In a year that already has proved to be massive for the UFC, with one major card after another, UFC 205 on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York looks to be the biggest and most important of them all. In honor of such a marquee event, ESPN.com is providing dedicated previews to all 13 bouts on the card, breaking down what's at stake and projecting who will win, along with quotes and statistics for each fighter.
Lightweight championship: Eddie Alvarez (28-4) vs. Conor McGregor (20-3)
Odds as of Nov. 11: Alvarez +120; McGregor -140
Dana White's thoughts
"What Conor McGregor is trying to accomplish, winning two titles within a year of each other, and having fought at 170 pounds in between? It's crazy.
That's what I love about Conor. Most fighters, when they get out of the Octagon, they don't even want to f---ing talk about fighting again. They want time off. They want this and that. That kid limped out of the Octagon after his last fight against Nate Diaz [in August] and said, 'I want to be on that New York card.' I've never seen anything like it. The closest thing we've ever had to that was [former light heavyweight champion] Chuck Liddell.
When Conor said that, I said, 'Dude, you just came off an absolute five-round war. I'm worried about the leg you are limping on.' He said, 'I know my body better than you know my body. Don't worry about my leg. Let my leg be the last thing you're worried about.' I mean, what are you gonna do? That's f---ing awesome.
The Diaz fight never made sense, especially the second one. You can only have so many of those wars in your career -- at your own weight class, let alone at 170 -- but that's what makes Conor special.
A lot of people have talked about Conor and his wrestling abilities, his ground game. Eddie Alvarez is a very good wrestler, and he has got serious punching power. If Conor beats Eddie, I think the whole, 'Conor can't fight wrestlers' thing needs to end.
I think Alvarez is going to approach this fight the same way he approached his fight against Anthony Pettis. Conor is going to have to deal with that pressure from a very well-rounded fighter."
What's at stake?
The UFC is under new ownership, but the sport belongs to McGregor.
If there were a record for breaking records, McGregor would hold it.
His 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo last December is the fastest finish in UFC title fight history. A $3 million disclosed purse at UFC 202 in August is the richest of all time. According to White, UFC 205 will break Madison Square Garden's record gate of $13.5 million, set in 1999 by a heavyweight boxing unification match between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield. That would mean it would also break the UFC's all-time gate record at UFC 129 in 2011.
And, of course, should McGregor win on Nov. 12, he would become the first fighter in UFC history to hold two titles simultaneously.
"Potential two-weight champion," McGregor said. "Superfight. Champion versus champion. First time a champion has gone up. These are historic moments."
McGregor's version of history conveniently omits BJ Penn, who attempted to hold two belts simultaneously in 2009. Penn was the lightweight champion when he moved up in weight to challenge Georges St-Pierre at UFC 94, but Penn lost via TKO.
Still, McGregor's point is well taken. Although it might not be the first time two UFC champions have squared off, the circumstances are truly historic. For one, this will mark McGregor's third consecutive appearance without defending his 145-pound championship -- which has rubbed many fighters the wrong way and, at times, appeared to have put him at odds with the UFC itself.
White has already stated, very clearly, that if McGregor wins, he will immediately have to vacate one of his titles. Whether McGregor truly intends to challenge the promotion on that remains to be seen, but publicly, he has suggested he will.
"Vacate? I don't know, we'll see about that," McGregor said. "I mean, why not defend them both? I fight every week. I only fought last week. I can defend them both."
The Irish superstar is teasing a big announcement immediately after Saturday's title fight. His relationship with the UFC and his attempts to re-write history are interesting -- next year may somehow prove to be even more intriguing.
After McGregor, Alvarez plans to "make UFC great again."
After winning the UFC lightweight championship in July, Alvarez wanted an easy fight. He's not even shy about saying so.
"I came into the UFC [after vacating the Bellator MMA title], and they put me against every single killer in the division," Alvarez said. "I didn't know why. I thought it was because I was a foreign champion, from a foreign promotion. But I thought they put me against the murderer's row and I survived. I won the world title.
"I wasn't kidding to the media when I said I thought this style [of] matchup was a good style matchup for me. I thought it would be a lot easier fight than what they've been feeding me. On top of that, financially it was the best decision. So, I was killing two birds with one stone. I was getting an easier fight, as well as getting more money. So, it was a no-brainer on my end."
The Philadelphia native says once he has enjoyed this "break" of fighting McGregor, his focus will turn back to the real contenders of the division -- something he hinted might be lacking in the current UFC landscape.
"I will go down as the best lightweight in history," Alvarez said. "It will start with him, but then I'll make UFC great again. I'll continue to fight the No. 1 guys who belong here.
"I sincerely felt I deserved a break, and this will be my break. And then we'll get back to some real s---. Fighting the No. 1 contenders who fight the best guys and earn their way to a title, not guys with funny accents who can sell tickets."
Alvarez: 28-4 record (3-1 UFC); none of the previous seven lightweight champions lost in their first title defense
Alvarez: 15 of 28 wins by knockout
McGregor: 20-3 record (8-1 UFC); seeking to become third man to win UFC titles in two divisions (Randy Couture, Penn)
McGregor: 17 of 20 wins by knockout (six in UFC, tied for most since 2013)
McGregor early. Alvarez late.
That grossly oversimplifies things -- and it's more of a guideline than a rule -- but there's truth in it. McGregor is one of the most dangerous first-round fighters since ... perhaps ever. Alvarez is perseverant, and his wrestling could take over late.
Alvarez will have to persevere through a dangerous opening 10 minutes, though. There's really nowhere to hide from McGregor on the feet, and Alvarez won't have the reach advantage Nate Diaz enjoyed. That means Alvarez's game plan will likely consist of going forward -- duplicating McGregor's pressure and forcing him to be the one who steps back. Alvarez is a smart, determined grappler along the fence, and he has shut down dangerous strikers before.
So many have doubted McGregor's ability to handle a well-conditioned grappler. The inevitable matchup has been given its own name: "The wrestler question." This should get answered one way or another at UFC 205.
Prediction: McGregor by first-round KO.