Conor McGregor has silenced the doubters. The question looming over McGregor's head since before the Aldo fight was announced is answered. But what about the takedown? Well, Chad Mendes showed that McGregor can be taken down. McGregor showed Mendes that he can get back up. After months of being overshadowed by the great Irish hype, Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald stole the show with a contender for fight of the year and one of the greatest UFC championship fights of all time.
189 featured what is very likely the most exciting main card in the
history of the UFC. After a few lackluster decisions on the Fox
prelims, Matt Brown and Tim Means kicked off the show in the prelim
maint event, with a fast-paced brawl ending in a submission win for
Brown. Every proceeding fight ramped up the excitement until Conor
McGregor brought it to a crescendo as he touched Mendes with that left
hand and finished him off with ground and pound to the adulation of
16,000 roaring fans.
Earlier on the card, Gunnar Nelson shook up what was thought to be a modern look at the traditional "striker vs grappler" match.
started out feinting his way in to gauge Nelson's reaction and began to
add kicks to Gunnar's trailing leg as the feints pushed him back.
taking a few leg kicks while retreating, Gunnar decides to counter.
Thatch throws the leg kick and Gunnar takes a small hop-step back,
bracing his leg against another kick. He raises his shin to check the
kick, before using his hands to fight off Thatch's attempt at grabbing
his head. Thatch's hands are now out of position to block due to his
failed clinch attempt and Gunnar nails him with a short overhand as he
retreats. Notice Thatch landing in a southpaw stance after throwing the
likes to give his opponent different looks by switching his stance
often. He'll do this mid-combination, after a combination to come back
in with one from the opposite stance, or at distance when he feels he is
far enough away to safely switch. When switching from a distance, he
takes a step back with his lead foot while pivoting on his rear foot,
ostensibly putting him at a safe distance and an angle that makes it
difficult for his opponent to capitalize.
men are hand fighting and a forward step fron Nelson promts a switch
from Thatch. Thatch pivots on his rear foot and Nelson takes a small
step to keep up with him. Now Thatch is facing Nelson's center, while
Nelson is facing off to the side of Thatch. As Thatch steps forward,
Nelson takes a sharp hop-step forward and to his left, eliminating
Thatch's angle and putting him in position to be hit. Nelson lands on
the ball of his feet ready to immediately spring off and leap in further
diagonally with the left hook, catching Thatch off-guard as he steps
and leaving him with no time to react. Nelson's diagonal movement as he
throws the left hook shortens the path of his straight and lines Thatch
up for it, and he smashes his fist through Thatch's head and follows up
on the ground.
slices through his guard like butter and moves to knee on belly,
followed by mount. Thatch controls Nelson's left arm to remove his
ability to base out on it and bridges. Nelson just bases out on his
right arm across his body and switches his hips to his right as Thatch's
hips turn in the opposite direction, preventing Thatch from rolling
back underneath him and securing the back.
turns Thatch over and secures the body lock. Thatch has his right hand
tight to his head, preventing Nelson from slipping his hand in for the
choke. He uses some hard hammerfists to force a reaction and Thatch
responds by sitting up to get away from them. As he comes back down,
Nelson punches through his arm and locks up the choke. This is similar
to how Benson Henderson finished the rear naked choke on Thatch - he
used a heel kick to the body to make Thatch sit up and locked up the
choke as he sat.
It was clear from the get-go that the handfight
would play a significant role in the fight between Lawler and MacDonald.
They took the first round to feel each other out, playing with angles
and experimenting with the handfight. Both men looked to land their jab
and straight, while Rory repeatedly went to a front kick to the body
that we'll see pop up later in McGregor's fight.
slaps the lead hand down and steps into an outside angle to land a
straight, taking his head off-line to avoid a jab from Lawler, but
Lawler circles his hand out and comes up with a counter hook, landing
simultaneously. As he does this, Lawler steps out with his lead foot,
taking back the outside angle. He presses forward and steps deeper
outside and Rory allows him to take the outside angle to land a jab from
controls Lawler's lead hand and Lawler circles it out and throws a
front kick, stepping down into an outside angle and parrying the
MacDonald jab as he lands his straight.
the first sequence, Lawler reaches out to check MacDonald's lead hand,
allowing MacDonald to sneak a quick jab in on his unprotected chin
before he covers the hand. In the second sequence, MacDonald pumps a
couple jabs at Lawler's open hand, retracting it low every time. Lawler
times it and steps into a jab as MacDonald retracts, before slipping
Both fighters began to open up more in the
second round. Lawler started using pivots more in his attack and looked
to set up the straight left, while MacDonald looked to maintain
distance with his jab. Lawler started to block the fronts kicks of
MacDonald, so he went with a straight to the body which landed hard a
Lawler takes a wide pivot around MacDonald and pounces with a jab as MacDonald turns to face him.
