He leaped on top of the cage and held both belts on his shoulders with a broad smile.
McGregor’s popularity is unsurpassed in the sport. The fans at the Garden roared every time he appeared in a promo on the big screen. But those cheers were dwarfed by the sound that emerged when the man himself appeared in the flesh.
McGregor has a gift of gab that reminds some of the young Muhammad Ali. In the days before the fight, as is his wont, he berated his opponent, slinging invective as easily as he slings punches. Showmanship is part of the ethos of the U.F.C., and no one is better at it than McGregor. He showed up late to Thursday’s press conference, wearing a mink coat, boasted, “I predict I rearrange his face,” and battled Alvarez over his belt, eventually picking up a chair and threatening to throw it.
Overlooked in the McGregor hype was Alvarez, who after all was the champion. Alvarez seemed to try to match McGregor’s insults but never quite had the Irishman’s panache, and certainly could not match his popularity in the Garden. The Irish and Irish Americans were well represented in the crowd.
‘The Irish, we built this town,” McGregor had shouted before the fight. “Now we’re coming back to claim what’s ours.”
How right he was.
The night was not only about McGregor. There were two other championship fights on the undercard.
Tyron Woodley retained his welterweight title after a draw with Stephen Thompson. And Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who has dominated the lighter women’s strawweight class, defended her belt against a fellow Pole, Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
The former champion and Long Island native Chris Weidman was knocked out by a knee to the head from the former Cuban Olympic wrestler Yoel Romero, who will now get a title shot.
The pioneering women’s fighter Miesha Tate lost to a former protégée, Raquel Pennington by decision, and announced her retirement after the fight.
And there were wins for Frankie Edgar and Khabib Nurmagomedov, who taunted McGregor as a “chicken” to the displeasure of the Garden crowd.
After McGregor’s demolition of Alvarez later on the card, he may want to rethink that insult.
Here’s how we described all the fights as they happened:
Round 2: McGregor Wins After Fight Stopped
They trade tame kicks. McGregor stings Alvarez with a punch. An Alvarez takedown bid is futile. McGregor puts his hands behind his back to taunt Alvarez and invite a blow. Alvarez doesn’t bite, so he does it again. A cross puts Alvarez into the cage and McGregor ties him up. A right-left-right from McGregor puts him on the canvas again, and this time there’s no getting up. A couple of blows to the prone Alvarez and the fight is stopped. McGregor destroyed the champion and now is the featherweight and lightweight champion!
Round 1: Early Knockdowns by McGregor
They spar carefully, touching hands but little more. McGregor nails Alvarez and he goes down! But he pops back up before McGregor can finish him. A stiff left and Alvarez goes to one knee, but once again bounces back up. And now he’s down a third time! McGregor pounces on him by the cage and lands some big blows. But again Alvarez is on his feet. Alvarez goes for a takedown but eats a knee instead. Alvarez lands a kick or two. He’s regaining his equilibrium as the round ends.
NYT scores it 10-8 McGregor.
Introducing McGregor and Alvarez
Because he is technically the challenger, Conor McGregor is the first to arrive in the Octagon, to the sound of the Chieftains and Sinead O’Connor. The reaction from the crowd is deafening. McGregor is wrapped in an Irish flag. He circles the Octagon in a loose-armed strut.
Champion Eddie Alvarez, arriving to “Victory” by Diddy, 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes, is showered with boos. Though only a short hop from his hometown, Philadelphia, he is a foreign invader to most of this crowd. He kneels in prayer before entering the Octagon, then sprints around it.
When McGregor is introduced he blows kisses to the crowd. The men stare each other down and touch gloves.
It’s time for the main event! We’ll give you an update after each round.
Tyron Woodley Retains His Title Amid Confusion
Tyron Woodley was an unexpected welterweight champion, having surprised Robbie Lawler with a knockout after just two minutes in July. That was reflected in his odds: He was an underdog in his first title defense tonight. His opponent was Stephen (Wonderboy) Thompson, an expert in karate and kickboxing who had won seven fights in a row, many of them impressively against strong competition.
The key element of the fight was expected to be the takedown. Woodley is known as a wrestler, but Thompson has a reputation for being very tough to take down. Score the first point for Woodley: he successfully took Thompson to the mat two minutes into the fight and kept him there the rest of the round. In the last seconds he put in some serious hammer blows on the prone Thompson.
Though Woodley did not take Thompson down in Round 2, he did back him up against the cage for an extended period and bloodied his nose.
With no further takedowns in Round 3, the fight threatened to swing Thompson’s way, as he landed more blows, although Woodley also dished out his share.
But Woodley knocked down Thompson twice in Round 4, the second time punishing him while Thompson remarkably staggered to his feet. Woodley got the weakened Thompson to the mat, where he fought for a submission. But Thompson showed guts in reversing the hold and assuming dominance before the round ended. For the first time in the fight, the crowd got into it and cheered for “Wonderboy.”
There was all to fight for in Round 5. The two men remained standing, going after each other with surgical punches. With no fighter holding a clear edge, the decision went to the judges.
The ruling was initially announced as a split decision win for Woodley, then corrected to a draw. Either way, Woodley retains his title.
Next up: round by round coverage of the big one, McGregor-Alvarez.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk Defends Her Title
In the first of three title fights on the card, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who has dominated the lighter women’s strawweight class, attempted to defend her belt against a fellow Pole, Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
While we heard a host of well-known upbeat pop and rap songs as walk-out music tonight, Jedrzejczyk opted for the slightly less well known “Przejmij Ster W Swoje Dlonie.” She helpfully translated it for non-Polish speakers recently as “Take Control of Your Steering Wheel.”
