Events like UFC 189 are rare. Sometimes we have fights with immense dramatic build-up that deliver little in action, and sometimes we have fights with no context that end up being masterful bits of storytelling played out in 3-5 rounds. The most entertaining fights are the ones that deliver on both, and they’re the ones that we as fans love to devour. UFC 189 managed to put together six such fights in a row, all of which played out and ended in dramatic fashion, and it may just be the best event the UFC has ever put together.
The promotion debuted a new production theme in addition to the new Reebok fighter uniforms. The uniforms look like they come from some dystopian future where everyone shops at Wal-Mart and eats at Subway, but the new production is a HUGE improvement. They remixed their long-running intro song “Face the Pain” to make it sound slightly less nu-metal. People will probably be hugely divided over this, but it’s a step in the right direction. The fight clock and round count are streamlined at the bottom center of screen, and new intro videos showcase the divisions and fighters. It’s a much more modern approach, and you can practically smell the forthcoming website redesign coming.
UFC 189’s biggest deficiency was its undercard. The event opened with five straight decisions to the delight of no one. John Howard’s slow, plodding victory over Cathal Pendred managed to quiet the rowdy Irish crowd in attendance, and Alex Garcia’s win over Mike Swick was your standard points-based smothering. Once Matt Brown and Tim Means took center stage in the final bout of the prelims, the event quickly escalated to an over the top spectacle of drama and violence. Let’s look at the results.
Matt Brown Taps Tim Means
Matt Brown is equal parts representative of the working man and blood mage. The sight of his own sanguine fluid only empowers him to kill harder. Means is no slouch either. He was on a four win streak that included a performance of the night victory over recently released Dhiego Lima.
Means managed to hurt Brown early in the first, but Brown has the Goku gene. He’s actually at his most powerful once wounded. We saw him rocked in the Erick Silva fight and the Jordan Mein fight, and he won awards for both of those victories. This was no exception. Means hurt Brown, busted him open, and with only 16 seconds left in the round, Means rushed into a takedown, probably to try to secure the rest of the round. Brown wasted no words in declaring his intentions after the win.
“I’m coming for that title. I’m going to get that title or I’m going to die trying.” - Matt Brown
Thomas Almeida Remains Undefeated
Taking a play from the Jose Aldo playbook, Thomas Almeida remained undefeated with a walk off flying knee in the second round of his fight against Brad Pickett. The former Legacy FC champ won a performance of the night award for the move that dropped Pickett cold.
Pickett spent much of the first round finding success with his angles and hooks. He landed some clean shots that busted Almeida open and sent him scrambling. Almeida was knocked down twice in the round, once by a left hook and the other by a knee. Almeida finally found some offense of his own late in the round and dropped Pickett with a sharp right elbow.
Almeida landed the knee crisp and up the middle. Pickett went full corpse and there was no need for further strikes. This was Almeida’s 20th win and 15th career KO/TKO, and it was also Pickett’s first straight KO loss. He hasn’t been had a fight stopped due to strikes since his second fight in 2005.
"I'm forged with iron and I'm here to stay." - Thomas Almeida
Gunnar Nelson Dispatches Thatch
Icelandic welterweight Gunnar Nelson made quick work of fellow prospect Brandon Thatch. Nelson returned to the win column in spectacular fashion. Thatch was settling in and working on keeping Nelson at reach when Nelson made his way to the inside with a lunging left that threw Thatch off balance. The follow-up right hook dropped him.
Thatch gave up his back while attempting to scuffle out of mount and Nelson capitalized by sinking the rear naked choke. Who’s next for Nelson? There’s no shortage of talent in the division. A collision with fellow winner Matt Brown seems somewhat inevitable as they both have a gritty style that will lead to a fun fight for fans, but he’ll likely clash with another lower ranked welterweight before they give him that much of a jump in competition.
