Eddie Alvarez didn't know what hit him.
The crowd at Madison Square Garden yelled and cheered as Alvarez absorbed blow after blow with a stunned look on his face. Conor McGregor verbally lashed out as only he can do, and all of a sudden the main event of UFC 205 became a reality -- and Alvarez clearly wasn't ready.
Thanks to his unique ability to sell fights with his mouth by going deep inside the head of his opponents, it's not out of the question to believe a fight against the UFC featherweight champion McGregor begins at the moment the contract is signed. If you consider Tuesday's wild UFC 205 news conference in New York as a de facto first round of McGregor's main event against the lightweight champion Alvarez, it would be difficult to score it as anything other than a clear victory for the Irish superstar.
McGregor (20-3) seemed right at home as the centerpiece of the UFC's long-awaited debut in New York City and produced some of his finest work in terms of talking trash toward anyone who got in his way, from Alvarez (28-4), to Nov. 12 undercard fighters Donald Cerrone and Jeremy Stephens.
There are those, of course, who will tell that you that prefight talk is just that -- words to market a fight. Just like there's an argument to be made that Alvarez, a street-tough veteran of 32 fights in promotions all over the globe (and the epitome of a "Philadelphia fighter"), has been around enough fight banter before to be affected.
But Alvarez, 32, who upset Rafael dos Anjos in July to win the title, certainly lacks experience in a setting exactly like the one he found himself on Tuesday -- on a main event stage this large against an opponent this skilled in the art of mental warfare.
In that regard, Alvarez looked largely unprepared to deal with the psychological storm that comes with standing across from McGregor, whose history of getting inside the mind of opponents is hard to overlook, dating back to his UFC debut in 2013. From wearing down Jose Aldo to outright breaking Dustin Poirier and forcing him to fight off emotions, McGregor, 28, is a proven master of manipulation through equal methods of intimidation and infuriation.
An outright comparison to a young Muhammad Ali in this case wouldn't be hyperbole as McGregor's colorful public act isn't just a show designed to drive up his bottom line through entertainment. It's a calculated target for the emotional weak spot of his opponents.
Alvarez might not be subject to fear of McGregor's power or reckless confidence or even his uncanny ability for precise predictions through his alter ego "Mystic Mac," but it's worthy of consideration whether Alvarez, the champion of the larger weight class between the two, is vulnerable to something different altogether -- overconfidence -- with McGregor's clown prince routine acting as fuel.
On July 7, at the postfight news conference after his title victory, Alvarez talked about the number of lightweight elites he has beaten in the UFC, from Gilbert Melendez to Anthony Pettis and dos Anjos, before mentioning his preferred choice for his first title defense.
"I would ask Dana White, please to give me an easier fight like Conor McGregor," Alvarez said. "I deserve that. I have been fighting the best guys, so I would like a gimme fight."
Alvarez was just as confident on Tuesday.
"This guy has eight minutes of fight in him. That's it," Alvarez said. "He quits after eight minutes each fight. He's not a championship fighter. He has never been. And he has never, ever fought anyone in UFC like me, ever."
The basis for Alvarez's stance, outside of natural confidence in himself, is that McGregor's run to stardom has been largely hand-picked, which he explained at length in July during a UFC 201 Q&A session.
"McGregor fans are a bit swayed, you guys are a bit biased," Alvarez said. "You're not seeing what I see as a fighter. What I'm seeing is not the right style matchups. He's fighting the perfect style matchups for himself. He's not fighting the guys who will threaten the way I can."
When you mix his wrestling ability with McGregor's vulnerability on the ground, there's some credence to Alvarez's words. However, as McGregor argued on Tuesday, there's just as easily a case to be made for the opposite, with Alvarez's weakness meshing perfectly with McGregor's greatest strength.
"Like I said, he's chinny. He has a chin," McGregor said. "He gets cracked, he gets dropped, and it has happened throughout his career. He's a weathered fighter. He's on his way out and he's very, very lucky to be in the position that he is in. One round is all it will take me to knock him out."
Either way, Alvarez failed to come away from their first public appearance looking victorious -- a notion that was hammered home by the final question of the news conference, as a fan disguised as a media member badly trolled the lightweight champion before berating him with expletives.
Instead of firing a witty or explosive comeback, Alvarez seemed confused, repeatedly asking, "What's your question?" as McGregor joined the crowd in celebrating with delight.
"His question is why are you talking s---? That's his question," McGregor interrupted. "Why the f--- you up here talking s---? Say it like it is, you're blessed. You're blessed that I chose you. You're blessed that I chose to whoop your ass next. Say it like it f---ing is."
It's true that Alvarez would've never had a prayer by attempting to "out-Conor" his opponent in a verbal joust of one-liners, but he failed to compete on Tuesday just the same, choosing to laugh off or ignore insults at one turn, only to be overwhelmed at the next.
Meanwhile, McGregor had his way with conducting the cheers from an adoring and rowdy crowd. It's quite possible that none of this will matter once the two fighters square off at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12, what is being billed as the biggest card in the company's 23-year history, but McGregor will do his best to take advantage of every situation, with Tuesday just a simple demonstration of that fact.
McGregor appeared the more comfortable, brash and calculated of the two on Tuesday, ready to step inside the Octagon at the "world's most famous arena" confident in his history of subliminally cracking the armor of his opponent long before the fight has officially begun. In many cases, McGregor's opponents have been the last to know that it already has.