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UFC 189 Results: Sober Play by Play - Lawler vs. MacDonald was the Batman vs Superman DC wish they had

No disrespect to the Conor McGregor's brilliant display this weekend, but Robbie Lawler vs Rory MacDonald was the people's main event in my humble opinion, with an assist by Sam and Dave. Rewatch this modern classic now.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

UFC 189 may have been one of the best events I've ever seen from top to bottom. Forget recency bias; I have no problem stacking this card up with the best of Pride. It was just that special. But in my opinion, the most special part of the night happened before the main event when Lawler and MacDonald went to war. It's interesting how welterweight is being treated like an afterthought despite Lawler's crowd pleasing style. It shouldn't be. This was like Machida vs. Shogun 1, minus the controversy, and with the pugilism volume cranked to 10.

Before we get to the breakdown, special credit to both men for showing some taste with their walk in music. Like anyone in their thirties, you're probably a fan of Tool like I am. But Lawler won this rock off with Sam and Dave. This stuff still gives me chills.

Round 1

Very deliberate start to this round. Both guys are constantly circling each other in the middle of the cage. It's such a nice capsule of what makes Lawler so much more effective than he used to be. He's got that brawler's itch he needs to scratch, but now he's better at controlling the scratching.

0:59 Robbie lands a nice inside uppercut after getting tagged with Rory's jab. Rory, as he's done throughout the round, pumps his jab while measuring with it, and slithers his straight right through when Robbie moves forward.

0:40 Lawler lands a brutal right hand jab that snaps MacDonald's head back.

Rory's corner calling for the two-three.

Thanks Goldberg. You're always good for arbitrarily placed references to striking combinations like you're quoting a Nate Silver article.

0:22 Robbie throws his first right hook. Then follows it up with a right hook straight left that snaps Rory's head back.

Round 1 Observations and Notes

This is a hard round for even the most attentive viewer. Rory is the more active fighter, but Lawler landed the best punches of the round. Just not many. It's tactically great; Rory is fighting the perfect fight at this point. Avoid a brawl, stay active, but don't overcommit. But Lawler is coaxing all kinds of information out of MacDonald.

Round 2

Right away they switch to different demeanors. Rory snaps a front kick which Robbie right hand counters.

4:37 Lawler, having measured Rory all of round 1, uses his jab more aggressively. He lunges with a right hand jab. Then chambers another that lands only seconds later.

Significant strikes thus far, Rory MacDonald plus ten.

Thanks for doing the ticker math for us, Mike.

4:16 Rory fires a jab and Lawler again snaps his in response. Lawler is moving a lot without being overt about it. He swivels to keep himself in the pocket, but he keeps falling out of Rory's range. It's a great bit of defensive awareness on Lawler's part.

4:03 Rory snaps a hard left jab of his own that catches Robbie's attention. One of the things I love about this fight is that Rory is being outsmarted, but he completely makes the right adjustments.

For half a minute they circle a lot. Rory is circling right instead of weaving back and forth to Lawler's rhythm.

3:35 Beautiful right hand jab Lawler caps off his combination with. Rory eventually comes back with a front kick to Robbie's chin.

He likes to throw that fake front kick, and then mix it up with a roundhouse as well.

For all the flack Rogan gets, when he's on point, he's really good at this. This is what commentary is supposed to be; insight for the neophytes that is simultaneously observation for the veteran watchers.

3:08 Rory more active with his right hand, feeling pressured, and once again throws his front kick with authority.

2:42 Robbie lands another beautiful jab. Then slips Rory's response jab with slick head movement.

2:32 On cue, Rory lands a hard right leg to Lawler's head. A nice strike set up by his front kicks, just as Rogan documented earlier while Goldberg's dial up commentary was having its proverbial short.

2:22 Great exchange. Lawler with a lead right hook, Rory with the right hand counter. Rory throws consecutive front kicks to the body that Lawler begins actively trying to catch, block, and/or counter.

1:46 Great right hand to the body by Rory. Lawler slides in with a right-left combination at the 1:38 mark.

1:30 This is where the fight really begins to sing.  Lawler lands a vicious right. Rory then counters with a great left-right combination. Lawler then lunges in with a straight left that cracks Rory's head back.

1:10 Rory lands a beautiful left hook after some more left hand pressure from Lawler.

1:06 One of the more brutal combinations as Lawler again cracks Rory with a right-left combination.

