How often do we as fans get an hotly anticipated event that is headlined by a fight that has no true divisional relevance and serves for little more than bragging rights in the end? We truly are spoiled, and that's a great thing.
In fact, a fair amount of these fights were mostly action fights that didn't really do much to sort out their respective divisions. None of it made a lick of a difference. We were all winners tonight with most of the performances we saw. Some of the fights weren't even surprising due to who won, but rather how they went down - further proving that one of the greatest things about this insane sport is just how utterly unpredictable it all is.
Conor McGregor - In a way, the Irishman's back was against the wall pretty badly. The previous loss to Nate Diaz undoubtedly took a lot of luster off his aura and reputation, and another loss (especially a finish) would really drop his stock to an irreparable level. He was widely ridiculed after that and was even derided as a fraud by others, as they ignored his previous successes in his career when he defied all the odds against the likes of Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo. What we got tonight was an exceptional effort in which McGregor learned from his mistakes in the previous bout, using a variety of strikes and changing levels to drop Diaz a few times early on. Despite tiring badly later on, he remained in the fight every step of the way. This was the fight he was supposed to fight the first time around. The methodic approach worked, even if the decision was expectedly controversial. He avenges his loss, makes major bank, gets his mojo back -- and with a fight that was exciting from beginning to end, gets massive respect from those that trashed him before.
Nate Diaz - This was easy, because in some ways Nate was already a winner after the first time he fought McGregor. He became something of a media darling on the interview circuit, got the love from MMA fans that had written him off, and finally got the big-time slots and paydays that he rightfully deserves. That win was so big that it didn't even matter that he lost tonight, especially with that tremendous performance. His ability to hang around late in the fight turned the tide later on to the point where he was able to loosen up and work the clinch, wear McGregor out and outstrike him with elbows short punches. His reactions to McGregor's attempts to reset were just hilarious, and he never stopped coming after his opponent no matter how bloodied up he was or how beat up his leg would get. Nate Diaz is must-watch TV in 2016, and the sport of MMA is better for it. His legacy is cemented here, and he deserves all the praise he can get.
Anthony Johnson - Rumble Johnson is and always will be one of the most terrifying fighters to ever put on gloves and step into a cage. He's cleaned up some of his striking habits and made short work of a very tough veteran in Glover Teixeira. It was horrible to watch, but that's the fight game. There doesn't seem to be a more worthy challenger right now at 205 (Latifi is busy and Krylov is probably too deadly), and Cormier has to be hungry to get back in after that last fight with Jon Jones didn't happen, which caused him to get a smaller payday. Three knockouts in a row after losing to the champ should definitely net you another crack at the belt, especially when a fighter looks this good and the division is this relatively shallow.
Donald Cerrone - Welterweight Cerrone is so much fun. His takedown defense and recovery off the ground is just a joy to watch, and his setups to attacking the body and the finishing sequence for this fight were just beautiful combat arts in action. His style is just effective, but it begs the question of whether or not he really needs to go back down to lightweight to begin with. Sure, he holds a win over the current champion there, but Cerrone's been racking up wins in another division and lightweight is congested as is with the Nurmy/Ferguson/Alvarez hate triangle.
Cody Garbrandt - Still undefeated at 10, with five of those wins in the UFC and only one of them going to a decision. While from a marketing perspective it's possible to give him a title shot and not look too ridiculous, it could easily be a case of too much too soon for him to fight Dominick Cruz. Then again, the other guy most likely to get that shot is Bryan Caraway, so it's possible the UFC may prefer to give the opportunity to a younger fighter that has more exciting finishes to sell the bout, especially if he's young and talented enough to take the loss and not lose too much shine.
Lorenz Larkin - Welp. Shouldn't have doubted him. This is a classic case of getting a fight pick wrong yet being pleased with the result. Larkin was sharp, had excellent timing and shot selection while battering Magny's leg and then implementing a ruthless offensive, all of which was a true treat. It was a major statement, because he just went from being unranked to beating a fighter that was officially at #7. Excellent work.
