Sunday 20 August 2017

Conor McGregor explains why he put his hands behind his back during win over Eddie Alvarez

McGregor taunting his opponent by fighting with his hands behind his back. Photo: AP Photo/Julio Cortez
McGregor taunting his opponent by fighting with his hands behind his back. Photo: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Joe Callaghan in New York

The masses had taken over Seventh Ave. For a time, the NYPD didn't seem like they knew quite what to do with the green swell.

Protests aimed at another bombastic self-promoter had snarled New York City traffic on numerous occasions since the city had been left dumbfounded by the rest of the country's decision-making on election day.

McGregor celebrating with his featherweight and lightweight belts. Photo by Adam Hunger/Sportsfile
McGregor celebrating with his featherweight and lightweight belts. Photo by Adam Hunger/Sportsfile

And as Saturday night's long journey into Sunday morning ended in triumph, Irish and not-so Irish armies poured out of Madison Square Garden and staged an impromptu lawn party in honour of their own idol, blocking off yellow cabs on the busiest night of the week.

A 20-foot Tricolour was passed across the heads of the crowd. At various points shoes came off and then on again for one boy in green in particular.

Conor McGregor had claimed gold inside the storied sporting hall moments earlier, electrifying the biggest-spending crowd in UFC history.

Over 20,000 patrons had packed into the place for the first MMA card in the Empire State, shattering MSG's gate record in the process, with ticket sales hitting almost $18m - around $900 a head.

Conor McGregor goes on the attack againts Eddie Alvarez. Photo credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Conor McGregor goes on the attack againts Eddie Alvarez. Photo credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

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In a stacked night of high-calibre fights, they had got a whole lot of bang for their bucks. Two championship titles had been retained in stirring curtain-raisers. But it was left to the sport's leading man to mark MMA's much-delayed entry into the capital of the world as only he could.

History, immortality, it was all on the line in the final act of UFC 205, the hype machine had told us. Pity Eddie Alvarez never got the message.

McGregor brought his "life's work" to completion by hardly breaking sweat under the Garden's spotlight, stripping Alvarez's lightweight title from him with such utter ease that it made a mockery of expectations of anything resembling a contest.

"I saw it so clearly, so consistently until it's here in reality," said McGregor afterwards, having strode into the post-fight press conference with lightweight gold over one shoulder and featherweight over the other.

"I've been saying this a long time. I'm very confident of my abilities and what I'm predicting I'm going to do. I back it up with work ethic, hours upon hours of time, dedication.

"I never slip. I never take a second off this game. I'm very satisfied, very grateful, very happy. But I'm not surprised."

Is immortality really supposed to be so easy? Alvarez's utter ineptitude will do little to quieten those on the other side of the Notorious debate, who believe he has been given much too much of an easy ride by an organisation keen to maximise one of the most marketable assets in modern sport.

Yet, Alvarez was a champion with a champion's credentials. He'd appeared composed, focused throughout the build-up, even when McGregor resorted to some of his more tiresome sales techniques.

There was none of that composure once the rivals were left alone inside the octagon. Alvarez panicked early and often and walked into barrages that he simply couldn't handle.

McGregor's precision and power had wiped out a raft of featherweights. If this is what his left hand can do a further 10 pounds up the ladder, this is all in danger of becoming a bit too, well, routine.

That's to take nothing away from McGregor who delivered on every single promise, knocking down Alvarez three times in the opening round before wrapping it up after the first interval. He even took a moment to quite literally fight with his hands behind his back in the second stanza before putting Alvarez out of his misery with a punishing four-punch salvo.

"My right hand was banged up from the Diaz fight," he said, referencing the five-round war in August that couldn't have been more of a contrast to this walk in the Garden.

"That's why I had the habit of putting my hand behind my back. I was doing it when I was sparring cause sometimes I'd be sparring and I'd jar it or I'd hit it."

To put it another way, McGregor's biggest concern in this dismantling of a champion was hurting his fists in the process.

"Eddie is a warrior," he said afterwards in spite of so little supporting evidence on this night. "But they're not on my level. You've got to have the attributes to defeat me."

The crowds that poured out into the New York night may have to wait for their next instalment. Impending fatherhood and an eagerness to renegotiate his place in the UFC landscape - with a significant promotion in the process - are likely to spark a sabbatical for McGregor, who has operated at a breakneck speed to this point.

"They've got to come talk to me now because no one has come talk to me since the sale has happened," he said of the new regime who took over the UFC in a $4 billion deal this summer, hoping for many more record-breaking nights like this.

"I mean who owns the company now? People have shares in the company now, celebrities. Conan O'Brien owns the UFC now, so where's my share? Where's my equity? I'm the one who's bringing this.

"I have both belts, a chunk of money, I've got a little family on the way. You want me to stick around, to keep doing what I'm doing, let's talk. But I want ownership now. I want equal share. I want what I deserve and what I've earned."

Immortality, irrespective of how easily it's achieved, would seem to make for a good negotiating chip.

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