the UFC have had to offer is commendable and has won him many fans, the ‘Underground King’ is confident in his ability to engage with McGregor on the feet.

     With a five inch reach advantage and a new found confidence with regards to take down defence from both the clinch and wrestling takedowns since he began training with Marcelo Garcia Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt Dillon Danis, it is my belief that McGregor will implement his movement game to circle and pressure Alvarez in a way the champion has not felt before.

Grappling

     Alvarez’s answer to McGregor’s movement may be to engage in a clinch and dirty boxing strategy to wear down and tire the Irish man. Alvarez has fought in front of huge crowds in Japan and will not feel the need to fight in a way to please the crowd and lose the fight. Alvarez used this method to wear down Anthony Pettis, and emerge victorious from their bout at UFC Fight Night 81. As seen in his rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 202, McGregor is comfortable with fighting with his back against the cage. His ability to defend takedowns has been more visible since the beginning of his partnership with Danis.

     I believe Alvarez has the advantage in this element of the fight and it may only take one successful takedown from Alvarez to get the fight to the ground, where the American has the advantage.

     The most tantalising factor ahead of the fight going to the ground is the improvements made by McGregor during his training with Danis and SBG’s own Brazilian jiu jitsu black belts John Kavanagh and Owen Roddy and cohort of respected purple belts such as Lee Hammond, as well as his trusted wrestling coach of seven years, Sergey Pikulskiy. 

Conclusion

     In conclusion the fight is a worthy match up for the UFC’s maiden event in New York cities Madison Square Garden. The stylistic match up makes the fight a must-watch for UFC fans, both old and new. McGregor’s fight IQ and ability to use range effectively against shorter opponents may see him gain an advantage early on in the fight. Alvarez’s willingness to stay in the pocket may leave him vulnerable to McGregor’s striking, but as we have seen in previous Alvarez bouts this seems to simply prime Alvarez’s fight or flight mode that RDA activated in their title fight in July.

     I have asked a diverse range of Irish, American and Irish-American about their opinion on the bout on 12 November, these fight fans do not fit into the regular Irish McGregor/American Alvarez fan categories and they have all responded with the same bewildered silence over SKYPE or in person, they simply don’t know and are excited by the anticipation!

     I too echo their sentiments of excitement; I simply cannot wait!

It is clear that no matter what the outcome, another chapter will be added to the story of the Irish and NYC.

 

*Craughwell, Thomas J., The Greatest Brigade: How the Irish Brigade Cleared the Way to Victory in the American Civil War (Fair Winds Press, MA. 2011) pp. 14-21