Rest of the card: Still not sure what to make of Mike Perry's antics at the weigh-ins, but it was impressive to see him blast Hyun Gyu Lim, even if it was frustrating to watch (more on that later). Raquel Pennington used superior grappling and athleticism to nullify Elizabeth Phillips, bringing her to 8-5 after entering the UFC at 3-3. That's a respectable turnaround story for Rocky, and she should be back in action sooner than later.
Tim Means? That brother came back angry. Homasi is no slouch, and Means just battered him terribly. Let's hope he continues to build momentum after his time away due to suspension.
Artem Lobov vs Chris Avila was an OK fight, but in no way did it have any bearing on what the main event would look like, and the forced narratives in MMA need to die. Avila didn't have many answers to Lobov's offense other than firing back a 1-2 through must of the second and third rounds, which now brings Lobov to a +500 record and Avila to the possibility of having a less experienced opponent for his next outing. Cortney Casey outmaneuvered talented wrestler Randa Markos with a crafty submission win, bringing her to 2-2 in the UFC with two consecutive finishes. Colby Covington applied suffocating pressure to beat and batter Max Griffin as he continues to gain experience, and the young Marvin Vettori started the night off right with a nasty-looking guillotine against Alberto Uda.
Glover Teixeira - It's not often that I feel so terrible for a fighter after a loss, but that was brutal. I'm not too mad at the follow up shots since Johnson had the good sense to get off after the second one, but even that felt like too much. While there's no shame in getting knocked out by such a powerful fighter that is capable of knocking out pretty much anyone at this point, it's entirely valid to wonder if Glover should be in the conversation of the upper echelon of the division ever again. Granted, what little we saw showed him displaying a degree of accuracy in his striking, but it's unfair to extrapolate anything substantial from that due to the brief window of action. What we did see was him getting flatlined. Hard. Gotta wonder how he'd fare against the other two top 205ers like Cormier and Gustafsson at this point, and it doesn't look good. Not to say he can't fight some quality opponents and still win, but breaking the ice to get closer to his dream of a title shot seems immensely unlikely right now.
Rick Story - This is another case of a fighter simply not having any answers for his/her opponent, and perhaps this loss may not seem so bad some time from now, it looks terrible in the immediate aftermath of it. Story couldn't make much of his takedowns and couldn't capitalize on his time on the ground as much as he wanted or could. Then he proceeded to get picked apart standing with a brutal finish. As always, I still have faith in John Crouch and the crew at the MMA Lab for him to rebuild and regroup, so this could very well end up as a learning experience. That said, he needs to rebound in a big way after this one.
Neil Magny - I personally figured that if Magny could survive the beating he was taking at the hands of Hector Lombard, that he'd find a way to survive and make a real fight out of his bout with Larkin. Unfortunately, Larkin wasn't able to overcome that deficit and get any meaningful offense going. It's a big hit that knocks him back quite a bit.
Takeya Mizugaki - Not sure what to make of this, since his only real advantage was his wrestling and his opponent trains with more hardened high school, NCAA and MMA wrestlers than Mizugaki on a daily basis. Another ugly loss for Takeya, who while still a good fighter has shown he simply can't hang with the higher end of the division anymore.
Hyun Gu Lim - After watching his opponent Mike Perry spam overhands for a while, you'd think he'd see them coming. Apparently, Lim wanted to do things another way and paid for it big time, succumbing to the same strikes and getting finished as a result. He's still a good fighter and a tremendous athlete, but at 31 and with a fair amount of experience, you'd figure he'd have better fight IQ by now.
Rest of the card: As mentioned in the predictions for this week, Chris Avila has some of the Diaz brother style down, but he can't really make it work. It seems the octagon jitters got to him as well, but he should definitely get another shot. Randa Markos drops to 4-4 now, and while questionable right now, don't be surprised if she gets cut from the organization. Elizabeth Phillips should be almost guaranteed to get cut, as this loss puts her at 1-3 in the UFC. Sabah Homasi came in with some fanfare due to his work on the regional scene, but got beaten up badly in his UFC debut. Alberto Uda got finished for the second straight time, bringing him to 0-2 in the octagon. He may not get another shot. Max Griffin should be back in action as well despite losing in his debut.