UFC 189 takes place Saturday night from Las Vegas, the most heavily promoted UFC event of the year. In the main event, the colorful and outspoken Irish superstar Conor McGregor faces the biggest test of his career against elite Team Alpha Male product Chad "Money" Mendes for the UFC interim featherweight title. McGregor was originally scheduled to challenge UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo for Aldo's title, but Aldo was forced to pull out following an injury in training. In the co-feature, Robbie Lawler defends the UFC welterweight title against top challenger Rory MacDonald. MacDonald is not only seeking to win UFC gold for the first time but is seeking to avenge a previous loss to Lawler.
UFC Interim Featherweight Title: Chad Mendes vs. Conor McGregor
Mendes is one of the best fighters in the UFC to not hold a title. He has beaten every opponent of his career with the exception of his two title fights against champion Jose Aldo. He is an excellent wrestler who has added really good striking as well. McGregor is the biggest trash talker in the sport and has generated tremendous interest with that talk and his exciting knockout wins. This is easily the biggest test of his career and a chance to back up all that talk.
Conor McGregor is led to the cage by a live performance from Sinead O'Connor. Irish flags are everywhere in Las Vegas and the crowd is heavily for the Irish star.
Round 1. McGregor comes out with a spinning back kick immediately. Mendes takes him down. McGregor gets back up and avoids a few power punches by Mendes. McGregor throws a series of kicks while Mendes is mainly relying on his punches. McGregor sends him back with a landed punch and is trash talking. McGregor uses a spinning back kick to the body and looks really confident. Mendes shoots in for a takedown and slams McGregor down. Mendes drops down a big elbow and lands a pair of hard punches on McGregor as McGregor gets up. Mendes lands another right hand. There is a cut by the eye of McGregor. Mendes lands another hard right hand. McGregor continues to attack the body. Mendes answers back with a right hand and a lead uppercut. Mendes gets another takedown and passes into side control. McGregor gets back into half guard. Mendes grinds his head into McGregor's and looks for a guillotine choke. He can't get it. McGregor is bleeding pretty badly and eats a few punches late. Exciting round. 10-9 Mendes.
Round 2. Mendes opens with a low kick. McGregor walks him down and throws a few wild kicks. He lands a spinning back kick and blocks a takedown attempt. McGregor lands a few straight punches and looks the much fresher fighter. Mendes gets the takedown a minute in. Mendes drops an elbow and a hard punch on the grounded McGregor. McGregor lands a series of elbows from the bottom while Mendes complains about their legality. Mendes continues to work punches from the top. Mendes mixes in elbows while McGregor lobbies for a standup from the referee. Menes goes for his guillotine choke but can't get it. McGregor returns to his feet and confidently moves in with punches on a tired Mendes. McGregor drops Mendes with punches and the fight is stopped.
Winner: Conor McGregor, TKO, round 2.
McGregor picked up the biggest win of his career, smartly attacking the body and pushing the action against a fighter who took the bout on short notice. It's a win of the quality that will likely provide enduring credibility even if he drops some future fights to the elite of the division. The atmosphere for the card was incredible, with overwhelming support for McGregor from traveling Irish fans. The fight with Mendes was a gamble but it paid off handsomely for the UFC, as McGregor's upcoming fight with Jose Aldo will do tremendous business.
UFC Welterweight Title: Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald
Lawler is a remarkable career revitalization story. He was considered to be basically done as a top level force by many back in 2012 as a struggling middleweight who had lost 5 of 8. Since then, he cut to welterweight and has won 6 of 7 over some of the division's best. One of his key wins was a split decision over Rory MacDonald and he won the title over Johny Hendricks in his last fight. MacDonald is 18-2 with losses to only Lawler and Condit. This is his opportunity to avenge that lost and become the top fighter in the division.
Round 1. Both fighters start at a measured pace, throwing the occasional jab and finding their range. MacDonald is leaning in a little bit despite being the longer fighter. Lawler blocks a takedown and lands a knee on MacDonald for the effort. Uneventful round. 10-9 Lawler.
Round 2. They trade jabs. MacDonald lands a nice combination. MacDonald is throwing a lot more, although it's mainly just his jab. He is also mixing in attacks to the body. Lawler lands a 1-2 combination that busts MacDonald open but MacDonald moves in with a few shots of his own. Lawler lands another 1-2 that sends MacDonald back. MacDonald's face became a mess in a hurry. Both men are now attacking more aggressively. 10-9 Lawler.
Round 3. Lawler lands a few solid shots early. MacDonald goes for a takedown but Lawler blocks it nicely. MacDonald connects with a nice head kick. MacDonald's face is hard to recognize with the blood everywhere. MacDonald staggers Lawler with a high kick. He swarms with punches by the cage and really opens up with elbows, punches and knees from close range. Lawler doesn't go down but has to limp back to his corner. 10-9 MacDonald.