the first sequence, Macdonald controls Lawler's lead hand and steps
into an outside angle. Lawler begins to circle his hand out, which
lowers MacDonald's lead hand to set up a straight left. The straight
misses, but Lawler pivots toward MacDonald's center line as he throws it
and follows up with a wide right hook. He then steps outside to land a
straight and steps in with a right hook that grazes MacDonald, but he
drops his right hand and gets caught throwing a left straight with his
In the second sequence, they reach out to meet hands and
Lawler circles his lead hand out with a right hook. MacDonald eats it
and leans into a straight right, giving Lawler no time to react and
cracking him on the chin.
reach out to meet hands and Lawler circles his lead hand twice,
feinting the hook. This draws a probing jab from MacDonald and on the
third circle, Robbie circles his hand into a right hook over top of
found a lot of success with the 1-2 in the second round. In the first
sequence, he again takes a pivot around MacDonald and cracks him with
the 1-2 as MacDonald turns into him.
In the second sequence, he tries
to hook around MacDonald's extended hand and misses. MacDonald backs
up and sidesteps, opening up his stance for a second, and Lawler pounces
with the 1-2 as MacDonald steps forward back into his stance.
for his part, found success with the 2-1. Lawler would slip inside the
straight right and line himself up for the jab.
Lawler opened up even more in the third round, as did MacDonald's face, but a headkick late in the round put him on wobbly legs.
throws a straight, which Lawler slips, only to run straight into a
headkick. He blocks the kick on his forearm, but the force of the kick
combined with Lawler moving directly into it results in him getting
rocked. MacDonald follows up with a hard front kick, driving the ball
of his foot straight into Lawler's stomach. He continues to walk Lawler
down and pick him apart, being careful not to charge in recklessly as
Lawler is always dangerous.
flashes the straight and launches into a flying knee. Lawler tries to
slip the straight and ends up running right into the knee and MacDonald
follows up with some vicious clinch elbows. After nearly getting caught
by a counter right hook, MacDonald backs out of the clinch and takes an
angle, stiff-arming Lawler and patiently waiting to pick his shots.
comes out for the fourth round more reserved, but he quickly drives
Lawler to the cage with a combination and goes to work, mixing the front
kick to the body with flurries of punches and clinch knees and elbows.
However, after spamming a couple headkicks and another clinch barrage,
Lawler escapes to the center and MacDonald lets up on the pressure,
allowing him to regain his composure.
MacDonald spent the later
part of the round alternatively trying to force the headkick and
standing in the pocket with Lawler while getting outstruck.
looks to continue his momentum from the end of the fourth round,
starting out the fifth round by moving forward and walking MacDonald
down. MacDonald starts out trying to stay out of range and potshot, but
after eating a couple punches he gets drawn into exchanging.
Each of these exchanges, Lawler steps forward with a punch and
MacDonald tries to counter without adequate defense. He doesn't slip
the punches, block them, or back out of range and return, he simply
charges into them. Finally a straight left from Lawler busts his nose
open and forces him to fall and cover up. Lawler follows up with ground
and pound for the TKO victory.
McDonald spent far too much time
in the pocket with Lawler. At the start of the fight, he was more
mobile, moving and staying at the end of Lawler's range, although he
still got drawn into exchanges. By the end of the fight, he would eat a
punch, back up a little bit, and then come right back into the pocket
to be hit. McDonald is not a striker who does well when his opponent
can hit him - his defensive skills are more suited to retreating and
resetting to resume his attack. He relies primarily on his control of
distance to defend strikes, something that he periodically abandoned
against Lawler. He also makes use of the high elbow to defend overhands
while backing up. There isn't much in the way of head movement or
catch-and-pitch style counters in his reportoire. His offense is also
better suited to pot shotting from a distance than counter-punching in
the pocket, something which Lawler excels at.
into the fight, it was predicted by many (including me) that
MacDonald's wrestling would be a key to his victory, but Lawler shut
that right down. Recognizing that instead of turning the corner on his
double legs, MacDonald likes to pull the near leg out and turn toward
that leg while driving his opponents hips over it, Lawler would
crossface hard and turn his hips away from MacDonald as he sprawled.
would have liked to see MacDonald go to the body more. He was landing
the front kicks in the beginning and when Lawler started blocking them,
he went to the straight, which he landed hard twice before abandoning
it. Lawler's pawing lead hand invited McDonald's signature switch kick
McGregor immediately ran out as soon as the bell sounded, taking the
center of the Octagon and forcing Chad Mendes to the cage. He leapt in
with a knee, giving up a takedown in the process. McGregor didn't show
off a capable offensive guard in this fight, but he did reveal something
important about his skillset on the bottom - if you give him an inch of
space, he'll run with it and get back to his feet. Mendes isn't
controlling his hips from this position and McGregor kicks him back and
stands up, eating a couple punches in doing so.
