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UFC 189 Results: Sober Play by Play - Conor brilliantly discards Mendes, but not the criticism

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It took Conor McGregor less than ten minutes to take out Chad Mendes for UFC 189 in Vegas, and he did so in thrilling fashion to cap off a truly great card. But there's more to unpack than just praise with Jose Aldo setting the bar for FW brilliance.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Conor McGregor validated all the hype people foisted on him this past July 11, 2015 stopping Chad Mendes by TKO at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada to the tune of 16,019 in attendance with a gate of $7,200,000.

Nice Makeover, Zuffa

Before breaking down Chad Mendes vs. Conor McGregor I guess we should talk a little bit about the upgrades. It was alright. I liked the video game feel, and it at least had the illusion of professionalism, but man. Are we at an actual point where we kind of mourn the loss of Face the Pain, or do we just accept that Zuffa is trolling us and move on?

I don't think Dana and Lorenzo are ironic enough to pull off the latter. They thought Limp Bizkit was cool enough to celebrate a UFC anniversary back in 2009. As I said on Twitter, their cultural pulse exists on a flat circle of time, so I'm not sure why I expected an actual musical upgrade.

Speaking of music, the walkouts had that Rocky 4 vibe. Everybody was talking crap about Chad Mendes' because Aaron Lewis sucks, but I loved the spiritual counterpoint it represented. Well played, Chad. Still, point to Sinead. Good song.

Round 1

4:54 Conor starts the fight off going for some weird flying stuff, and Chad predictably puts him on his back. Conor gets right back up, and Mendes fires off a blistering right hand.

4: 40 Another striking exchange where Conor fires off a solid front kick, but Mendes is able to counter with a combination.

4:14 Conor totally lands the hell out of that spinning back heel kick. Chad doesn't react much, and Rogan and Goldberg shockingly don't make a big deal about it.

4:05 One of the stories you expected about of this fight was that Conor's left hand would, as it's always been, be his best friend. That's certainly the case here. McGregor is fast, but he doesn't rely on speed to land these strikes. He maximizes his reach advantage, and compliments it with crackerjack timing which is why it all looks like economy rather than stridency.

3: 43 Both guys are staying active on the feet. McGregor keeps his legs moving for angles and projectiles, while Chad does a good job of punishing Conor for overstepping with that left. Conor gets the better of these exchanges, chambering two really nice left high kicks that partially land.

3:20 Mendes lands a beauty of a right-left combination. Conor again takes it without any fuss. He comes back to land a really good straight left at the 3:04 mark.

2: 53 Another really good combination by Chad, this time with the left lead-right hand two piece. Eventually he follows it up with a good takedown. Conor gets up after a minor scramble against the fence. He eats a heavy right hand and then scrambles out. Right away he's back to pressuring forward. Mendes with another Big Right Hand at the 2:08 mark. At least part of the reason, I suspect at least, that Mendes is having less success with these punches is that he's landing them with the tail end.

2:02 Mendes lands a stiff right hand. Conor waits a split second to avoid the obvious counter, and times his straight left right to Mendes' grill.

1:46 Conor lands a really great left to the body. Mendes immediately reacts like he wants to double over. Yes, Rogan overdoses as usual when the action experiences an exclamation point, but it's a good punch that would have an effect on the rest of the fight.

1:37 Conor stays active with the kicks to Chad's body and then comes in with another straight left.

1:16 Chad gets a takedown and immediately passes guard. They scramble a bit until Chad stays in half guard. A bit of a controversy here when Chad appears to stick his fingers in Conor's cut above the eye. Conor tells Herb, and Chad gets an official verbal warning.

Round 1 Impressions

Tactically, it was a solid back and forth battle. However, it was also tactically wanting. Chad's best punch was his left hook. With the way Conor leans in with his left, it makes for the perfect counter, as it also uses Conor's momentum against him. Mendes didn't throw it nearly enough. Credit to McGregor for also kind of forcing Chad to generate only limited offense. His stifling footwork set the tone.

Round 2

To the surprise of no one Conor immediately backs Mendes up towards the cage.

4:45 Chad takes a shot, which Conor deftly swivels out of.

4:25 This brief exchange ended up being the fight in a nutshell. Conor really leans in with his straight left. Leaning that way has a cost; Chad is able to counter him, and does so frequently in the fight. Conor just has an incredible jaw. But the risk is worth the reward of being able to keep Mendes constantly on his backfoot, which ends up paying dividends when McGregor goes to the body. Everything is aided by McGregor's significant reach advantage.

