Saturday 10 December 2016

History! Conor McGregor wins to become the UFC's first dual-weight champion

JOE CALLAGHAN reports from Madison Square Garden

Published 13/11/2016 | 06:32

Conor McGregor (blue gloves) celebrates with his two championship belts after defeating Eddie Alvarez (red gloves) in their lightweight title bout during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Conor McGregor (blue gloves) celebrates with his two championship belts after defeating Eddie Alvarez (red gloves) in their lightweight title bout during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Conor McGregor (blue gloves) celebrates after defeating Eddie Alvarez (red gloves) in their lightweight title bout during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Conor McGregor (blue gloves) fights Eddie Alvarez (red gloves) in their lightweight title bout during UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Conor McGregor made his history in New York

HISTORY...with his hands behind his back.

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Conor McGregor became lightweight champion of the UFC last night with a sensational exhibition of power and precision that tore Eddie Alvarez to pieces in the first ever fight card in the Empire State.

In doing so, the Dubliner became the first fighter to ever hold two titles simultaneously and delivered another unforgettable night on his incredible journey to the sporting mainstream. Count New York as the latest conquered city for the Notorious one.

The only surprise was that it took all of eight minutes for McGregor to climb to a new summit. So dominant was he, that, having dropped Alvarez three times in the opening round, he felt comfortable enough in the second round to fight with his hands behind his back. It really was that easy.

His dream achieved, the 28-year-old briefly fumed as UFC employees, who had strapped lightweight gold around his waist, delayed in bringing his featherweight title into the ring too.

"Where the f*** is my second belt?" he said as the Irish and Irish-ish hordes packed into the home of New York sport rattled the rafters. "$4.2 billion this company sold for...cheap f***ers. They're trying to take that belt off me already."

He had few words of consolation for Alvarez, torn apart on the biggest stage he had known.

"Eddie's a warrior but he shouldn’t be in there with me. I am a different level. Now, I celebrate as champion of two divisions,” McGregor said, his second title arriving in the octagon. "But they're not on my level."

"It has never been done before. Everything I have dreamed is a reality.

"I have spent a lot time of time slating everyone in the company. I have ridiculed the entire roster and I just want to say from the bottom, I want to take this opportunity to apologise...to absolutely nobody!"

It had taken two decades and more for this night to get here. New York was the last state in the whole of North America to keep its door closed to the self-anointed fastest growing sport in the world. Turns out absence had made the hearts - and the wallets - grow fonder.

Even before a handful of extra tickets hit the market on Saturday, UFC 205 had already shattered the record for the most valuable sporting night held at this iconic hall, ticket revenue soaring towards the $18 million mark. The previous record had stood since the last century when heavyweights Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield packed the place out. UFC chiefs were also confident that pay preview records were likely to tumble on this first New York night. Call it the McGregor effect.

Alvarez was to find out the physical effects of the sport's leading man within mere seconds once he had joined McGregor in the octagon, decibels levels soaring inside the arena.

It took all of a minute for Alvarez to be sent sprawling to the canvass. McGregor cracked him with a trademark left and the fist that had cleared out much of the featherweight division clearly packed as much ferocity ten pounds up the ladder.

The champion would be down twice more before the clock hit three minutes. Alvarez looked for answers but couldn't remember the question. He tried takedowns; they failed. He tried to get close' he got hurt. He tried to back off; he still got hurt.

In truth he was lucky to last the round. He wouldn't last much longer. McGregor wobbled Alvarez again early in the second. The Philadelphia veteran was getting not burned but torched when he came toward the flame. Then it was over.

In a four-punch flurry, lead left, then right, another killer left and a final right. Referee John McCarthy had seen enough. The green hordes were sent into raptures. The UFC had wanted their New York debut to be unforgettable. McGregor again delivered.

The headliners had given the night its crescendo but there had been plenty of high and some low notes before. Joanna Jedrzejczyk again underlined her status as one of the most dominant fighters in the sport with a stirring title defence against Polish compatriot Karolina Kowalkiewicz. The strawweight champion survived a real scare after being rocked with a right hand in the fourth round to regain control and take a unanimous decision.

The night's other title fight ended in brief confusion when, after a sensational contest, welterweight champion Tyron Woodley held on to his title after a majority draw with Steven Wonderboy Thompson. MC Bruce Buffer mistakenly initially called the 47-47 47-47 48-46 scorecards as a split decision victory for Woodley. The slip made little difference in the grand scheme of things but after ensured a crowd that had been enlivened by a wonderfully absorbing fourth round were at fever pitch for McGregor's moment.

What a moment it was, as memorable as anything that had come before. As he finally got his hands on his second belt he climbed atop the octagon. His life's work? Complete. And yet it still feels as though he's only getting started.

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