Mendes had a lot of success slipping the left straight of Conor and countering with an overhand.
counters the straight with an overhand, which misses, but Conor's
straight puts him off-balance and right in the path of a left hook.
Conor steps forward and Mendes times his forward step with a straight right.
When Conor did have success with his straight left, it was when he got Mendes worried about the jab before throwing it.
Mendes was able to time Conor's straight left and hit takedowns as his hips squared.
switches his hips and puts his right foot in Mendes' hip while framing
his face to create space and kicks Mendes back. With Mendes controlling
his right foot, he executes a rushed variation of a technical stand up
to his knees and wall-walks while Mendes hammers him.
was doing great work boxing with Conor, but McGregor's kicks won him
the fight. Time after time he would slam front kicks into Mendes' body
and Mendes had no response but to attempt to catch them after they
already landed. McGregor would pressure Mendes close to the cage and
use the front kicks, spinning kicks, and body punches to prevent Mendes
from stepping forward and pick away at him. Mendes, for the most part,
would either circle towards Conor's rear leg or stand in front of him,
allowing him to freely tee off with body shots.
You can argue the
chances of "Full Camp Mendes" until you're blue in the face, and it's
likely that we would see a different fight given a full camp for each
guy with enough time to structure the camp around their opponent. But
you don't take that many hard body shots and not gas out. And Mendes
Exhausted after the first round, Mendes quickly scored a takedown in the second and was determined to hold top position.
McGregor attempts to create space, but Mendes stays tight and smothers his hips.
all the talk about McGregor not being able to stop the takedown and
spending 25 minutes underneath a wrestler determined to hold him down,
it's ironic that Mendes' activity on the ground lead directly to his
uses his forearm to push the left arm of Mendes back and throws his
legs up, likely looking for a triangle. Mendes jams his forearm in
Conor's leg and quickly slides his knee through to half-guard, wrapping
his arm around the head and hunting for a guillotine. Mendes tries to
step over to mount, but McGregor gets his left leg in between their
bodies and uses it as a butterfly hook to push Mendes to the side and
start turning into him. As McGregor turns into Mendes, his Alpha Male
instinct kicks in and he tries to lock up the guillotine, but McGregor
goes in the other direction and rolls out of it, allowing him to stand
stand up and Mendes staggers back, exhausted. McGregor digs a front
kick into his body and slams a clean uppercut down the middle, but Chad
is able to dig deep and find the strength to wallop Conor with an
overhand right and a left hook. The Irishman eats it like candy and
comes right back in. Chad heaves a defeated sigh and shoots a
desperation takedown, which McGregor stuffs without issue.
The finish from here is elementary, as McGregor walks Mendes down and pounds on his head and body.
White referred to UFC 189 as the "best UFC ever" and with so many eyes
on the sport for the first time, it could not have delivered in a more
entertaining or brutal fashion. Even boxing analyst Al Bernstein called
it "one of [the] best nights of combat sports [he's] ever seen". In
fact, Jose Aldo's injury didn't seem to detract from the card, instead
serving to drum up interest for a future title fight.
does Conor's performance say about a potential fight against Aldo?
First of all, it tells us that he's hittable - his straight can be
avoided and countered effectively. With every fight, Conor seems to
focus more on his pressure at the expense of his counters. No longer
particularly difficult to hit, Conor is often happy to take a punch to
land one of his own, with the expectation that his punch will hurt you
more than yours will hurt him. So far no one has been able to prove him
No one's been able to deal with his pressure. No one's
been able to take his left hand. But Aldo has the tools do deal with
that pressure and avoid that right hand. His control of distance is
excellent and he is one of the best in the sport at incorporating pivots
into his striking, which will make it difficult for McGregor to trap
him against the cage. Aldo also has a longer reach and far better
defense than Mendes - in fact he is in all likelihood the best defensive
fighter in all of MMA. He won't be perplexed by front kicks to the
We learned that McGregor's striking is as dangerous against
the elite as it is against Dennis Siver. We learned that McGregor has a
ridiculous chin. We learned that he can get up off his back and defend
Ultimately, a matchup between Aldo and McGregor is
impossible to predict with any degree of certainty. Perhaps the most
interesting aspect of this fight is that both men seem to have an
unbreakable will and a refusal to be bested. When Mendes came out of
the gates with intensity to show Aldo he wouldn't be pushed around, Aldo
ramped the intensity up to 10 and showed Chad that he would not be
allowed to dictate the pace of the fight. When Mendes countered Conor's
straight with his overhands, McGregor would walk back into range and
resume throwing the straight, unconcerned about Mendes' devastating
Regardless of who wins that fight, I know one thing for certain. I'm buying Aldo vs McGregor. And you should too.