The Irish sensation Conor McGregor proved the doubters wrong tonight in Las Vegas at UFC 189 with a second-round stoppage win over wrestler Chad Mendes. Many said the flashy striker wouldn't be able to hang with one of the UFC's best wrestlers, but tonight he survived several minutes of battery from Mendes while pinned on his back before standing back up to get the win.
The first round saw McGregor come out firing spinning kicks, unintimidated by Mendes' vaunted wrestling. It seemed to work early as he backed Mendes up and appeared to hurt him. McGregor bounced up from Mendes initial takedown attempts, but later in the round it didn't work so well as Mendes took him down and bloodied him with elbows.
Mendes took McGregor down early in the second and battered the Irishman with elbows again. McGregor's defense on the ground seemed limited to a closed guard and periodic appeals to the ref to stand them up. But when Mendes went for a choke and lost position, McGregor stood up and went for the kill. He battered Mendes up against the cage, dropped him and finished him with 10 seconds left in the round.
UFC 189 saw an unprecedented marketing campaign for the original headliner of Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor. The promotion sought to capitalize on the featherweight challenger's charisma and introduced him to as many fans as possible with media tours and a ton of paid advertising. Ordinarily that investment would have been considered lost when Aldo had to pull out of the fight citing a rib injury and was replaced by Chad Mendes. Fortunately for Dana White and the UFC, fan interest appears to have hardly been diminished with the substitution of an interim championship bout.
The card set records at the gate for an MMA event in the U.S. with over $7.1 million in ticket sales, breaking the previous record of $6.9 million set by Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II in 2012.
More UFC 189 coverage from SB Nation
In the co-main event, incumbent welterweight champ Robbie Lawler survived one of the most brutal fights in UFC history to stop Rory MacDonald in the fifth round. Both men were bloodied but Lawler was unbowed as he smashed MacDonald's nose with a straight punch to notch the win.
The first round was spent feeling each other out, but Lawler began to pick MacDonald apart in the second round. By the mid-way point of the third round, MacDonald's face was a blood red mask and his nose appeared to have been smashed flat. But suddenly MacDonald hurt Lawler with a high kick and battered him for the next round and a half. At several points in MacDonald's two-round run it appeared he was about to finish a hurt Lawler but he just couldn't quite pull it off.
In the fifth round, Lawler knew he needed a finish to get the win, and he did it with a targeted series of straight shots to MacDonald's already bashed nose. Finally, Lawler caught MacDonald with a punch that forced MacDonald to grab at his shattered nose before falling to his back where Lawler quickly finished the fight.
Jeremy Stephens ended his wild fight with Dennis Bermudez with an amazing fade-away knee to the face that dropped Bermudez early in the second round. The two went back and forth in a wild first round that saw Stephens bloodied by an inadvertent head butt. Stephens had missed weight by four pounds, making it a catchweight bout rather than the planned featherweight contest, but that didn't seem to affect his performance.
Iceland's Gunnar Nelson put on an incredible performance against Brandon Thatch, dropping the Coloradoan with punches before winning via first round submission. Both men entered the fight coming off their first UFC loss and were looking to get back on track. Nelson, a decorated grappler known and feared for his submission skills, caught Thatch with a vicious two-punch combo that dropped him. Once on the ground, Nelson gave Thatch no chance and caught him in a rear-naked choke for the finish.
The pay-per-view card opened with a barn burner as Brazilian Thomas Almeida came back from a first round beating at the hands of Brit Brad Pickett to win via KO. Pickett seemed to have the fight well in hand, landing sharp punches and apparently breaking Almeida's nose with a knee. It was all for naught as Almeida came back in the second and surprised Pickett with a flying knee that ended the fight.
Matt Brown pulled off a guillotine choke on Tim Means in the headliner of the Fox Sports 1 preliminary card. Means rocked Brown several times before Brown caught Means with a vicious pair of elbows and finished with a guillotine choke.
The other Fox Sports 1 prelims saw a string of uneventful decisions in which Alex Garcia, John Howard and Cody Garbrandt picked up wins. There were complaints about the judging in the Howard split decision win when UFC commentator Joe Rogan said he didn't see any way the fight could have been scored for Cathal Pendred.
In the UFC Fight Pass early prelims, Louis Smolka and Cody Pfister took unanimous decision wins in a pair of grappling-heavy bouts.
More UFC 189 coverage from SB Nation
UFC 189: McGregor vs. Mendes Complete Results
Pay-Per View Main Card
Conor McGregor def. Chad Mendes via TKO (punches) at 4:57 of Rd 2.
Robbie Lawler def. Rory MacDonald via TKO (punches) at 1:00 of Rd 5.
Jeremy Stephens def. Dennis Bermudez via KO (knee + punches) at 0:32 of Rd 2.
Gunnar Nelson def. Brandon Thatch via submission (rear naked choke) at 2:54 of Rd 1.
Thomas Almeida def. Brad Pickett via KO (flying knee) at 0:20 of Rd. 2.
Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Matt Brown def. Tim Means via submission (guillotine choke) at 4:44 of Rd. 1.
Alex Garcia def. Mike Swick via unanimous decision (30-27x2, 29-28).
John Howard def. Cathal Pendred via split decision (29-28x2, 28-29).
Cody Garbrandt def. Henry Briones via unanimous decision (30-27x3).
Fight Pass Prelims
Louis Smolka def. Neil Seery via unanimous decision (30-27x3).
Cody Pfister def. Yosdenis Cedeno via unanimous decision (29-28x3).