I was already exhausted before the main event of UFC 189. The card featured four main card fights that were all barnburners, and there was no reason to believe it wouldn’t continue when Chad Mendes and Conor McGregor entered the cage. And as expected, the fight delivered. In fact, it was off the charts. It made UFC 189 the best main card I have ever seen on any MMA event. Ever.
The fight was a good balance of what pundits on both sides were saying – McGregor battered Mendes on the feet. Mendes took McGregor to the mat and battered him there. In fact, I’d say Mendes was on the verge of being up two rounds. Until he wasn’t. McGregor got back to his feet with 40 seconds to go in the second round, and his accumulative work to the body started to take effect. He backed Mendes up, clubbed him with some shots, then absolutely crushed him with his best weapon, the straight left. Mendes crumpled to the mat.
At 4:57 of round two, the Conor McGregor era officially began.
I admit that I thought Mendes would win. But I’m not about to take anything away from McGregor. Mendes coming in on short notice was hard on both fighters. Conor took the best Mendes had, and he beat him. The people that don’t like him will find excuses, and come up with reasons why Conor was able to find a way to win. The truth is this – Conor McGregor was better than Chad Mendes tonight. That’s all there is to say.
Now, with that being said – Jose Aldo is not Chad Mendes.
- Rarely has a nickname fit so well, because Robbie Lawler is Ruthless. Opponent Rory MacDonald had him basically out on his feet in the third, but Lawler stayed alive and compounded the damage he did to his opponent’s face earlier in the fight. Rory’s nose was broken and his face was bloodied. And after the third, Lawler’s looked to be as well. After a close fourth round, Lawler focused on Rory’s nose with jabs and straight punches until he finally destroyed it. MacDonald slumped to the mat in agony, and Lawler finished him off for the rare (though not so much lately) fifth-round finish. Sure there were lulls, but that has to still be one of the better UFC title fights in history.
- It’s not very often that I can’t keep up with the action on play-by-play. But Dennis Bermudez and Jeremy Stephens had me falling behind. Partially because there was so much going on, and partially because I couldn’t stop yelling at my television. Bermudez goes down. Stephens goes down. Blood everywhere. Fourth awesome fight in a row. Amazing stuff. It was probably one round a piece going into the third, and then Stephens hit one of the most amazing knees I have ever seen. And I saw a ridiculous one just two fights before this (see below). He timed it absolutely perfectly. A well-deserved win for Stephens in a fight I can still barely adequately describe. Actually, I’m pretty sure I didn’t.
- Gunnar Nelson dropped Brandon Thatch with a thunderous one-two combo. Most people (including myself) thought that if that sentence was going to be written, the names would be reversed. But Gunnar looked much more aggressive on the feet this time out, and I have to admit that I jumped out of my seat when Thatch crashed to the mat. After that, it was a lock – you’re not escaping Gunnar Nelson on the ground. The submission victory soon came, and Gunnar was his usual stoic self. It was awesome.
- Thomas Almeida and Brad Pickett absolutely went to war in the opening main card fight, which set the tone for such a great main card. Almeida got dropped twice because Brad Pickett’s veteran savvy and speed put his left hand right on Almeida’s chin. It landed there a few times after that too. Almeida came right back with an elbow that dropped Pickett, and you had one of the best first rounds of the year. It was a different story in the second though – Almeida came out with an absolutely perfect knee (somehow only the second best one of the night!) and put Pickett to sleep. It was a huge moment for the prospect, and I can’t wait to see him fight again. As for Pickett, I hope he keeps coming back for more.
- Matt Brown and Tim Means saved the prelims. You’ll read below that only one of the five other preliminary fights was above average, and coming into this one, the prelims were plodding. Nearly five insane minutes later, they were not anymore. Brown and Means put it on each other like few guys can, battering each other with hard elbows and punches that saw both men stunned multiple times. Finally a Brown hellbow staggered Means, who was forced to go for an ill-advised takedown and it got him choked out.
- Can we get Matt Brown vs. Carlos Condit now. Pretty pretty please?
- It looked like Mike Swick was pretty gunshy as soon as he felt how powerful Alex Garcia was. Garcia didn’t do much with his takedowns, but they were very emphatic and it basically meant Swick had to shelf his kicking game on the feet. The fight was decent, but definitely not worth going out of your way for. In fact, the only thing notable to me was Joe Rogan’s tired “he has muscles so he’s going to gas right away” stigma that he attacked to Garcia right away. It’s not true for everyone, Joe.
- John Howard and Cathal Pendred put on a fight typical of both men – not very exciting. I felt that the first round was close, but Howard was landing more strikes. He clearly won the second and third in my eyes. Somehow Tony Weeks fell victim to the Pendred voodoo and gave him the third so it was a split decision, but thankfully the other two judges saw it (mostly) correctly and gave him the victory.
- Cody Garbrandt’s story with his young friend walking him out is a great story. There is no taking away from that. In terms of what happened in the cage though, Cody wasn’t aggressive enough. Sure, he won a 30-27 decision and dropped Henry Briones in the second round, but it looked like he could have taken over whenever he wanted to. He just didn’t. He finally threw down in the last 10 seconds, but it was too late. If he had more fire from the start, he’d be a straight killer prospect. Right now, I think he’s still someone to watch but he needs to work on his aggression.
- The UFC Fight Pass prelims featured one snoozer and one pretty entertaining bout. In the odd answer to a trivia question (especially considering Reebok’s spelling woes), Cody Pfister was the first-ever fighter to walk out with a UFC-Reebok uniform on. His fight wasn’t the best though – after dropping the first round to Cuban Yosdenis Cedeno, he used his wrestling to take the last two rounds and a decision win. On the other hand, Neil Seery and Louis Smolka put on a fun grappling match that featured a bunch of cool scrambles and some finishing attempts. Smolka won, but Seery made it a fight and it turned out to be the second-best bout of the prelims.
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