Jedrzejczyk has been one of the most dominant champs of any weight or gender, but Kowalkiewicz seemed unafraid of her potent punching and kicking ability in Round 1. The two sparred vigorously, but few crucial blows landed.
The underdog Kowalkiewicz fought gamely in the second round as well, backing her opponent into the cage, but never seemed to hurt the tough Jedrzejczyk.
Round 3 brought more of the same, though the champion’s leg kicks seemed to be landing with more of a snap.
As a championship fight, this bout was scheduled for five rounds, rather than three. And the crowd finally had something to cheer about in Round 4, when Kowalkiewicz stung Jedrzejczyk with a punch and put her on the back foot for a few moments. Jedrzejczyk reasserted herself in the round’s last moments, using her long legs to land some more kicks.
Quarter was neither asked nor given in the fifth round, as the combatants traded blows.
Jedrzejczyk won a unanimous decision, but Kowalkiewicz gave a remarkable account of herself as a 4-1 underdog.
Yoel Romero Defeats Long Island’s Chris Weidman
Chris Weidman held the middleweight title for more than two years before being surprisingly knocked out by Luke Rockhold last December. In his first fight back, the Long island native faced a tough matchup with Yoel Romero, the dynamic former Cuban Olympic wrestler.
Romero, known as the “Soldier of God,” was decidedly unpopular with the Madison Square Garden crowd compared to the local Weidman, known as the “All American.”
An elite wrestler in high school and at Hofstra, Weidman went for takedowns in the first round, but they were eluded by the speedy Romero, who had executed a cartwheel and backflip upon arrival in the ring. Weidman only finally brought down his man with 30 seconds left, and even then did not gain complete control.
In the second round, Romero claimed he had been poked in the eye, leading to a chorus of dubious jeers from the crowd. Shortly afterward, he used his own Olympian wrestling skills to gain back control over Weidman and eventually brought him to the mat.
With the fight in the balance in round 3, Romero sealed the deal by catching a ducking Weidman with a knee to the face and then immediately flipping over the cage in celebration.
Romero is now expected to be given a shot at Michael Bisping for the middleweight title.
Miesha Tate Retires After Losing to Raquel Pennington
Tate was the women’s bantamweight champ for only four months, losing by rear naked choke to Amanda Nunes in July after having taken the title from Holly Holm. The loss cost her a lucrative high-profile fight with Ronda Rousey.
Instead she got a date with Pennington tonight. A chance to get back to the top ended up as a career-ending loss; Tate announced her retirement after the fight.
Tate, who entered the ring to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” was always one of the women’s game’s best wrestlers. She used those skills for a takedown in the latter part of the first round. But the second and third rounds were largely a static war of attrition fought against the cage.
Neither fighter seemed to be able to establish her will over the contest, but Pennington, who was once coached by Tate on the reality show “The Ultimate Fighter,” did enough to win by unanimous decision.
A Legend Gets the Garden Crowd Cheering
No one is tougher than Frankie Edgar, the former champion who is legendary for absorbing beatings, and dishing them out as well. He has spent six hours in total in the Octagon, a record. In 26 fights, dating to 2005, he has never lost except by decision.
His opponent tonight was Jeremy Stephens, a knockout artist who has fought many of the top names in the featherweight division.
In the first round, Edgar got Stephens against the cage, but couldn’t land any decisive blows. In the second, Stephens landed a flying kick that would have finished most mortal men, but not Edgar, who jumped up seemingly none the worse for wear and responded with a big takedown in the final minute that got the crowd chanting “Frankie, Frankie.”
A couple more takedowns in the third sealed the unanimous victory for Edgar.
And the Show Begins
The early fights on a U.F.C. card can be sleepy affairs, but for this first appearance at Madison Square Garden, quite a few talents and big names were brought out.
Perhaps the most notable is Khabib Nurmagomedov, the next big thing of mixed martial arts, who brought a 23-0 lifetime record into his bout with Michael Johnson.
The Russian Nurmagomedov took a few early shots from the puncher Johnson, but once he performed his specialty, the takedown, he brutally schooled Johnson with “ground and pound” for the rest of the round. The second round was more of the same, as was the third, and Nurmagomedov eventually got a battered and exhausted Johnson to submit to the “kimura,” a wrist lock.
Nurmagomedov staked a claim to a title shot against the Conor McGregor-Eddie Alvarez winner and will be a formidable opponent for either.
In other bouts, Tim Boetsch, 35, who had lost four of his last six fights, rejuvenated his career with a first-round knockout of Rafael Natal.
The up-and-coming Vicente Luque knocked down Belal Muhammad just over a minute into the first round, then quickly finished him off on the mat. And in a battle of veterans, Jim Miller decisioned Thiago Alves.
The Octagon Makes Its Debut in New York
The scantily clad “ring girls,” the stentorian announcer Bruce Buffer, and most importantly, the iconic eight-sided cage-surrounded ring, the Octagon, were in place, as they are several times a month all over the country, and the world. But tonight for the first time they were in New York City, where mixed martial arts is newly legalized, adding an extra frisson of excitement. Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden, and stars like Patrick Ewing and Wayne Gretzky regularly electrified the home fans. But the Garden has never seen anything quite like the spectacle of the U.F.C.
In the opening bout, Liz Carmouche took down the Hoboken bartender Katlyn Chookagian in a split decision.
Continue reading the main story