UFC 189 may not have featured the long anticipated (and heavily promoted) main event between featherweight champion Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor, yet few can deny that the night proved to be a spectacle of pageantry and regulated violence at its best. Following a decent preliminary card, the PPV card kicked off with three ferocious finishes and followed up with two memorable title fights that culminated the action in impressive fashion.
Fans would have been fortunate enough just to witness one of the two title fights that took place on Saturday night, yet they were gifted with two incredible comeback victories that will be etched into the legacies of the respective champions. The co-main event in particular was the stuff of legend.
In short, UFC 189 was a perfect reminder of why we love this crazy sport of MMA.
Conor McGregor talked a big game ahead of UFC 189. With unwavering confidence and undying intensity, he proclaimed himself champion and the uncrowned king of the featherweight division. Whether it be the law of attraction, or simply sheer talent and determination, the brash Irishman lived up to each of his bold proclamations. Against Mendes, McGregor was forced to withstand some elite wrestling, which was accompanied with furious, slashing elbows and brutal punches. However, late in the second round, McGregor found his opening and poured his soul into the final fight-ending punches. It was McGregor's defining performance to date, as well as the UFC's reward for their high-risk investment in the late replacement main event.
Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald took part in an incredible five-round beauty of a fight that ended in the final round with a brutal knockout. It was a back-and-forth affair that featured all the drama, tension and momentum shifts that fans dream of in title fights. Lawler faced adversity numerous times in the fight and even looked as though he was done; at the very least, he was likely down on the scorecards. With all that in mind, Lawler rallied back to bloody up his Canadian foe and land a stunning blow in the final round to retain his welterweight title. Lawler even followed that up with an adrenaline-filled, emotional post-fight speech that only helped add to his endearing character. In hindsight, this may eventually go down as the defining fight of Robbie Lawler's legacy. Too soon to tell though - he may not even be done dazzling us yet.
The new UFC graphics package was a breath of fresh air and a welcome addition to the overall broadcast presentation. From the simple changes such as the fight clock and the logo alteration, to the significant changes like the fighter packages, it was a way for the UFC to generate some chatter during a much-anticipated show. Not enough is said about the importance of subliminal changes and how they help keep a product fresh in the minds of fans, both casual and hardcore.
Jeremy Stephens and Dennis Bermudez took part in easily one of the most fun fights of the entire year. Following two rollercoaster rounds full of bludgeoning shots and a back-and-forth battle, Stephens landed a beautiful flying knee in the final round to secure the finish. While he was indeed the fighter who came in overweight, it was undoubtedly an impressive showing for Lil Heathen.
Thomas Almeida was in a fight that many believed was supposed to be a showcase for him on an anticipated show. However, the 23-year-old Brazilian was tested in the opening round and was forced to overcome adversity against veteran fighter Brad Pickett. While a rapid-fire finish may have been his preference, this served a far greater purpose of actually gauging whether Almeida can handle being dragged into deep waters. Not only was he able to handle the pressure, he dished out his own damage and ended the fight in spectacular fashion. This is a star in the making.
Matt Brown revealed that he had reinvented himself following his two-fight losing skid to Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler and he certainly looked like a hungry fighter when he stepped in against Tim Means. It was a thrilling round of action that took place following consecutive decisions on the prelims, so the first round finish was a welcome one for the crowd in attendance. Brown used his vicious elbows to wear down Means before locking in a submission to close out the fight.
Brandon Thatch went from being one of the rising talents in the UFC to a fighter on a two-fight losing streak. Against Nelson, Thatch was not even able to dominate the striking, as he was outstruck and later dropped before suffering a second consecutive submission loss. He clearly has much to work on to cover the wholes in his game, yet it far from over for Thatch.
Cathal Pendred somehow managed to convince one of the three present Las Vegas judges, Tony Weeks, to score the fight in his favour, yet there was little doubt that Pendred was not deserving of the win. Many believe some of his previous split decision wins were undeserving and that he compiled the most uneventful 4-0 streak in recent UFC history. Now that he has suffered the first setback of his UFC tenure in what was another humdrum fight, it will be interesting to see who the UFC places him against next and how Pendred handles the loss.
Chad Mendes did not have a full camp and stepped up on short notice to help salvage the most anticipated fight card of the year to date. That alone eliminates him from a spot in the losers column, even though he lost a fight that was arguably, within his grasp. Mendes, who proved to be the superior wrestler and imposed his will on the canvas, allowed McGregor to snatch victory from the hands of defeat, which shocked many near the end of the second round. However, Mendes proved to be an example of sportsmanship, as he had an emotional exchange and embrace with McGregor following the fight and even thanked him during his post-fight speech. If anything, one could be an even bigger Mendes fan now than before the fight.