UFC 205: Five Keys to Victory for Eddie Alvarez

UFC Champion Eddie Alvarez

UFC Champion Eddie Alvarez: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

‘The Underground King’ is now the UFC Lightweight King, but against Conor McGregor he’ll need to bring a complete game plan. Here are the five things Eddie Alvarez will need to do to retain his title at UFC 205.

From the day that UFC Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez was signed to the UFC, questions of how he would fare against elite talent in the biggest MMA promotion on the planet arose. Fans, journalists, and fighters wondered if the former Bellator champion would stand up against the best of the best that the UFC has to offer at 155-pounds. Alvarez answered them all by taking on and defeating three of the four biggest names in MMA.

He’s defeated former champions Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce), Anthony Pettis (UFC) and of course, he finished Rafael dos Anjos to earn the lightweight belt.

Now he takes on one of the biggest names of all time in MMA. The featherweight champion, Conor McGregor, has been claiming that he would be a two-division world champion in the UFC. The promotion has granted him the opportunity to do so against Alvarez at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden this Saturday.

Alvarez has claimed that he will use his wrestling advantage leading to a submission victory. Does he have more ways to win though?

While most believe that McGregor will defeat Alvarez without too much trouble, the lightweight champion presents a very tough test for McGregor. Here are five keys for Alvarez to retain his belt and defeat the biggest name in MMA today.

UFC Champion Eddie Alvarez

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Relentless Wrestling

Alvarez was a high school All-American and while that isn’t as prestigious as a collegiate All-American it does mean something against the likes of Conor McGregor.

Alvarez’s wrestling is definitely much better than the last two men who fought McGregor in the Octagon. Jose Aldo, who didn’t even have a chance to use any ground game against McGregor, has great takedown defense but not a whole lot of takedowns of his own.

According to FightMetric.com, Aldo lands 0.83 takedowns per 15 minutes, completing 72-percent of them. Nate Diaz averages 1.17 takedowns per 15 minutes completing 30-percent of them. Alvarez averages 3.90 takedowns per 15 minutes completing 45-percent of them, according to FightMetric.com

Chad Mendes took McGregor down four times in their two round interim featherweight title bout at UFC 189 before being TKO’d.

Clearly, Alvarez will be the best wrestler, alongside the aforementioned Mendes, that McGregor has faced in the UFC. Alvarez will need to use this to his advantage.

Has McGregor improved his takedown defense? Sure. Against Diaz he was able to stuff multiple takedowns, keeping the fight from going to the ground. However, Diaz is nowhere near the caliber wrestler that Alvarez is.

Alvarez will look to take McGregor down early and often in order to put pressure on McGregor, spending his cardio. We’ve seen that McGregor will gas out if he’s unable to break away from pressure and Alvarez has the cardio to go strong for five rounds.

Alvarez isn’t stupid. He’ll avoid standing with McGregor for too long and get the fight to the ground quickly. Keep in mind that Alvarez has seven submission victories in his MMA career.

UFC Champion Eddie Alvarez

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Push The Pace

McGregor’s cardio has been tested twice now, both times against Nate Diaz who has insane cardio. Conor gassed out both times, the difference being that he was able to find a second wind to go the distance in their second contest. At UFC 202, McGregor moved away from Diaz in order to escape the suffocating pressure that doomed him in the first fight.

Once McGregor caught his breath, he was able to put together combinations that won him the rounds necessary to scrape by with the decision win.

Alvarez cannot allow McGregor to run during the fight. Pressure fighters, specially wrestlers, are experts at suffocating their opponents with constant takedowns and combinations. McGregor can try to run but Alvarez will need to cut him off and continue an endless barrage of combinations and takedowns that will sap any energy that McGregor may have at that point.

McGregor thrives when he finishes fights quickly usually in the first two rounds. Alvarez will need to survive McGregor’s offense for two rounds and then put an exhausting pace on the challenger for the last three rounds.

If Alvarez allows McGregor to catch his breath and a second wind it’ll make for a long night for the lightweight champ.

UFC Champion Eddie Alvarez

Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Veteran Savvy

Compare the level of experience that both fighters have and one difference will become apparent: level of competition.