Round 2 Observations and Notes

Firas tells Rory that Lawler is landing the left because he's getting too close. And that was the story of the round. Lawler used the information from round 1 to open up in round 2 and it pays off. His left becomes a much bigger factor, but he never abandons his jab. Credit to Rory. It's hard to notice with all the blood running down his face, but he scores some beautiful counters in this round and really does make adjustments. Lawler is just too on point tonight.

Round 3

4: 29 Lawler pumps the jab and lands cleanly. Rory had a solid start, staying more active with his straight right and mixing in his dangerous front kick.

4:06 Oh man. Lawler goes straight left-right hook twice, and takes it home both times to Rory's kisser. Rory eventually counters, but is still too close for comfort.

3:26 Rory attempts a takedown after getting cracked with two more jabs. Lawler deftly sprawls. Rory is a bloody mess at this point.

1:58 Rory lands a really good high kick to Lawler's dome. Then another at 1:46.

0:38 Boom. After a solid left-right combo, Rory follows it up with a high kick that wraps around the back of Lawler's head, completely disrupting his equilibrium. Rory then follows it up with a front kick to the body. Then a great right hand. A flying knee, then an elbow in the clinch aren't enough to prevent Robbie from countering, despite clearly being hurt. Rory then pours it on with hooks and elbows to a turtling Lawler. Lawler walks off smiling as the horn sounds.

Round 3 Observations and Notes

The most impressive part of this round is how MacDonald gets savaged by the jab, but always manages to a) counter in spots and b) work the head kick he's been looking for.

Round 4

4:46 Rory with the right high kick right away, forcing Lawler to back up.

4:35 After a hard front kick to the body, Rory wades in with a vicious combination against the fence. Huge knee and a great elbow cap off a great swarm attack by MacDonald.

The first minute in general is insane. Rory lands two more high kicks, going to the CroCop well as much as possible. They're a reprieve for a bit but Lawler keeps stalking Rory not that Rory has backed off.

2:58 Rory again lands the high kick. Then follows it up with a nice superman punch. The action slows a bit, but never lulls.

0:26 Lawler with a great windmill left inside. Rogan observes:

Both guys are standing much more flatfooted in these exchanges. As they fatigue they're having a harder time getting out of the way of these shots. And it makes these exchanges much more dangerous.

To which Goldberg replies:

And both men having a tough time breathing.

The round ends with Rory attempting a high kick. Then the moment...

It's the moment captured by the pic above. Lawler sneezes a waterfall of blood like some pissed off fire breathing dragon, and just stands there, silently thumping his chest. It's the best kind of gamesmenship; the show don't tell variety. Lawler doesn't have to make stupid comments, or steal someone's jewelry and we love him for it.

Round 4 Observations and Notes

There's so much at work, it's impossible to unpack in just one article. Rory fought perfectly; capitalizing on his last round success early on to see if any head kick residue was left, and then backing off when Lawler wasn't phased.

Round 5

4:36 This exchange is the exclamation mark. Lawler gets right in Rory's grill. He leads with a left, which Rory counters with a left-right combination. Lawler comes right back with a straight left. Rory counters with his money strike, the high kick. This time Lawler walks through it like he knows Rory is fading. Then lands a brutal overhand left at 4:17.

An economic straight left. Then a follow up straight left cap off one of the greatest fights I've ever seen.

Round 5 Observations and Notes

It was a reversal of Rory's start to round 4, with Lawler testing Rory early to make a statement. The ultimate shifting of strategies, even in the face of bloody duress, is what sets this fight apart from most others. Both guys were playing chess. Just with their fists. And feet.

Final Impressions

Like Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua, this fight wasn't for the feint of heart.

Rory MacDonald's post fight behavior was especially troublesome.

And yet in the end, both men were able to reciprocate their respect for one another.

On a personal note, Assistant social media editor of Salon, Matt Saccaro, wondered aloud if it's possible to be progressive and still enjoy and watch MMA.

It's a fine question. I wouldn't begrudge anyone who can't sit down and endure Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald. But the answer is an emphatic yes, for me. I'm open to changing my mind in the future. But for now, yes you can still be progressive and forward thinking yet remain intoxicated by prizefighting. You don't need metaphors for poetry. Just like MMA doesn't need metaphors for competition. But you'd have to be blind to think only literature is capable of composition, rhythm, and imagination after watching Lawler vs. MacDonald. They may not wear capes, or cowls, but they're every bit the symbols of moxie as anything written by Steve Ditko.