Tyron Woodley may well be the welterweight champion when he makes his way to the Octagon in the co-main event of UFC 205 – but that doesn’t make him the favourite.
As was the case when he took the belt from Robbie Lawler with a sensational first-round knockout at UFC 201, the 34-year-old is the underdog as he faces top contender Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson.
The challenger is riding a seven-fight win streak, which includes the scalps of former champ Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald, and is widely regarded as the best striker in MMA having entered the sport with a kickboxing record as clean as his persona (57-0.) Indeed, many have been quick to write off Woodley’s chances, but the champion, who needed the towel but weighed in at 169.8lbs with Thompson tipping the scales 169lbs, is relishing playing a familiar role.
“I like being the underdog,” Woodley said ahead of the clash. “I think my last five or six fights I’ve been the underdog, and I’ve only lost one. In general, statistically showing, I do well as the underdog.
“Thompson will be knocked out stiff at UFC 205. I will have the most memorable performance on the card.”
Thompson, though, would agree with the notion he is the favourite heading into the clash and the 33-year-old expects to exit the
Octagon with the 170lbs belt in toe.
“Every time I visualise this fight (and) I don’t like to make predictions; I will go five rounds, but every time I visualise this fight I get the belt wrapped around my waist and get my hand raised,” Thompson said.
One champion who will be a heavy favourite in Madison Square Garden, though, is Joanna Jedrzejczyk (114.4lbs). The undefeated women’s strawweight queen faces Polish compatriot Karolina Kowalkiewicz (114.4lbs) as she looks to make a fourth defence of her crown.
Jedrzejczyk, the pound-for-pound best female MMA fighter on the planet, relocated to Florida in preparation for the bout as she switched training camps to join the renowned American Top Team.
However, she doesn’t anticipate the shake-up will have any side effects come tomorrow.
“I feel a better fighter,” she said. “I’m very happy, I’ve done an amazing job with American Top Team. I feel really good.
“My mind is open, I feel free, coming there was the best decision of my life and I hope I’m going to prove that against Karolina.”
Elsewhere, hometown favourite Chris Weidman (185.8lbs) meets Yoel Romero (185.6lbs) in a middleweight clash with title implications.
Former champ Weidman is fighting for the first time since he surrendered the belt to Luke Rockhold last December – who then lost it to current title holder Michael Bisping – having undergone neck surgery. Romero has had the same time away from the Octagon but due to a failed drugs test which saw him banned for six months.
Peel back the illusion of reckless abandonment and there is a degree of calculation to Conor McGregor.
Before the UFC 205 pre-fight press conference predictably descended into chaos, the Irishman swanned into the Madison Square Garden rocking a mink coat and an array of garish Gucci garments.
Initially, the 28-year-old looked deranged, bouncing over to snatch Eddie Alvarez’s (154.6lbs) lightweight belt, which the champ had deserted with McGregor late to the show again, to place it next to his own featherweight strap before screaming obscenities.
Then, it became clear McGregor (154.4lbs) was in fact paying tribute to an MSG icon: Smokin’ Joe Frazier. The heavyweight legend bought a mink coat and wore similar clothing underneath for his trip to The Garden ahead of the 1974 ‘Fight of the Century’ clash with Muhammad Ali.
It was an evocative nod to an icon and came a day after he turned up for media interviews donning a Coogi sweater, in homage to Biggie Smalls, and a few months on since he dressed like El Chapo at a time when the Mexican drug lord was the talk of world media.
He knows how to sell it. But ahead of his bid to become the first simultaneous two-divisional UFC champ at the promotion’s first visit to New York, perhaps he overdid it this time.
The theatre and melodrama of the divisive Irishman’s press conferences have elevated him onto a level of unprecedented pay-per-view success.
Part of the act is getting tiresome, though. And forced. McGregor threatened to launch a chair at Alvarez but was ultimately deterred by security and UFC president Dana White.
It was an altercation which wouldn’t look out of place in the WWE and was unnecessary for an event already sold out and pretty much guaranteed to be a PPV hit.
McGregor’s legacy will not be cemented by his brash antics outside of the Octagon but what he accomplishes in it. But even he can acknowledge that fact.
“This just puts it even more in stone,” McGregor said after the press conference. “A second belt, it’s never been done. No one has ever come close, no one has attempted it. My legacy (is that) I’ll be immortalised after this.
“I’m trying to live in the moment right now, this is such an historic event. I’ll get the second world title.
“I believe that I will put this man away, but I am prepared for five rounds. I predict that I will rearrange his face. He’s too easy to hit.
“I think (I’ll beat him) in one round. If he can hold out and take it to the trenches, I’ll take my hat off to him. But he will never be the same again.”
Alvarez, of course, disagrees, saying: “I’ve always been the underground king in this sport. I just have this belt and no one’s getting it from me. I’m prepared to completely destroy Conor McGregor and silence the whole damn crowd.”
In the main event, featherweight champion and Irish superstar Conor McGregor attempts to become the first fighter to hold two UFC titles simultaneously when he faces off against lightweight king Eddie Alvarez.
The welterweight championship will also be on the line when Tyron Woodley makes the first defense of his belt against kickboxing specialist Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.
Plus, Polish compatriots Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Karolina Kowalkiewicz meet for the strawweight championship of the world.