Round 4. MacDonald lands a head kick and follows with more big punches by the cage. He flies in with a knee and just pours in the punches. Referee John McCarthy is looking closely and appears to be considering stopping the fight. MacDonald nails Lawler with a couple more hard punches. He has taken over since the second half of the third round. Lawler lands a pair of nice shots of his own. He adds a few jabs. MacDonald shoots for a takedown but Lawler blocks it with a beautiful sprawl. After the bell sounds, the fighters stand there just starring at each other. 10-9 MacDonald.
Round 5. Lawler moves in with a few heavy punches. MacDonald drops down, covers up, and the fight is stopped. MacDonald was forced to just cover up after a vicious punch to the eye socket.
Winner: Robbie Lawler, TKO, round 5.
Robbie Lawler's storybook career comeback continues with a really exciting victory over a tough opponent. MacDonald was likely winning on the judges' scorecards going into the final round, but he kept coming even as MacDonald poured on the offense and finally MacDonald could take no more.
Dennis Bermudez vs. Jeremy Stephens
Bermudez utilized his excellent wrestling to win 7 staight fights and work his way into featherweight contention before losing his last fight to Ricardo Lamas. Stephens is a slugger who debuted in the UFC in 2007. He lost his last two fights, albeit to high level competition in Charles Oliveira and Cub Swanson.
Round 1. The fight starts at a quick pace, with Stephens landing a big right hand and Bermudez answering back with punches that open up a cut next to the eye of Stephens. Bermudez looks for a takedown but eats a knee. Bermudez gets the takedown and lands some punches by the cage. The blood is pouring out of the head of Stephens. Stephens finally gets up and they trade hard punches. Stephens in particular is just swinging with everything he has. Bermudez shoots for another takedown but is stuffed. 10-9 Bermudez.
Round 2. Bermudez lands a right hand and looks to close the distance but he gets dropped with a huge uppercut. Stephens looks to close as Bermudez is in big trouble but Bermudez is able to clinch and recover. As Bermudez is coming in he gets dropped again, this time with a left hook. That shot didn't connect as hard as the earlier one, but Stephens is getting off from distance. Bermudez knocks down Stephens with a superman punch and comes in with more power punches looking to finish. He then clinches and looks for a takedown. This has been a terrific fight thus far. 10-9 Stephens.
Round 3. Stephens drops Bermudez with a flying knee and lands more punches on the ground until the fight is stopped.
Winner: Jeremy Stephens, TKO, round 3.
That was one of the best fights of the year, an all action brawl with both men landing huge shots throughout, complete with a spectacular ending.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Brandon Thatch
Nelson and Thatch are excellent prospects coming off the biggest setbacks of their respective careers. Nelson is a submission ace out of Iceland who was 4-0 in the UFC and 13-0-1 overall before losing a split decision to Rick Story in his last fight. Thatch is a bruising finisher who was 11-1 with 11 stoppages prior to a submission loss to Benson Henderson last time out. Both are looking to regain their previous momentum.
Round 1. Thatch fires a few leg kicks early. Nelson throws a few punches high but gets brushed off when he attempts to clinch. Nelson drops Thatch with a punch. He tries to gain mount in a hurry but can't get good leverage so he switches into side control and then back into mount. Thatch rolls over and Nelson takes his back. Nelson sinks in a rear naked choke and gets the tap.
Winner: Gunnar Nelson, submission, round 1.
Nelson's stock really fell in his last fight. He had such hype but looked lackluster against a mid level fighter in Story. He rebounded in tremendous fashion here, showcasing not only his excellent ground game but his striking as well. The buzz is likely to pick up again now.
Thomas Almeida vs. Brad Pickett
Almeida is viewed as a potential elite bantamweight and he is getting high level opponents just 3 fights into his UFC career. At 19-0 with 18 finishes, the relative newcomer won't be overlooked. Pickett has been one of the division's best for over five years and holds wins over the likes of Demetrious Johnson, Ivan Menjivar and Mike Easton.
Round 1. Pickett lands a few solid punches early that bruise Almeida's eye. He then drops Almeida with punches and looks to finish the fight. He follows with a hard elbow and Almeida is a mess with blood all over the place. Almeida answers with a perfect right hook that drops Pickett down. Pickett has a heck of a chin because he's trying to fight through it despite it connecting incredibly hard. Almeida lands a spinning back elbow moments later. Excellent first round. 10-9 Pickett.
Round 2. Almeida knocks Pickett out cold with a knee.
Winner: Thomas Almeida, KO, round 2.
Almeida struggled early on and looked like he was on the verge of being finished. To his credit, he worked right through it, recovering from serious jeopardy and winning in emphatic fashion. The fight showed he still has work to do defensively, but he isn't going to crumble when put in a bad position.
