Mcgregor, Alvarez, UFC 205 and Mind Games

Just like every other sports blogger, I tuned into the UFC Fightpass app at midnight last night to watch Conor McGregor and then have the blog written for me based on his performance. Again, he didn’t disappoint, but this time we could see the effect on the whole press conference, his opponent and the other fighters on stage.

Starting with the event itself. The Irish where in full swing, supporting the King of Ireland. Loud as only the Irish are in a sporting arena and it got under the skin of 2 champions that where on stage.

Tyrone Woodley, welterweight champion and the man who vanquished the beast of the UFC in Robbie Lawler, was rattled by the Irish. Eddie Alvarez, the man who beat the unbeatable Dos Anjos was rattled by the Irish and the ringmaster was in the centre of it all.

Going straight to Conor. He was in fine form. It is only when he is sitting amongst other champions in the UFC that you truly appreciate the charisma, the verbal skill and the overall presentation that he has. He is the perfect mix of Dublin, pro wrestler and fighter. He has kept the quick wit of his home town, added some character taken from the older school of professional wrestling and added that the being a legitimate great in the sport of fighting. The first 2 can be dismissed by opponents or people who do not like him, but the latter is undeniable. And that is the part that frightens his opponents.

The press conference and Alvarez reactions reminded me of what Frank Shamrock said about fighting Nick Diaz (more on the elder Diaz later). He said that he couldn’t believe that Nick was talking so much trash (not using the bad word here) to him that it got into his head. Alvarez was exactly the same. He has never been in this position before. Main event on the biggest card in MMA history is brand new ground for him. He has never been talked to the way McGregor is talking to him. It will take some getting used to. You could see him being rattled at different points.

Now onto the fight itself.

People are talking about Alvarez gas tank, his wrestling and his strong boxing. Let’s take these one at a time. The gas tank? Where is this gas tank? Alvarez has only been 5 rounds twice. He has lost 1 of those fights. There is zero evidence of a gas tank being present. There is no evidence of Alvarez having a chin capable of taking big shots. He has never been in there wilting under pressure and come back. Conor has a chin; he has taken big shots from the biggest punchers and walked forward. He has been put under serious pressure, wilted and come back. He has just gone through 5 hard rounds against Nate. Gas tank goes to McGregor.

The wrestling edge does go to Alvarez. He has a pedigree. But is he a better wrestler than Chad Mendes? No! Yes he is bigger, but so is Conor. If Alvarez gets Conor to the ground, what will he do aside from trying to hold him there? Nothing. He has a weak submission game, so he is looking for ground and pound, a one trick pony.

The boxing is interesting. Both fighters are very good strikers. Alvarez has a 54% KO rate. Average at best. No 1 punch knockout power. McGregor has dynamite in hands, superior movement and an 85% KO rate. This is above average. The level of opponents has been higher for Conor too. Alvarez beat Dos Anjos, but USADA is now in charge. That explains that.

There are people making Alvarez the favourite. For the reasons outlined above I just don’t understand it. He has no clear advantage in any area and his mind is in the process of being battered by McGregor. But this is all dependant on Conor showing up in top shape, trained well, injury free, focused and ready to implement a game plan.

If he does, he will have 2 belts and will be an even bigger pain for the UFC.

I’ll finish with a joke: Did you hear that McGregor is now officially known by the medical industry in Brazil as a form of contraception? Every time a Brazilian signs to fight him, they pull out.

Leinster: A journey to the League title

We are 2 weeks into the new Guinness pro 12 season and it has already been a massively different season for Leinster over the last 3 seasons.

Starting with an expected opening win against Treviso in the RDS. The second week was going to be the first big marker of the season, taking on the Glasgow Warriors away in Scotland. Glasgow have been consistent for years and this was the year I had picked them to make the semi-finals of the league. And if you can reach the semi then you can reach the final. They had done some really good things, recruited well and have a great coach. This was their year. They are on the ascent whereas Leinster have been staying consistently inconsistent for the last few years. About as consistent and my ability to take the bins out, that being not very.

The opening game this year was strong for Leinster. The attack looked to be much improved, which was the big complaint last year. The blue wall of defence has been the one thing to improve recently and it was still there. But it was Treviso, and with all due respect to them, the victory should never have been in question and it never was.

And so the team jumped on a plain to Glasgow. The new pitch the nice Scotstoun Stadium waited. Leinster came out of the blocks. Playing like the champions of previous times. It was a confident, strong and inventive display from a team who appeared scared to do this over recent times. The players where trusted to perform and they did that. Glasgow where scared, but never out. Tommy Seymour kept them in relative touching distance, but Leinster moved into a 10 point lead with 50 minutes gone. Game plan was working, every play worked and those that didn’t meant the improvisation from the team was called into play and it worked. Joey Carbery and Luke McGrath played with confidence and skill which is fantastic to see.  Rob Kearney showed form that he hadn’t shown in years and the team itself was confident.

And then Glasgow started scratching their way back in. they knew they had a player in Seymour who could cut Leinster to shreds. He has been epic in the opening 2 games for Glasgow. 6 tries in 2 games shows a player who is on form and confident of his ability to beat any player. He led the team back into the game and into the lead. He Scored 4 tries in the game and stretched out the lead to the final score of 33-25 to the home side.

That score line is not all doom and gloom. There was an intercept pass thrown by Carbery, there was a few missed tackled by Mike McCarthy and the team did appear to get tired towards the end. This early in the season that is somewhat expected. The preseason is one thing, game time and game intensity is completely another.  Glasgow came back with intensity from the 10 point deficit and the tank was just empty for Leinster. This is an early season issue that all teams run into and won’t happen at the business end.

