Conor McGregor became an MMA star in a blink. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Fox Sports 1 with a healthy offering topped by the promotion’s great hope for a marketable draw at the lighter weights. Conor McGregor is coming, and his hype train is coming with him, while Dennis Siver is clearly the B-side in this matchup.
Siver-McGregor may not offer the Irishman a new kind of challenge and will probably not answer the remaining questions about his wrestling. Still, it is a fun matchup that should provide McGregor with a new entry on his highlight reel. The remainder of the lineup offers a good deal of fun, as well. Donald Cerrone gets back in action only 15 days after his last fight and gets the chance to avenge a pair of losses to former lightweight champion Benson Henderson; Norman Parke takes a big step up in competition against eternal gatekeeper Gleison Tibau; and the rest of the card is studded with a mixture of action fights and up-and-coming prospects.
Let us take a look at each bout at UFC Fight Night “McGregor vs. Siver” on Sunday at the TD Garden in Boston:
FEATHERWEIGHTSConor McGregor (16-2, 4-0 UFC) vs. Dennis Siver (22-9, 11-6 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: The leader of the UFC’s Irish renaissance returns to action and draws Germany’s Siver, who has been tabbed as the sacrificial lamb in this matchup. That is slightly unfair to the veteran, but this fight is all about McGregor. The Irishman knocked out Dustin Poirier in the second minute in his last outing and finished Diego Brandao inside a round back in July. Siver took a decision from the debuting Charles Rosa in October, and prior to that, a positive drug test wiped out a grinding victory over Manny Gamburyan.
McGregor is a truly special offensive fighter. At his core, the Irishman is a mechanically sound puncher with rock-solid fundamentals, blistering hand speed, great athleticism and outstanding cardio and output. He probes with his jab from the southpaw stance to draw out his opponent’s counter as he pushes him back toward the fence with stalking footwork. He then slides backward or laterally in the pocket to open up an angle and return with a counter of his own, generally his lightning-quick and powerful left hand.
This is the basis of McGregor’s game, and everything else plays off that sequence. If his opponent makes a habit of rolling under his counters in the pocket, McGregor will work in uppercuts and bolo punches in a combination of two to five strikes. If his opponent slips his head outside to avoid the straight left, McGregor will try left high kicks and overhands to exploit that head motion. If McGregor’s opponents circle away from his power side, the wheel and spinning back kick catch them as they move laterally, thinking they are safely out of range; the natural reaction is to circle back into the power hand, which is how McGregor eventually caught Poirier with an overhand left. The side and elliptical kicks to the thigh force his opponent to move back toward the cage, which neutralizes his escape angles and head movement.
McGregor is a perfectly serviceable wrestler and grappler. His takedown defense is strong if not impenetrable, and if he does get taken down, he has excellent instincts for hipping out and scrambling back to his feet, all while landing hard elbows and punches in transition. Offensively, if his opponent secures double under hooks, McGregor likes a counter throw from double over hooks, and he shoots a technically sound and well-timed double-leg. From top position, he throws monstrous ground strikes, maintains a solid base and passes well. In every phase and facet, McGregor delivers a constant stream of pressure and offense.
Siver is not getting much respect here, and that is a shame. The former kickboxer has evolved into a diverse wrestle-boxer who complements his volume striking with an effective and surprisingly technical takedown game. Siver utilizes a slick single-leg on which he neatly runs the pipe, a nice knee tap and the occasional double, and he chains them nicely. On top, Siver maintains a heavy base, passes well and can land solid ground strikes, though he offers nothing from his back and occasionally struggles to get back to his feet if taken down.
Despite the improvement in his wrestling game, Siver is still known mostly as a striker. His approach revolves around volume and output rather than hunting for the knockout, and his squat frame belies the fact that he is not much of a power puncher. He favors a lead left kick, which he throws to all levels with no switch or setup, and works smooth punching combinations in the pocket. Defense is a strong suit: Siver excels at pulling his head off the centerline as he throws, and hides his chin behind his thick shoulders, the combination of which makes him quite difficult to hit cleanly.
BETTING ODDS: McGregor (-1200), Siver (+775)
THE PICK: With betting odds that wide, we have finally reached the point where the McGregor hype train has gone off the rails. That is not to say that he will not win this fight, or even that he will not make it look easy, but the implied chance of McGregor losing here is less than eight percent, which seems more than a bit absurd. Siver’s takedown game is the key to keeping this fight winnable, and he is easily the best MMA wrestler that McGregor has faced in his career. If he stays on the outside or at punching range, McGregor can match Siver’s output while carrying a drastic edge in power and speed. In the clinch and on the ground, however, it is much closer to an even matchup. Siver needs to make it a dirty, ugly fight on the inside, throw hard shots on clinch breaks and hit McGregor in transition whenever possible, because the Irishman will certainly try to do the same. It would not be at all surprising, however, if McGregor turned out to be the superior wrestler. The most likely outcome is that McGregor will concede a takedown or two and scramble to his feet, weather the German’s attempts to grind in the clinch and eventually knock the stuffing out of Siver with counter shots in the pocket before finishing from top position. McGregor by knockout in the second round is the pick.
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