The legend of UFC featherweight Conor McGregor continues to grow, and the proportions are now beyond epic.
Predicting a run to a UFC title since entering the promotion in 2013, McGregor made good on his promise, stopping Chad Mendes with punches in the second round of the UFC 189 main event.
Going into the fight, the main questions centered on McGregor's ability to handle elite wrestling, after Mendes jumped onto the fight card on short notice, replacing an injured Jose Aldo. McGregor answered all of those inquires, and more, taking home the belt and setting up a future unification bout with Aldo.
Straight from the opening bell, McGregor came out with his signature, unorthodox style, landing a spinning back kick to Mendes' midsection.
The Irishman slowly backed the American against the cage to unload punches from the southpaw stance, stunning Mendes with powerful strikes.
But just as McGregor looked to gain steam, Mendes reverted to his All-American wrestling pedigree, landing takedowns, transitioning to ground and pound and a multitude of submission attempts.
And while McGregor was able to regain his footing after the first takedown, Mendes appeared stronger with every ensuing slam, taking the first round.
The second round looked much like the first, with Mendes asserting top control, dropping heavy elbows.
What happened next will go down as an all-time high in Irish athletic history.
Back on his feet after eating ground strikes for the majority of the frame, McGregor, who claimed one of the evening's Performance of the Night bonuses, walked Mendes back against the cage and started teeing off with crisp and precise punches.
With Mendes slowing toward the end of the round, McGregor sealed the deal with a perfect straight left that dropped the Team Alpha Male product, following up with punches, before referee Herb Dean stepped in to waive off the contest at the 4:57 mark.
"I knew what I could do ... it's the efficient fighter who will prevail ... I knew when I hit him I would hurt him. And that was it," offered McGregor after the fight. "I had a hell of a lot more wrong with me than a bruised rib and I still showed up. I prepared for this camp in essentially the physical terriblest [sic] realm. I had a lot to deal with this camp ... I'm overwhelmed by what's happening now ... I can take whatever these people give. I can walk through everything."
In the evening's co-main event, welterweight champion Robbie Lawler continued his career resurgence with an inspiring first defense of the title he won at UFC 181, stopping challenger Rory MacDonald at 1:00 of the fifth round.
Starting slow, with a methodical approach to gauge distance and timing, Lawler looked uncharacteristically timid in the opening round.
However, the action picked up in the second, as Lawler opened up MacDonald's nose with heavy punches.
The Canadian stayed tough throughout the barrage, answering every shot.
In the third round, MacDonald put the pressure on the champion, landing a series of head kicks that wobbled Lawler. And with Lawler on weak legs near the cage wall, MacDonald unloaded a full onslaught of elbows and knees.
But before MacDonald could finish, Lawler was saved by the bell.
The fourth frame played out much like the third, with a bloody MacDonald landing head kicks, using his jab to keep distance. And despite the gushing cut, MacDonald looked to be the fresher fighter.
Then, with MacDonald up three-rounds-to-one on all three judges scorecards, Lawler summoned his championship form in the fifth round.
With both fighters swinging away, looking for a fight-ending strike, Lawler landed a straight left to MacDonald's eye. MacDonald soon crumpled and covered up before the match was stopped by John McCarthy.
"I was definitely dinged in that flurry but I wasn't going down," commented Lawler after the evening's Fight of the Night. "I attacked that nose and I knew he couldn't continue to take those shots. It was the culmination of a beat down and he finally went down. Rory is as tough as nails, but I'm the best in the world."
A featured featherweight bout between Jeremy Stephens and Dennis Bermudez quickly unraveled into a wild and torrid striking affair, as the pair furiously traded kicks, punches, elbows, and knees from the opening bell.
In the first round, it was Bermudez who controlled the action, dropping Stephens, forcing the contest to the cage wall.
The second frame saw both fighters land multiple knockdowns, as Bermudez connected on a Superman punch and push kick, while Stephens answered with a flooring hook.
With the action tied going into the third, Stephens landed a perfectly timed knee to Bermudez's chin. The New Yorker quickly dropped, and Stephens followed up with punches before referee Marc Goddard stopped the fight 32 seconds into the last stanza.
"It was an awesome fight. I trained hard and I had a great mentality going in," offered Stephens. "Dennis is a great opponent, I certainly couldn't have done that myself. We were two warriors going at it and I won the battle."
For grappler and jiu jitsu whiz Gunnar Nelson, it was an improved striking attack that led to a first-round finish against Brandon Thatch.
With Thatch attacking Nelson's legs with low kicks early, Nelson landed a precise left hook, straight right combo that dropped the American to the canvas.
Nelson immediately transitioned into jiu jitsu mode, as he smothered Thatch from side control before taking the back and locking in a body triangle.
Continuing to open up Thatch from the back mount, Nelson patiently waited for his opening, which came midway through the first.
The Reykjavik native forced the tapout via rear naked choke at 2:54 of the opening frame.
"When I caught him I moved in and kept the pressure. Eventually he opened up," stated Nelson. "Instincts take over and I'm just glad I was able to get the better of him."
Leading off the main card, bantamweights Thomas Almeida and Brad Pickett went straight at each other with a dizzying pace.
Pickett looked sharp early on, dropping Almeida twice in the first round, opening up a massive cut on the Brazilian's nose.
Dripping blood, Almeida came back towards the end of the round, flooring Pickett.
After taking Pickett's best punches, Almeida stormed forward in the second, landing a picturesque flying knee directly on Pickett's jaw.
With Pickett out before he even hit the canvas, Almeida walked off to victory and a Performance of the Night bonus, as referee John McCarthy stopped the contest at 29 seconds of the second round.
"My strategy was to get into the Octagon very calm and look for a knockout," commented Almeida, who improves to 3-0 under the UFC banner. "Everything went as planned."
Prior to the main card, number-five welterweight Matt Brown made quick work of Tim Means.
It was a wild affair from the opening bell, as both Brown and Means landed elbows and punches on the feet.
Means made first contact, stunning Brown early on.
But as many a Matt Brown fight goes, he came back with a barrage of his own.
Transition from the clinch to the ground, Brown clenched the guillotine choke, eliciting the tapout at 4:44 of the first.
"I was really tight coming into the fight ... that elbow he threw to my face loosened me up," commented Brown. "I'm never really happy with my performances; first, for me to be happy with it, it has to be for a belt."
UFC 189 Official Results
Conor McGregor def. Chad Mendes via TKO (punches) Rd 2, 4:57
Robbie Lawler def. Rory MacDonald via TKO (punch) Rd 5, 1:00
Jeremy Stephens def. Dennis Bermudez via TKO (Flying knee and punches) Rd 3, 0:32)
Gunnar Nelson def. Brandon Thatch via Tapout (Rear Naked Choke) Rd 1, 2:54)
Thomas Almeida def. Brad Pickett via KO (flying knee) Rd 2, 0:29
Matt Brown def. Tim Means via Tapout (Guillotine Choke) Rd 1, 4:44
Alex Garcia def. Mike Swick via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
John Howard def. Cathal Pendred via Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Cody Garbrandt def. Henry Briones via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Louis Smolka def. Neil Seery via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Cody Pfister def. Yosdenis Cedeno via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
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