What a night.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship put on a phenomenal show on Saturday night in Las Vegas at UFC 189. "The Notorious" Conor McGregor won the UFC interim featherweight title by thrilling second-round TKO over Chad "Money" Mendes.
McGregor took more damage in this scrap than he has in all his previous UFC bouts put together, but in the end, he emerged victorious. The UFC was quick to congratulate the new interim champion:
In the first round, McGregor's striking and length proved to be too much for Mendes. The Irishman was seemingly landing at will with straight right hands, jabs and kicks, but Mendes would adjust. He was able to counter and secure the first takedown against McGregor in his career.
Mendes didn't just plant McGregor—he teed off with elbows from the top position. One of them opened a cut near McGregor's right eye. In all, Mendes would score three takedowns in the opening round. McGregor showed solid defense from his back and the ability to get to his feet, but Mendes' path to victory seemed clear.
In the second round, Mendes didn't waste as much time looking for the takedown. He dragged McGregor down early and held him there for much of the round. He was again dropping elbows on McGregor's face, but with about 25 seconds left, Mendes made the mistake of going for a guillotine.
The slippery McGregor used the opportunity to rise to his feet. It was quickly apparent Mendes was spent from trying to hold McGregor down the entire round. Instead of shooting the legs for a takedown to survive the final 15 seconds of the round, an exhausted Mendes stood right in front of McGregor and ate the decisive one-two combination that ended the fight.
Referee Herb Dean rushed in to stop the bout as Mendes crumbled from a clean right hand from McGregor.
When the fight was over, McGregor was overcome with emotion and shelved the Notorious persona. He spoke honestly when he talked about his supporters and close-knit circle of friends and family, per Fox Sports' Ariel Helwani:
Mendes offered no excuses for his loss after stepping in on two weeks' notice for the injured Jose Aldo. Per Helwani, he put aside the bad blood leading up to the fight and thanked McGregor for fighting him:
While Mendes didn't have any excuses, some in the MMA community pointed out the details that may have cost him the bout. Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports has some solid points:
It's hard to argue with his logic. Mendes looked to be on his way to a win. McGregor had no answer for the takedown. Mendes simply ran out of gas and patience when he gave up position.
Per the pay-per-view broadcast, featherweight contender Frankie Edgar took the opportunity to call out McGregor. It's understandable and logical that Edgar would want a shot at McGregor, but that fight is unlikely—at least any time soon.
Aldo vs. McGregor is an even bigger gold mine for the UFC now than it would have been before this fight. If Edgar were to beat McGregor, that payday for the promotion and both fighters would go by the boards.
The only opponent for McGregor to face next is Aldo. Now that the Irishman has interim gold, he must meet Also to determine the undisputed 145-pound champion.
As good and deserving as Edgar is, he'll have to wait.
As exciting as this fight was, it wasn't even the best of the night. That distinction belongs to the co-main event.
Lawler Stops MacDonald in Bloody Classic
You'll have a hard time finding a better championship bout in the UFC's past or future. Robbie Lawler kept his UFC welterweight title by stopping Rory MacDonald in the fifth round of a fight that seemed super close.
Both men's faces were covered with blood from multiple lacerations. Lawler dominated the second round with stellar boxing, but MacDonald nearly stopped the champion in the third round with a massive head kick.
Lawler remarkably survived the round, got his wherewithal in the fourth and came out with more steam in the fifth. Watch this amazing and macabre standoff at the end of the fourth round:
As the hungrier pursuer in the final frame, Lawler appeared to shatter MacDonald's nose with a left hand that sent the challenger to the mat like a bully who had finally been stood up to.
When it was over, congratulations and admiration for both fighters came pouring in. Rob Goldberg of Bleacher Report had an interesting assessment of the bout:
Mike Bohn of MMA Junkie marveled at both men's MMA skills and warrior mentality:
No matter what Lawler does for the rest of his career, his status as a legend is now secured with one of the most amazing title defenses in history.