Again, the attack play was a step up. It was inventive and creative. Great to watch and it yielded results. Which is the point. There is no point in flashy rugby if no one scores. The defence was good, the interception and missed tackle aside. These where mistakes that can be learnt from. The new players stepped up against a full strength Glasgow and where not left wanting.

To me, this is the final of the league in game 2 of the season. By the time we get to the Aviva for the final, the Glasgow team will have stepped up to keep up with their in form Tommy Seymour and Leinster will have all the players back and playing in a style that has won championships in the past.

Hugely positive for this season and welcome Stuart Lancaster.

As usual @nkeegan for more

UFC 203, Punk and big punchers

Another week and another massive MMA weekend lays ahead of us.

I’ll be honest; I am getting burnt out with the big shows one after another. It is a real first world problem isn’t it?

This weekend we get to see Stipe Miocic defend again ‘the Reem’ Alistair Overeem. Along with seeing CM Punk take on Mickey Gall. 1 fight is legitimate, interesting and will produce the goods. And the other is a freak show fight that was booked during a downturn.

Starting with the main event. I really like Miocic. He is an animal, fierce competitor and could be in line to challenge Cain Velasquez as the scariest man in the UFC. Overeem on the other hand has the most accolades in terms for fighting sports, but most of those where won while on a heavy diet of ‘horse meat’. Most of you know what I mean when I say ‘horse meat’. Attempts at humour aside, this will be fantastic. Miocic is fierce on his feet, great on the ground and has decent take down defence. Overeem on the other hand probably won’t attempt a take down between now and the time he passes on. It is all about the striking with these two this weekend. Who connects with the first shot and who hits the last punch? For me I think Overeem hits and connects first, but Miocic withstands the barrage and puts Overeem to the sword, moving on the fighting the fearsome Velasquez next. If I was in this weekend’s main event, I would hope for a draw so no one has to fight Cain. Miocic wins by stoppage.

And then we get on to the emotional main event. When I mentioned CM Punk above, you had a reaction. You either said ‘fair play to him, trying to be a fighter’ or you said ‘he doesn’t deserve it, he’s a fake wrestler’. You are all correct. Using logic, he doesn’t deserve to be in the UFC when there are fighters all around the world who are more deserving of that opportunity. But also, fair play to him for stepping up and doing it. A lot of us (and you reading) who say ‘I could do that’ never get off the couch and actually try. So for Punk to do this it takes a huge amount of guts. It is not for money, he is a multi-millionaire who doesn’t have to leave the house ever again. He wants a challenge and he will certainly get it this weekend. That is a great example to set for people. It is not Punks fault that UFC called him and offered him a contract during a time when they were suffering from massive injuries and limited main event fights.

Mickey Gall on the other hand knows what is ahead of him. He is legit. He is a silky mixed martial artist very young in his career. He performed on the regional circuit and was unbeaten. He looks to be a far better athlete and a far better fighter in all footage we have seen.

The logical conclusion is that Gall wins inside 2 rounds. But you just never know. Will the bright lights and the pressure get to him?

Either way, it is another exciting weekend for MMA fans.

On a side note, I got notice of my next fight in November so I will be blogging about that in future.

 

@nkeegan as usual

Business, Sport and Leinster v Wales (on Twitter)

The plan for this week was to go over the opening weekend of the Guinness Pro 12. To review each of the Irish provinces performance and see if it indicates anything for how the season is to go.

And then Twitter raised its head, a bit of banter between all of Wales and your humble sports correspondent ensued and continued for far too long.

It all started with a Welsh supporter complaining about people complaining about lack of attendance at their club games. I replied with, if it is worth seeing then people will attend. This set of a sometimes heated debate where names were thrown but that’s for another day.

My point of view is that the team itself is the nucleus of improved budgets etc. Money follows attendance which would improve based on what is on the pitch. My Welsh tweeters where saying that it is budget first and then the results will follow. I understand that the IRFU  funding for the clubs is fairly healthy and for the most part the results have followed. But, with nothing to scream about on the pitch, there isn’t much change of sponsorship.

Taking Leinster as the example, whilst generously funded, the attendance wasn’t always at RDS capacity range. Through a mixture of a style of rugby along with results it lead to a full stadium for the most of the last decade. There has been a mixture of academy players all the way up to Rocky Elsom and the great Brad Thorn in the blue jersey over the years. The latter being pointed out as a budget winning the cup argument.

2 things to say to that. If Brad Thorn is available, would you not want him in your team? If Thorn went to Cardiff instead of Leinster it would not be an argument.

Yes funding is important, but it’s not the whole story.

I only compare Welsh rugby to Leinster because I am a blue and I was talking to a Welsh reporter from Wales online. He pointed to Ospreys as his key example. They had money and players along with results and near full stadiums. This is correct, but they also played exciting rugby that people enjoyed watching. No Welsh club team has tried this. I would suggest if you put academy players in the Ospreys team playing that way, there would still be people in the stadium watching.

It is all about what happens on the pitch.

Yes funding is important, but it’s not the whole story.

If you were a business, would you get involved with a team that attracts 300 people to a home game? Absolutely not and this is where I feel the pitch is where the business is. Leinster became consistent, which lead to further endorsements. The IRFU funding remained fairly constant but the marketing budget increased through sponsorship and the word got out that something special was happening on the pitch when the team played. This lead to full stadia and a travelling support that rivals any in the world. Without the rugby on the pitch none of that happens.

In closing, I feel you need both to succeed but you can’t have sponsorship money, if you do not have anything worth sponsoring.

Yes funding is important, but it’s not the whole story.

As usual @nkeegan for debate, discussion and derision.