UFC 189 was touted as the biggest card in the history of the UFC by President Dana White. It was one that was resting on the intense, brash shoulders of Conor McGregor, who not only drew droves of crowds and viewers but also the intrigue of hardcore and casual MMA fans alike.
When it was all said and done Saturday night and the dust settled, UFC 189 went down as the greatest main card of all time in the company's history.
This is a big assertion, but consider everything that went down pre-fight and when the combatants actually mixed it up. Everything went right, leading to an excess of fun and suspense.
There was a ton of intrigue when the card was first announced. Two title fights headlined the proceedings, with the top billing going to the ultimate grudge match between UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo and popular challenger Conor McGregor.
The UFC built the fight up and invested money into it that it really hadn't ever done before. This was done with Aldo, who has not been the biggest box-office success as UFC champion, and McGregor, a rapidly rising star who had begun to build a following with his finishing ability and memorable trash talk.
Anticipation built, and fans eagerly awaited the card. The problem? Aldo dropped out with an injury, seemingly killing all the steam the UFC had built up for the event.
Enter Chad Mendes.
The biggest question mark on McGregor was his wrestling ability, and many fans were quick to assert that the UFC was protecting the Irishman from the many wrestlers in the featherweight division. They would finally get their wish when White announced Mendes as McGregor's new opponent in the main event.
Basically, the show must go on. It did, and boy, are we lucky that UFC 189 stayed the course, because it became the best main card ever done by the UFC.
Things started off rocky in terms of excitement on the undercard. Every prelim, minus Matt Brown vs. Tim Means, went to decisions, and most of the fights were not exactly barnburners.
For example, Cathal Pendred vs. John Howard made a Ben Askren Bellator performance look like Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua I.
It just seemed like a bad way to build momentum toward the main card. Luckily, Brown vs. Means was the final undercard bout, and it was exciting, featured a finish and brought back steam going into the main card.
So what did the main card feature? Well, it boasted a Knockout of the Year, two Fight of the Year candidates and the coronation of a new champion.
The card kicked off with Thomas Almeida vs. Brad Pickett. It represented the young blood vs. the old guard, and it was a slobberknocker all the way till the finish.
Pickett wrecked Almeida early, and the Brazilian wrecked the Brit in response. The second round was young in this fun bout when Almeida scored a possible Knockout of the Year, landing one of the cleanest flying-knee knockouts in the history of MMA.
That was a great start for the main card.
Continuing the trend of finishes, two welterweights with bright futures looked to steal some spotlight for themselves, and when it was all said and done, Gunnar Nelson took back a ton of the hype he had lost.
Considered the lesser of the two strikers against Brandon Thatch, Nelson dropped his opponent with a two-punch combination and slickly made short work of Thatch on the ground, choking him out in quick fashion.
Continuing on, the featherweights fought, and although it was at a catchweight because Jeremy Stephens failed to hit his mark on the scale against Dennis Bermudez, it didn't affect the quality of the fight.
It was a back-and-forth slugfest. Bermudez hammered Stephens and looked to secure takedowns. Stephens defended those shots well and tapped Bermudez's chin with extreme prejudice.
It was on its way to being Fight of the Year and was capped off with a brutal knockout. Stephens landed a flush flying knee and finished Bermudez on the mat with punches in an intense finish.
It was Fight of the Year for all of one fight, though, because Rory MacDonald and Robbie Lawler stole the show.
After a lackluster first round, these two warriors fought four rounds of raucous, violent, bloody combat that had fans in awe and most of them at the edge of their seats. Both men almost finished each other multiple times and likely took years off their careers in an attempt to be considered the best welterweight in the world.
Then the main course came around. The production value was amazing, with live performances by Sinead O'Connor and Aaron Lewis, as well as insane graphics and wild fans cheering their hero and booing his counterpart.
The cage door closed, and it was on. McGregor tagged Mendes early. Money responded with powerful takedowns.
For a while, it appeared the American wrestler would expose the UFC's cash cow, who was repeatedly taken down.
That changed with a scramble, some fatigue and some pinpoint strikes that beat the buzzer.
McGregor proved too much for Mendes on the feet, and at the end of Round 2, the Irishman got off his back and finished Mendes before the bell.
One of the top stars in the UFC had proved himself and silenced detractors who believed he couldn't hang with a wrestler. It was truly the best way to cap off the best, most exciting main card in UFC history. It will bring in more money for the company, which can now book the anticipated McGregor-Aldo matchup.