Let's take a look at all of the results table from the UFC 189 card and a breakdown of each bout.
|UFC 189 Results|
|Fight Pass Prelims|
|Yosdenis Cedeno vs. Cody Pfister||Lightweight||Pfister by unanimous decision (29-28x3)|
|Neil Seery vs. Louis Smolka||Flyweight||Smolka by unanimous decision (30-27x3)|
|Fox Sports 1 Prelims|
|Cody Garbrandt vs. Henry Brisones||Bantamweight||Garbrandt by unanimous decision (30-27x3)|
|Cathal Pendrerd vs. John Howard||Welterweight||Howard by split decision (29-28x2, 28-29)|
|Mike Swick vs. Alex Garcia||Welterweight||Garcia by unanimous decision (30-27x2, 29-28)|
|Matt Brown vs. Tim Means||Welterweight||Brown by submission (guillotine in first round)|
|Brad Pickett vs. Thomas Almeida||Bantamweight||Almeida by KO in second round|
|Gunnar Nelson vs. Brandon Thatch||Welterweight||Nelson by submission (rear-naked choke in first round)|
|Dennis Bermudez vs. Jeremy Stephens||Featherweight||Stephens by TKO in second round|
|(c) Robbie Lawler||UFC welterweight champion||Lawler by TKO (fifth round)|
|Chad Mendes vs. Conor McGregor||Featherweight||McGregor by second-round TKO|
|Fight Pass, Fox Sports 1 and PPV|
UFC Fight Pass Prelims
Pfister's Grappling Trips Up Cedeno
In an entertaining opening bout, Cody Pfister's five takedowns earned him a unanimous-decision victory over Yosdenis Cedeno. Take a look at some of the early action:
Cedeno took the first round by landing 21 strikes to Pfister's eight. Most importantly, Cedeno avoided the takedown in the first five minutes. Despite being outstruck on the feet early, Pfister stuck to his game plan and stayed glued to Cedeno to take advantage of his edge in wrestling in the final two rounds.
These two guys are headed in opposite directions. Pfister rebounded from a loss in his UFC debut to James Moontasri at UFC Fight Night 60 in February. He's not a top-notch prospect, but winning is always good.
On the other side of the spectrum, Cedeno's stay in the UFC may be in danger. The 30-year-old Cuban has now lost three of his four fights with the promotion.
Smolka Controls Seery
Louis Smolka had no problem taking a unanimous decision over Neil Seery in the final Fight Pass preliminary bout. The Hawaiian was a wizard on the ground, as you can see in the highlight below:
Smolka secured six takedowns en route to his second straight victory in the UFC. With a superior ground game at his disposal, the 23-year-old could evolve into a formidable flyweight contender.
Seery continues to look run-of-the-mill. He's 2-2 in the UFC but has yet to show himself to be a name that fans will need to watch moving forward.
Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Garbrandt Outslugs Briones
It didn't seem as though Cody Garbrandt vs. Henry Briones would go the distance, but it did. Garbrandt remained undefeated with a hard-fought unanimous-decision victory.
Briones landed a solid left hand that got Garbrandt's attention in the first round, but the latter gained top position at the end of the frame to take the opening round.
In the second, this sequence from Garbrandt left Briones on his butt:
Briones would get up and remain competitive, but Garbrandt's speed and powerful boxing proved to be too much. Garbrandt is Team Alpha Male's newest highly touted prospect. The win made him 2-0 in the UFC, but he didn't get the finish he had earned in each of his previous six fights.
Brett Okamoto of ESPN is still high on the 24-year-old bantamweight:
He's a ways off from contending as he needs to tighten up his defense, but the striking prowess and athleticism are undeniable.
Howard Wins Snoozer
In a horrible fight, John "Doomsday" Howard defeated Cathal Pendred via split decision. Howard really deserved to win the fight 30-27 on all three cards, but apparently one judge was influenced by the large Irish contingency on hand rooting for Pendred.
There was really no logical way to give Pendred the decision. This was one of the only memorable exchanges, and Howard got the best of it:
UFC President Dana White didn't like the fight or the result:
Howard did little that was overly impressive, but Pendred did even less. If there's a way for both fighters to come out as losers, this is one of those cases. Howard did capture a much-needed victory after losing three consecutive fights, but this win did little to improve his stock.
Pendred's striking is as bad as anyone you'll ever see in the UFC. His hands are so slow that his opponents have time to phone a friend before they need to block or slip the strike. CagePotato.com took a dig at Pendred's striking efficiency as well:
Quite honestly, Pendred and Cezar Ferreira have to be in a dead heat when it comes to the most overrated fighters in the promotion.
