Nineteen years after mixed martial arts was banned in New York, the UFC is finally set to make its long-anticipated debut in Manhattan.
Arguably the biggest fight card in MMA history, UFC 205, which is slated for November 12 (10 P.M. EST, Pay Per View), is the promotion's first event at Madison Square Garden. And for the monumental event, the UFC has booked its biggest star, featherweight champion Conor McGregor, who will attempt to become the first fighter in the 23-year history of the UFC to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight classes.
Lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez will aim to send McGregor back down to 145 pounds, as he attempts to defend the belt he won in July.
In less than four years, McGregor (20-3 MMA, 8-1 UFC) has become the most popular, and controversial, figure in MMA. And while he claimed the featherweight strap at UFC 194 last December, he's yet to defend the title, opting for a pair of welterweight contests against Nate Diaz.
Winning his UFC 202 rematch against Diaz via majority decision, McGregor also set the promotion's pay per view record.
An MMA veteran and champion in multiple organizations, Alvarez (28-4 MMA, 3-1 UFC) claimed the lightweight title at UFC Fight Night 90, dismantling heavy favorite Rafael dos Anjos via first-round TKO. Alvarez is hoping his strategy centered around explosive boxing and wrestling will be enough to slow McGregor.
The Irish MMA star doesn't seem to think Alvarez has the tools to finish the fight.
Having only lost once in his UFC career, McGregor has defied the odds, implementing unorthodox movement and flashy kicks to complement his notorious rockback left hook. McGregor, a southpaw, has routinely found a home for his left hand, knocking out six opponents inside the Octagon. Alvarez's game relies on pressure and conditioning, facets that are likely to play into McGregor's favor.
Rare is the occasion when a McGregor premonition has not come true. And at UFC 205, the Dublin native will likely fulfill his prophecy of becoming a two-division champion, stopping an overly aggressive Alvarez via punches in the second round.
Co-main event: Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson
Fighting for the UFC welterweight title, champion Tyron Woodley welcomes challenger Stephen Thompson to the Octagon.
An elite wrestler with unparalleled speed and athleticism, Woodley (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) won the title in July, knocking out long-time champion Robbie Lawler in the first round. Thompson (13-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC), a brilliant striker from a karate background, has earned his way into title contention on the heels of seven straight wins inside the Octagon.
Recording four first-round knockouts during his UFC tenure, Woodley has the power to put anyone in his division to sleep with his right hand. The taller and longer Thompson relies on space and timing to implement his precise attack of spinning hook kicks.
Considered an underdog heading into his first title defense, Woodley will pressure Thompson against the cage and look to find a home for his overhand right. And if he runs out of real-estate, Woodley can always implement his takedown game.
If Thompson can keep his distance, he always has a chance. His striking is considered some of the best in mixed martial arts, and has dismantled former champions and contenders alike.
But Woodley's speed, strength, and power will be too much, as he lands big punches and finishes Thompson in the first.
Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
An all-Polish affair kicks off a run of three title fights atop the UFC 205 card, as incumbent champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk takes on fellow undefeated fighter Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Dominant on the feet, Jędrzejczyk (12-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC) was last seen in action at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale in July, putting on a technical masterclass with her crisp boxing and Muay Thai.
Kowalkiewicz (10-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC), who also comes from a kickboxing background, worked her way to a title shot on the heels of three consecutive decision wins.
Coming out patient, Jędrzejczyk will take her time to establish range. And while Kowalkiewicz will be able to hang with Jędrzejczyk in the early rounds, the champion will show her true form in the latter frames, when she will technically break Kowalkiewicz down.
Look for Jędrzejczyk to take this bout by fourth-round TKO and successfully defend her title for the fourth time.
Chris Weidman vs. Yoel Romero
A former champion and New York native, Chris Weidman will, for the first time, fight on home turf. A decorated wrestler and grappler, Weidman (13-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) was last seen in action at UFC 194, when he lost his title to another former champion, Luke Rockhold. It is Weidman's only loss as a professional mixed martial artist.