Matt Brown vs. Tim Means
This has all the makings of a really exciting fight, as both of these men are action fighters who press forward with aggressive offense and tremendous grit. Brown was a top welterweight contender before dropping a couple of recent fights, while Means is riding a winning streak.
Round 1. Means stuns Brown with a straight punch and follows with another hard straight punch. Brown clinches and throws a couple elbows from close range. Brown momentarily drops Means with a heavy hook but Means is able to recover in quick order. Brown clinches and they work by the cage. Brown throws a high kick and a few punches from close range before Means goes for a takedown. Brown threatens with a guillotine choke but doesn't get it. Brown then takes Means down. Means quickly gets up. Means stuns Brown with a few more hard punches and then a big standing elbow, one of his best weapons. Brown answers with a couple of his own. Means is forced to go for a takedown. Brown grabs a guillotine and gets the submission.
Winner: Matt Brown, submission, round 1.
It had been a night of mostly dull bouts, but Brown vs. Means put an end to that trend. Brown showed the grit and determination that has made him a fan favorite and led to a career resurgence and he is likely to be in a fight with another top contender the next time out.
Yosdenis Cedeno vs. Cody Pfister
Cedeno is a Cuban national whose wins have come mostly via TKO/KO. He is 1-2 in the UFC. Pfister is 11-4-1 in MMA and lost his UFC debut.
Round 1. Pfister pushes the action early, moving forward with jabs and following with power shots. Cedeno clinches and they scramble for position on the ground before ending up back on the feet. Pfister continues to be the aggressor throughout the round, although he isn't doing a lot of damage. Cedeno's best shots have tended to be inside leg kicks as Pfister moves in and he has landed them with more and more power as the round advances. At the end, Pfister is forced to switch stances to make his lead leg less of a target for the hard leg kicks. 10-9 Cedeno.
Round 2. Pfister goes back to pressing, but finally gets a takedown after eating a couple more leg kicks. Pfister ends up in side control on the ground. Cedeno turns and tries to get up but Pfister takes his back in the process. Cedeno deftly rolls out of trouble and takes top position himself in quick order. Cedeno isn't able to do a lot of damage from the position and they end up back on the feet, where Pfister gets another takedown and regains top position with a couple minutes left in the round. Cedeno stands back up at the end of the round. 10-9 Pfister.
Round 3. Pfister doesn't bother with the standup this time around and goes right for the takedown. He gets Cedeno down in quick order but the referee stands them up very quickly as they grapple for control by the cage. Back on the feet, Pfister takes Cedeno back down again. Cedeno's takedown defense is not impressive. Pfister works some light ground and pound and takes Cedeno's back when Cedeno turns. Cedeno spins out of trouble but Pfister pushes forward and gets top position again. Cedeno grabs a guillotine choke from the bottom but doesn't have Pfister it tight and lets it go. Cedeno turns and Pfister gets his back again, but Pfister has done a poor job of controlling Cedeno in that position. Cedeno spins out yet again and drops down a few punches to end the round. 10-9 Pfister, 29-28 Pfister.
Winner: Cody Pfister, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
Neil Seery vs. Louis Smolka
Seery, an Irish fighter, will be a big favorite tonight with so many Irish fans in attendance to support Conor McGregor. He is a late bloomer at age 35, who started his MMA career 1-4 before improving to a 15-10 record and winning his last two UFC fights. Smolka is a 23-year-old Hawaiian, so there is a big age difference. He is 8-1 in MMA and 2-1 in UFC with his only loss coming via split decision.
Round 1. Smolka grabs a Thai plum and lands some knees but Seery answers with punches in the process and Smolka backs out. Seery lands some additional solid punches and Smolka goes down. They scramble for position and Smolka ends up on top. Seery goes for a guillotine choke but can't get it. Seery is bleeding by the eye. Smolka grabs a guillotine choke of his own from the top but Seery has half guard which makes it harder to apply. Smolka transitions into a one arm guillotine and then a D'Arce choke. Smolka can't get a choke but works his way into mount. He then takes Seery's back late. Very impressive round by Smolka. 10-9 Smolka.
Round 2. The fighters clinch and as they move to the ground, Seery looks to get crucifix position. Smolka avoids that and ends up on top on the ground. Seery looks for an armbar from the bottom but can't get it and Smolka quickly transitions into taking Seery's back. Smolka goes for a rear naked choke but Seery defends well. Seery, dominated all round, throws a series of punches while Smolka controls his back. Smolka ends up back on top and lands a few punches as the round concludes. 10-9 Smolka.