McGregor spent a lot of time in the European circuit fighting for Cage Warriors, Immortal Fighting Championship, Cage Of Truth, among others. While Cage Warriors has supplied UFC fighters before, including McGregor, the rest do not bring high-level fights.

Alvarez fought in Bodog, Dream, K-1, and Bellator before finally making it to the UFC. He constantly fought UFC-caliber opponents in Bellator.

Josh Neer, Roger Huerta, Tatsuya Kawajiri were all UFC fighters at one point in their career.

Don’t buy that argument? Let’s look at other names on that list.

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Shinya Aoki has over 25 submission wins on his resume. Aoki defeated Alvarez in Dream, but Alvarez got his revenge in Bellator via TKO.

Michael Chandler is a wrestler with power in his hands and a good jiu-jitsu game. You could argue that Chandler is a better wrestler than Alvarez as he showed in their two Bellator fights. Chandler choked Alvarez out in their first bout, but Alvarez came back to earn a decision win in the rematch.

Once he got to the UFC, he faced Donald Cerrone. While he lost, he learned the lessons he needed for his bouts with Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis.

In Melendez, Alvarez faced one of the most well rounded fighters at 155-pounds in MMA history. Against Pettis, he faced a guy with crazy striking, a very solid ground game, and the ability to pull off spectacular moves when you least expect it.

Finally, when he got his title shot against Rafael dos Anjos, he took on a blitzing pressure striker with a very underrated ground game.

Alvarez has faced every kind of fighter there is, so anything McGregor throws at him won’t surprise him once they’re locked in the Octagon.

UFC Champion Eddie Alvarez

Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Smart Risk Taking

The phrase alone sounds a little off, but it makes sense.

Eddie Alvarez, for most of his career, has been a guy who threw caution to the wind and accepted brawl-type fighting in order to finish fights. He would come at his opponents with incredible pressure leaving himself wide open for counters and takedowns. He would also put himself at risk of getting hit in order to land a shot of his own.

It’s all about risk versus reward. That’s what got him to the UFC. Once he got to the big stage he changed to a more intelligent approach. He began using his footwork much more to avoid shots and counter. He began to emphasize feints as well to open up takedown opportunities and put work into more elusive.

Now that he’s facing UFC-caliber talent, he’s sticking to his game plan much more saving his rage-blitz approach in his back pocket until he absolutely needs it.

In the RDA fight, Alvarez was able to figure out dos Anjos’ movement using feints and head movement. The last sequence of that fight was the result of that type of work throughout the fight.

RDA reached with a right hand shot which Alvarez avoided by stepping to the left slightly. Once he squared RDA back up, he threw a left hook which was blocked and followed it with a staggering right hand that put RDA on skates. Alvarez then emptied the gas tank and finished the fight, forcing Herb Dean to save dos Anjos from further damage.

The plan against McGregor won’t be to stand with him. Conor has shown that his striking is at an elite level when it comes to movement, avoiding shots, and countering perfectly. Ask Jose Aldo how good McGregor is on the feet.

UFC Champion Eddie Alvarez

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Gritty Heart

You can’t intimidate ‘The Underground King.’

He’s had to take the road less traveled. He faced adversity in Bellator, and even more just to sign with the UFC. He’s sacrificed, paid the price, paid it again, and paid it once more.

For Alvarez, this is his life and what’s going to get him and his family to the next level. He defeated a seemingly unbeatable and dominant champion in RDA and finished him to take his rightful place as king of the lightweights.

You’ve heard fighters talk about their willingness to die in the cage in order to win. Ronda Rousey said it before UFC 170 and people knew it was true.

Eddie Alvarez lives it. In every fight he’s had, at some point in the fight, it becomes a dog fight. It gets downright nasty and tests both fighters willingness to go just a bit further than their opponent in order to win.

Alvarez is being counted out in this fight by a lot of people because of McGregor’s hype and major following. Alvarez knows it and he’s using it. He’s a guy who uses a chip on his shoulder to overcome major odds and prove people wrong.

He was supposed to lose against Melendez and Pettis. Nobody gave him much of a chance against RDA, who looked like a world beater since he became champ. Now he’s supposed to lose against Conor McGregor. The chip on his shoulder is large and people should take notice.

As Alvarez said after he won the 155-pound belt, “Don’t bring the dog out of me!”

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