Yoel Romero also last fought at UFC 194, and returns to the Octagon following a six-month suspension after failing an out of competition drug test (the negative results were determined to be due to a tainted supplement according to third-party agency USADA). An Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, Romero (11-1 MMA, 7-0 UFC) has never lost during his UFC tenure, and continues to improve.
An important fight in the middleweight division, this contest will likely determine the next contender to challenge Michael Bisping for the title, so there's a very strong likelihood that both fighters will come out cautious.
And while Romero is as dangerous an opponent as any Weidman has ever faced, the New Yorker will avoid the takedown and find a home for his strikes en route to a decision win.
Donald Cerrone vs. Kelvin Gatelum
With more wins inside the Octagon than any other fighter on the UFC 205 card, Donald Cerrone, the "Cowboy," looks to continue his impressive run at welterweight after challenging for the lightweight belt last December.
Undefeated at 170 pounds, Cerrone (31-7 MMA, 18-4 UFC), the UFC's sixth-ranked welterweight, has a diverse and impressive kickboxing attack, along with a sophisticated and slick submission game. His opponent, Kelvin Gastelum (12-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) is a pressure fighter who uses a relentless attack to batter adversaries with his left hand while threatening the takedown.
Built much like Cerrone's UFC 202 opponent Rick Story, Gastelum, who last competed at UFC 200, represents the biggest challenge Cerrone has faced at welterweight. And while Cerrone easily handled Story in August, Gastelum will be too much, grinding out the decision win.
Miesha Tate vs. Raquel Pennigton
Kicking off the UFC 205 main card are a pair of bantamweights. Former champion Miesha Tate will look to return to the win column after losing her title at UFC 200. Eighth-ranked Raquel Pennington will look to record the biggest win of her career.
Tate (18-6 MMA, 5-3 UFC) is one of the most experienced fighters in the WMMA game, having faced elite competition like Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, and Cat Zingano. A wrestler with punching power Tate also has a crafty submission game, much like Pennington (8-5 MMA, 5-2 UFC).
And while it is often difficult to determine how a former champion will return after dropping the belt, Tate has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to bounce back following tough losses.
Look for Miesha Tate to take the decision on account of her pressure, wrestling, and dirty boxing in the clinch.
Frankie Edgar vs. Jeremy Stephens
The featured prelim on the Fox Sports 1 undercard (8 P.M. EST, FS1), former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar takes on heavy handed Jeremy Stephens in a featherweight affair.
Edgar (20-5-1 MMA, 14-5-1 UFC), a New Jersey native, will make the trip across the Hudson River for the first time to compete for the UFC. It will be his first fight since a failed bid to capture the interim featherweight belt at UFC 200. Stephens (25-12 MMA, 12-11 MMA), the UFC's seventh-ranked 145-pounder, is known for his vicious knockout prowess and aggression.
A battle of Edgar's fluid motion and Stephens' raw power, this bout will resemble a bullfight, with Edgar playing the part of matador, and Stephens the raging bull.
And while Stephens has the ability to knockout anyone in his division (not only with his fists, but also with his knees, as evidenced by his brilliant UFC 189 win over Dennis Bermudez), Edgar will be too fast and too elusive on fight night.
Frankie Edgar scores the decision victory.
Jim Miller vs. Thiago Alves
It's rare for a matchup so low on a fight card to feature such seasoned veterans, but the UFC Fight Pass (6:30 P.M. EST) bout between Jim Miller and Thiago Alves pits two of the UFC's most experienced competitors against one another.
With 44 Octagon appearances between them, Miller (27-8 MMA, 16-7 UFC, includes 1 No Contest) and Alves (21-10 MMA, 13-7 UFC) represent the most decorated submission and knockout artists on the card, respectively. The pair are also the only holdovers from the monumental UFC 100 card in 2009.
Looking for his third win in a row, Miller, the owner of seven UFC submissions, will set up his takedown attempts with striking combinations. Alves, who is making his lightweight debut, will attempt to add to his UFC knockout total of eight. It's unclear how the drastic weight cut will affect the Florida-based Brazilian.
Alves is alway dangerous early on. His kicking attack is tremendous, and he's put far bigger men than Miller to sleep. Miller will need to weather the early onslaught and drag Alves into the deep waters.
Look for Jim Miller to take the decision.