31868ae2d6237df07ee1e997ec01bcc3_crop_north
USA Today

On a UFC 189 fight card that at times felt like a flying leap into MMA’s future, Robbie Lawler served up an old-school slugfest in the evening’s co-main event.

It turns out you can drape Lawler in his brand-new Reebok “champion’s kit,” overhaul the pay-per-view broadcast with fancy retooled graphics and summon some technological wizardry to project hype videos on the actual floor of the Octagon, but the UFC welterweight champion is still going to do what he’s been doing since he was 19 years old.

Now 33, he just does it better than ever.

Lawler shifted through a number of familiar gears during the 21 minutes he spent in the cage with Rory MacDonald on Saturday night. He went from laid back to deadly serious and back again as the two put on a brawl that lifted an already stellar PPV.

7fbc6dbc17ddad020edf7648a6cc773b_crop_north
USA Today

One way or another, we’re all going to get smarter.

No matter how things go for Conor McGregor against Chad Mendes on Saturday at UFC 189 in Las Vegas, we’ll come out of it with a clearer idea of what kind of fighter McGregor can truly be.

Until now, we’ve had to take his word for it. He’s jetted to a 5-0 record in the UFC and has dispatched everyone matchmakers have handed him with extreme prejudice. He had never fought anybody as good as Jose Aldo, his intended opponent, however, and—even now that the true featherweight champion is out with a rib injury—he’s never fought anybody like Mendes, either.

You might say this matchup is going to go a long way toward separating the facts from the fiction about McGregor. That’s important, since the brash Irishman has spent his entire UFC career spinning fantastical yarns about his own ability. If nothing else, it’ll be nice to finally do some fact-checking on McGregor’s wild tales.

02cc5ea88fe136db002b7f67679667cf_crop_north
USA Today

It’s always awkward when you know a fight promoter has a rooting interest.

In the case of Saturday’s UFC 189 main event between Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes, it doesn’t take a lick of guesswork to figure out what ownership wants to happen. We know it for a stone-cold fact, because the UFC’s first preference had already been on the books for months: to have McGregor fight Jose Aldo in a high-profile grudge match for the featherweight title.

The fight company had booked that fight, put it on billboards, produced a documentary series about it and bankrolled at least one stunning and pricey television commercial to advertise it.

In all, UFC President Dana White said the company spent $10 million promoting the fight. The more conspiracy-minded might even tell you the UFC had orchestrated it from the beginning, feeding McGregor a series of overmatched, stand-up-oriented opponents for the express purpose of quickly and publicly building him into the division’s top contender.

8533cad75c2aa1b0734c9dcece4835ee_crop_north
USA Today

The full extent to which the world was ignoring Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald didn’t hit home until the top trending topic of UFC 189 became Jose Aldo’s ribs.

That’s saying something, since we had already overlooked Saturday’s UFC Welterweight Championship fight between Lawler and MacDonald for months. From the moment the UFC made the pragmatic but precedent-bucking decision to make Aldo’s featherweight title defense against Conor McGregor this pay-per-view’s main event, we pretty much knew how things were going to go.

McGregor and Aldo got all the headlines. They got the “world tour.” They got the documentary series and the late-night talk show appearances.

Lawler and MacDonald? They got mostly bupkis.

2e5b61a94c28a8ac47ca950efebf34f4_crop_north
Getty Images

To borrow a phrase from former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, UFC 189 has been in “chicken salad” mode for more than a week now.

From the moment reports surfaced that featherweight champion Jose Aldo had broken a rib during the final stages of his training camp, our hopes for an epic clash with Conor McGregor on July 11 began to dim. On Tuesday, we learned for sure that Aldo was out and Chad Mendes was in against McGregor, with an interim title on the line.

Considering the regrettable circumstances, this was about as good as matchmakers were going to do. And hey, it’s still pretty good.

Better, in fact, than seeing McGregor take on some lesser, hobbled version of Aldo.

250ec5c9322f7b4df89970ecd9178ef1_crop_north
AP Images

For Yoel Romero, perhaps the trick will be avoiding any further episodes of foot-in-mouth disease just long enough for him to fight for the middleweight title.

A few days removed from his stunning third-round TKO win over Lyoto Machida at UFC Fight Night 70, most of the headlines about Romero are still fixated on the fighter’s bizarre postfight comments, rather than his actual performance in the cage.

That must be disappointing for Romero. He turned in the most complete and impressive showing of his career on Saturday, walking through Machida’s kicks to his legs and body, landing his own punches with shocking regularity and finishing the fight mere seconds after dropping Machida with a beautiful takedown in the early stages of the final stanza.

Then again, what do you expect? You can’t use your mic time on live TV to deliver an incomprehensible diatribe aimed—probably, maybe—at the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent legalization of gay marriage without expecting it to completely overshadow the biggest victory of your life.

8782ad4349f2780eb923f45c725d6877_crop_north
Bellator MMA

It was either going to be quick, or it was going to be bad.

Those were about the only two options Friday night, when Bellator MMA dusted off 51-year-old Ken Shamrock to fight 41-year-old Kimbo Slice in a nationally televised main event bout.

Luckily for almost everyone involved—with the notable exception of Shamrock—it was the former.

Slice saw to that, surviving a deep rear-naked choke attempt and flattening Shamrock with a winging right hand in just two minutes, 22 seconds. Along the way, Bellator MMA pulled off the unthinkable, squeezing a halfway entertaining fight out of two middle-aged men who had not competed in MMA since 2010.

Hi-res-875cce12c9aacf82b2930ce8679a2a71_crop_north
Gregory Payan/Associated Press

There has obviously been no end of name calling between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor during their lengthy, well-publicized feud over the UFC featherweight title.

As the two archrivals continue to skip gleefully down the path toward an epic grudge match and a mutually beneficial payday at UFC 189, they’ve hurled every offensive and profane thing they can think of at each other.

Frankly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Of late, however, the discourse has gotten truly nasty. As the build to this fight enters the home stretch, Aldo and McGregor have each resorted to the vilest, most insulting slur in all of MMA marketing.

401b0d9e3beb745f18b3125cc636c511_crop_north
USA Today

Nobody thought Gilbert Melendez would start his UFC career 1-3.

The former Strikeforce lightweight champion had just been too good during a decade spent fighting elsewhere. By the time the UFC absorbed Melendez with the rest of Strikeforce at beginning of 2013, he’d amassed a record of 21-2 and had deeply ensconced himself among the top 155-pounders in the world.

At the time, Melendez was considered perhaps the biggest prize of that acquisition. During the ensuing couple of years, however, he hasn’t soared to the heights of fellow Strikeforce alums like Ronda Rousey, Daniel Cormier or Fabricio Werdum. In fact, when Melendez dropped a particularly tough split-decision verdict to Eddie Alvarez last weekend at UFC 188, it raised some disquieting questions about his future.

Have we seen the last of Gilbert Melendez as a top contender?

3a71f25f2d8fb048c3b56f3bcf533151_crop_north
AP Images

Since the beginning, the only real constants in the UFC heavyweight division have been disorder and delay.

Even in a sport that so often thrives on chaos, the 265-pound class has always been an abject mess. It stumbles from one calamity to the next, stuck in perpetual rebuilding mode, as one champion after another proves incapable of being the breakout star it so desperately needs.

This is the way it has always been and maybe the way it will always be.

So when Fabricio Werdum toppled Cain Velasquez to claim sole possession of the heavyweight title on June 13 at UFC 188, he may have defied the odds and made fools of most prognosticators, but his victory really only confirmed the one thing we know for sure about this weight class: