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There was a lot of pressure on the Ultimate Fighting Championship to deliver with its UFC 205 lineup on Nov. 12. New York has long been the White Whale for the UFC and especially for executive Marc Ratner, leaving high standards for the first card at Madison Square Garden. The deep cards for UFC 194 and UFC 200 have further elevated fan expectations for the UFC’s top events. What would be a strong card for an average UFC pay-per-view could have been taken as a disappointment for UFC 205.
Making matters trickier for the UFC was that there was only one realistic path to a fully satisfying card, and that road went through Conor McGregor. There were only three “A” options for the UFC 205 main event: McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Georges St. Pierre. Rousey wanted more time before her return, while St. Pierre was targeting Toronto and seeking the lofty contract that he deserves in his own right. That left McGregor, who had all the leverage in the world and knew it.
McGregor unquestionably drove a hard bargain. At the UFC 205 press conference, he was actively ridiculing fighters for fulfilling previously negotiated contracts rather than renegotiating better deals. His continued emphasis on money is raising salaries for other fighters -- something about which they should be appreciative but a trend about which the UFC is surely not ecstatic. Fighters are learning to fully capitalize on their leverage when they have it. McGregor is also being allowed to retain his UFC featherweight title, this after being told he wouldn’t be able to do so if he took a third consecutive fight in another division without having defended the 145-pound crown. It’s not remotely fair to the rest of the featherweight division and represents a glaring double standard, but it was another sacrifice made to put together the best possible card for UFC 205.
Putting together a glittering UFC 205 card wasn’t easy, but the UFC made the sacrifices and got that accomplished. Barring injury, it looks to be the strongest card in UFC history, surpassing UFC 100 and UFC 200. It has a top-shelf main event, three solid title fights and goes nine deep with strongly compelling bouts. The depth of the card is particularly encouraging. In recent years, the UFC has gotten away from the deep cards it once presented when it didn’t run so many TV fight cards that needed decent main and co-main events. UFC 200 had that type of depth, but it could have been a one-off occasion. The UFC 205 card suggests that it may become a trend to go deeper than five or six strong bouts for the biggest cards. That approach may not mean a lot to casual fans, but it’s a well-earned treat for the hardcore fight fans that drive the sport’s popularity through thick and thin.
The Eddie Alvarez-McGregor main event has all the elements you want in a big fight. It has the champion of one division against the champion of another. Neither man seems to think it possible that he could lose. Neither seems to particularly care for the other, and they aren’t shy about letting that be known. Stylistically, it could be an exciting war that ends via knockout. Jose Aldo deserves his rematch against McGregor, but Alvarez is the bigger fight.
Tyron Woodley-Stephen Thompson is a worthy co-main event, and with luck, it will succeed in elevating the winner to a higher level. Fans aren’t reacting kindly to Woodley following his welterweight title win and more importantly his declaration that he wanted to fight St. Pierre or Nick Diaz rather than Thompson. Woodley may not appreciate it at the moment, but it could benefit him in the long haul by creating a strong rooting interest in his fight. Fan hate gets a fighter closer to love than does fan apathy.
If there’s a fight that probably was better placed on another card, it’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk-Karolina Kowalkiewicz. It’s surely being put on the card with the idea that it will showcase the marketable Jedrzejczyk in front of a bigger audience, but it’s more likely that she’ll get lost in the shuffle with two other high-profile title fights and Chris Weidman’s homecoming sucking up all the oxygen in the room. That’s exactly what happened to Aldo and Frankie Edgar at UFC 200, and the McGregor main event puts less of a priority on needing a third title fight in the first place. Hopefully, Jedrzejczyk and Kowalkiewicz will benefit from their involvement in UFC 205, because the fight deserves the attention.
On the flipside, the sleeper fight that could end up being an important one for the sport is Weidman against Yoel Romero. Over the past decade, the UFC has shifted from a brand-oriented company in which all pay-per-views rise to a certain level to a star-oriented company in which cards with the biggest fighters do spectacularly and everything else does much lower. The UFC needs to create more difference-making stars, and Weidman is one of the top candidates to rise into that status.
If Weidman is able to defeat Romero -- and that’s a big if -- in front of an adoring home crowd at UFC 205, it could lead into a title-match main event against Michael Bisping at MSG in 2017. That fight would tell a great story, and the stage would elevate Bisping and Weidman to another level. It’s a perfect two-fight setup if the results break the right way, and Weidman could become the superstar many envisioned when he ended Anderson Silva’s historic middleweight title reign.
There are plenty of other angles to explore as the UFC 205 card approaches. That’s part of the fun of the juiciest MMA events. It’s ironic that UFC 205, arguably the best UFC card in history, was announced the week of a fight night card in Oregon that stands as one of the least interesting lineups the UFC has ever put together. Fight fans want more than just fights; they want events to savor and remember. UFC 205 appears poised to deliver on that count.