Garcia Wins Another Ho-Hum Scrap
Alex Garcia's dominant wrestling kept Mike Swick reeling for three rounds. Both men were making their returns to the Octagon after long layoffs, but only Garcia looked prepared.
Swick was unable to stop the powerful Brazilian from picking him up and dropping him six times in the fight. As you can see in the video below, the grappling exhibition began in the first round:
Without question, this was a disappointing return for Swick, who hadn't fought in the UFC since 2012 when he lost to Matt Brown. He experienced some Octagon rust that he'll need to clear up before his next bout.
Garcia doesn't have great stamina, but his strength and grappling are top-notch. If he faces a fighter capable of defending his takedown attempts, he might be in trouble.
Brown Elbows and Submits Means
In a battle of guys with great elbow attacks, Brown's proved to be the most dangerous of all. After eating some nasty elbow shots from Tim Means and being hurt early in the first round, Brown showed the heart and finishing instinct that have defined his career.
Brown landed two elbow strikes that sent Means reeling with just under 20 seconds remaining in the opening round. He immediately slapped on the guillotine choke and forced Means to tap.
UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman enjoyed the one-round brawl:
Brown snapped a two-fight losing streak and has now finished his opponents in his last six wins. Means' four-fight win streak came to an end, but he still fought well until he was caught.
When the fight was over, several members of the MMA community including Fox Sports' Damon Martin were calling for Brown to face Carlos Condit:
That could truly be an epic battle. Hopefully, UFC matchmakers are listening.
Almeida Absorbs Punishment and Spectacularly Finishes Pickett
Thomas Almeida faced as much adversity as he has in any of his 20 professional fights. Brad Pickett floored Almeida twice in the first round with counter power shots and had the 23-year-old Brazilian's face badly bloodied.
Almeida would gain some momentum at the end of the round. A hard right elbow dropped Pickett and gave the youngster some confidence.
In the second round, he had begun slipping Pickett's punches and landing counters. The decisive moment came when Almeida landed a straight right hand and followed it up with a flying knee to Pickett's face. The latter was out before he hit the mat.
Referee John McCarthy immediately stepped in to call a halt to the fight.
Chamatkar Sandhu of MMA Junkie thinks a Street Fighter legend would be proud of Almeida's flying knee:
Almeida took some shots in this one, but his chin and ability to adjust were impressive. This kid is a future champion. MMA History Today sees the same thing:
Pickett looked good before he was dropped in the first round, but the 36-year-old is nearing his end in the sport.
Gunnar Smokes Thatch
Brandon Thatch came into the fight with Gunnar Nelson as the man lauded for his striking prowess. On Saturday night, it was a right-left combination from Nelson that floored Thatch and set up the submission victory.
Nelson is one of the most dangerous grapplers in the sport, and he systematically set Thatch up for the finish. By transitioning from side control to full mount and finally taking Thatch's back, Nelson sunk in the choke and forced the finish. Here's a look at the ending:
Both men were coming off losses. Nelson had lost to Rick Story at UFC Fight Night 53. Thatch was submitted by Benson Henderson at UFC Fight Night 60. With two straight losses by submission, it's clear what Thatch must work on.
Nelson's striking was improved, and his ground game was as good as ever. His future again looks bright.
Stephens Keeps the Knees Coming
In a bloody battle, Jeremy Stephens scored a second-round TKO win over Dennis Bermudez with the second insane knee of the night.
Bermudez opened a nasty cut to the outside of Stephens' right eye. It left his face a crimson mess midway through the opening round. The gash made it look as if he was getting the worst of the scrap, but that wasn't the case.
Bermudez landed some solid strikes throughout the first two rounds, but it was Stephens who hurt and dazed his opponent several times.
The decisive blow came when Stephens caught Bermudez with the leaping knee as his opponent surged in for the attack.
Stephens swarmed and pounded Bermudez out until the fight was stopped. Stephens missed weight and had to surrender 20 percent of his purse to Bermudez, per Matt Erickson of MMA Junkie, but he had the last laugh.
There will be other cards this year, but it'll be hard to top UFC 189.
All fight highlights from official UFC Twitter account unless otherwise noted.