Round 3. Seery comes out swinging but Smolka ducks down and takes him back to the ground. Seery gets back to his feet but eats some knees to the body. Seery goes for a guillotine choke and has it pretty tight as they tumble to the mat. Smolka works out of danger by removing himself from Seery's guard and then gets into side control. Smolka grabs an arm triangle choke but can't get it and takes mount. Seery turns and Smolka looks for a rear naked choke. Seery successfully defends. Seery gets back to his feet and goes for another guillotine choke from the bottom. Smolka gets out and slams Seery down twice. Smolka goes for the arm triangle choke again. 10-9 Smolka, 30-27 Smolka. Very fun ground fight.
Winner: Louis Smolka, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
Cody Garbrandt vs. Henry Briones
Garbrandt is undefeated in professional competition, winning all his fights via knockout. He won his UFC debut in January over Marcus Brimage. Briones is a Mexican fighter with 14 stoppages in 16 wins. He is a very heavy betting underdog.
Round 1. The fight begins with an extended feeling out process, with neither man throwing much for the entirety of the first half of the round. Briones does land a stiff jab but both fighters are much more focused on defense than offense. Briones lands another and Garbrandt takes him down. Briones gets right back up, avoiding a guillotine attempt. Each man lands punches late and Garbrandt gets a takedown. He drops a few punches and elbows and works into mount. Awful round. 10-9 Garbrandt.
Round 2. The fight continues at a really slow pace. Garbrandt lands a nice right hand in the middle of an exchange. Garbrandt then drops Briones with another big right hand and looks to finish the fight. Briones is able to survive and returns to his feet. Briones answers back with a few hard punches of his own and a flying knee that staggers Garbrandt back. Garbrandt looks for a takedown but doesn't get it. Garbrandt finally is opening up and connecting in the second half of the round, really taking over the fight. 10-8 Garbrandt.
Round 3. The fight returns to a glacial pace. Garbrandt connects with a jab. Late, Briones moves in swinging wildly and looking to land something big. He lands one shot but mostly Garbrandt avoids. Garbrandt gets a takedown and lands a knee as Briones gets back to his feet. Garbrandt punishes Briones with a combination of punches as the fight comes to an end. 10-9 Garbrandt, 30-26 Garbrandt.
Winner: Cody Garbrandt, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
Cathal Pendred vs. John Howard
Pendred is another Irish fighter, riding a wave of momentum as he is undefeated in his last 12 bouts. However, his performance last month was roundly criticized so he is looking to put on a better show this time around. Howard has struggled to deliver in high profile settings, losing 6 of his last 8 UFC fights.
Round 1. Howard lands a left hook early. We get a pair of extended clinches with nothing of note happening. They trade leg kicks. Howard lands a few solid looping punches from distance and Pendred clinches late. 10-9 Howard.
Round 2. Howard lands a few more punches and they clinch again. Howard goes back to work with his looping punches to the side of the head of Pendred. Howard is taking over the fight. Pendred shoots in but eats more punches in the process and is forces to settle for a clinch stalemate. Howard walks down Pendred and lands a few more hard shots late in the round. This has become Howard's fight. 10-9 Howard.
Round 3. Pendred goes for a takedown but has it stuffed and eats a few more punches. Pendred clinches and looks for another takedown attempt but doesn't come close. Howard goes for a takedown. Pendred grabs a guillotine choke but can't get the submission. Howard stands up rather than capitalizing on the position. Howard closes out the fight with a few more looping shots to the chin of Pendred. 10-9 Howard, 30-27 Howard.
Winner: John Howard, split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).
Mike Swick vs. Alex Garcia
Swick was one of the stars of the celebrated first season of the Ultimate Fighter and has fought in the UFC ever since. This is his first fight since 2012, as he has struggled with serious health problems and lost 3 of his last 4 fights. He has an exciting style and tends to be in entertaining fights. Garcia is 12-2 in MMA and coming off his first UFC loss.
Round 1. Garcia gets an early takedown and works from within Swick's full guard. Swick seizes an opportunity to pop back up but Garcia responds by taking him right back down. Swick works his way back up again. Garcia throws a power right hand up the middle and Swick smiles and nods. Swick lands a nice straight right hand. Close round. 10-9 Garcia.
Round 2. Just like in the first round, Garcia immediately scores a takedown. Garcia lands some punches here and there before Swick gets back up to his feet a little over a minute later. The pace of the standup is slow, with Garcia throwing more but neither landing much of note. Garcia slams Swick down with authority late in the round. He looks to get full mount but they are too close to the cage. 10-9 Garcia.
Round 3. Swick likely needs a finish but he continues to be mostly passive, relying mostly on his jab. Garcia gets a takedown over halfway through the round. Garcia works his way into mount position and transitions into a an armbar attempt late. He doesn't get it and the fight concludes. 10-9 Garcia, 30-27 Garcia. This has been a really lackluster card thus far.
Winner: Alex Garcia, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).