4:11 Chad gets the takedown off his second attempt, and gets it pretty easily. Despite Conor's strong base, he's fairly slow to react. Mendes doesn't do much in top control. Part of this is by design, but Mendes has also never had the grappling flair of his Alpha Male peers either. It's a part of his game you might say is still developing even though he's improved immensely from even two years ago.

2:15 The controversy of "downward elbows" rears its awkward head. Diego Sanchez using them against Clay Guida is probably the most dramatic example of these elbows from the bottom, in part because I think Diego would have lost that fight in the eyes of the judges (even though he didn't need them to win; Clay did piss all in that fight). But Carlos Condit has been doing this for awhile. Nonetheless, Chad immediately looks to the ref for judgment. McGregor does his own bit of statutory pleading hoping Herb will stand them up due to inaction.

He's fighting, he's fighting! You need to get up

Herb to McGregor at the 1:25 mark. Chad lands another stiff elbow to affirm Dean's point.

0:46 Mendes finally more aggressive on the ground, and immediately shifts his left leg over Conor's right to pass into side control, which sets up Mendes'  guillotine attempt. He tries to gain mount for a split second, but Conor keeps his legs in the right position.  Chad tries to pull back for the guillotine, which McGregor immediately spins counter clockwise to get out. It's an excellent, understated bit of defensive work on the bottom from Conor.

0:34 Conor lands a solid uppercut in close. Chad counters with a massive right that McGregor inexplicably shakes off. Chad with another takedown, which Conor stuffs. Chad lands another solid combination, but Conor keeps stalking him .

0:13 Great combination by McGregor on an already tired Mendes. The uppercut and straight left proved too much, and that was all she wrote. I know some people had a problem with the stoppage, which is ridiculous. A fighter does not have to be unconscious to be competitively finished. And Chad was finished.

Round 2 Impressions

The most important narrative in this round was Chad's gas tank, and Conor's ability to soak up whatever offense Chad could muster. More than just losing steam, Mendes must have been despirited after Conor kept coming after him.

The silly hot takes, Chad's future, and final impressions about the impending McGregor vs. Aldo fight

I'm anything but some kind of MMA insider. I don't personally know the big names in MMA journalism and they certainly don't know me, but I exist in their echo chamber and get to be privy to their thoughts.

The fans belong to this conversation as well, but is it just me, or has the reaction been kind of weird?

Huh?

There were a lot of like minded reactions. That Conor "answered all the questions" like we're entering the Machida Era 2.0 like anyone was questioning whether Conor was actually a really good fighter. Rather, the skepticism was about whether or not aspects of his game could be sufficiently addressed. McGregor put on a great display. But dealing with a wrestler and dealing with wrestling are not one in the same.

Part of the problem is archetypal thinking; Chad Mendes' early wins were harnessed by his wrestling, but he evolved into much more than that. Nonetheless, the stigma remains. Can Conor McGregor beat a fighter with really good wrestling? Absolutely. Can he effectively counter wrestling techniques with grappling itself? Not really. Mendes scored takedowns with authority, and McGregor wasn't able to counter with either a) a decent sprawl (by contrast, go watch Robbie Lawler's amazing display) and b) counter grappling (defensively he excels, however, as I noted above).

To his credit, he negated these factors by winning on the feet, but these will be concerns in any fight that goes the distance. I bring this up not to "hate" on McGregor. After all, I managed to out-point Phil MacKenzie for once in our preview, arguing that:

"I think Conor's general base, and ability to chain his left leg into a range attack that can transition into heavy punches down the middle where Mendes is sometimes open will be the recipe for success. There are ways in which this fight is tougher for Conor than a bout with Aldo. But there are also ways in which this fight is easier, and I suspect that's the path likely traveled on for this Saturday."

I've always "believed" in Conor's talent, and the way his striking matches up with his peers in the division. But Aldo is truly elite on the ground, absolutely dummying fighters on the ground who otherwise have strong pedigrees.

I also bring this up because it's important to appreciate Conor's talent honestly. This wouldn't be the first time fans and observers felt a win was a validation of a fighter's perfection. Last night wasn't that. It was a validation of a fighter's efficiency. Frankly, that's way more exciting.