“The fans here tonight were so amazing. My team is half Irish and they were out in full force tonight to support us. I definitely felt at home.” - Gunnar Nelson
Jeremy Stephens Hits the Second Flying Knee of the Night
Jeremy Stephens looked like he was going to be on the losing end of a wrestling war during the first round of his fight against Dennis Bermudez. Stephens was taken down fairly easily in the first round and stifled. In addition to being worn by Bermudez throughout much of the first, an accidental headbutt had him losing blood early. Stephens found more success in the opening of the second round with a jaw-rocking uppercut. He kept the war a brawl and peppered Bermudez with hooks and leg kicks, clearly taking the second. Bermudez tried to get back to the success he had in the first round during the third. As he pressed Stephens, Stephens reacted with a jumping knee that dropped Bermudez.
Jeremy Stephens took home a win in his 35th professional fight and Bermudez met his first loss due to strikes.
“We were two warriors going at it and I won the battle. I’m happy with wherever that fight puts me in the rankings.” - Jeremy Stephens
Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald: Griffin vs. Bonnar for a New Era
Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar put on a fight on The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale that helped usher in a new era for the UFC and brought numerous new fans to the growing promotion. At the end of it, the two men looked like they survived an Eli Roth movie. On an exciting night of so many historic firsts, welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and number one contender Rory MacDonald delivered a heavy favorite for fight of the year. The words “heart” and “drama” certainly get used a lot in the sport, but these two warriors exemplified this spirit in a five round, back and forth battle.
The climax of the fight came at the close of the fourth round. Both men, busted and bloodied stood and stared at each other for a few chilling seconds. As MacDonald gazed at Lawler with his cold, dead, crazy person stare, Lawler responded in kind by spitting a nice spray of blood on the canvas from his grossly torn lip. It was a perfect moment that framed the unique toughness of each fighter.
The champ, down three rounds per the judges scorecards, went into the fifth needing the knockout and he delivered. MacDonald suffered the second TKO of his professional career and Lawler, the old survivor, gets to see another day at the top of the welterweight food chain.
"That wasn't one punch, that was years of fighting coming to fruition" - Robbie Lawler
Conor McGregor: The Irish War Machine Continues
Conor McGregor, the pride of Ireland, marched into Vegas accompanied by thousands of his most faithful of fans. We’ve seen fans from all over the world at UFC shows, but the Irish fans definitely bring a uniquely boisterous atmosphere. McGregor has often said that it’s his destiny to be champion, and love him or hate him, fans tuned in with hopes of either seeing it all come crumbling down or witnessing the larger than life talk come to fruition. Success is only going to further his ambition.
We’ve discussed how McGregor’s takedown defense has never properly been tested, and last night showed that he will definitely continue to have trouble against some of the better wrestlers in the division. He was taken down with ease four times but never wilted or gave up, even going so far as to win the fight immediately after a scramble to get back to his feet. McGregor is a treat to watch on his feet, and with his next fight, a unification match against Jose Aldo, we won’t have to factor in the takedown threat. We expected Conor to be hesitant to attack and kick the wrestler, but he never wavered in pressing his attack while simultaneously remaining composed and cunning.
"In my opinion, Jose went running. I had bigger injuries leading up to this fight than a bruised rib, and I still showed up and performed. In my eyes, Jose went running. If he wants to come back, he can come back, but I swear to God his day will come." - Conor McGregor
From a business standpoint, the Fertitas and company have to be ecstatic today. The card over delivered on thrills and their main event delivered the most commercially viable option against Jose Aldo. The big question is when and where? The UFC is going to want to do this one big, so I’m willing to speculate that it shows up on the big end of the year card that they normally try to put together. Until then, the debates will continue to be waged.
Full UFC 189 Results
- Conor McGregor defeated Chad Mendes via TKO (punches) at 4:57 of the second round.
- Robbie Lawler defeated Rory MacDonald via TKO (punches) at 1:00 of the fifth round.
- Jeremy Stephens defeated Dennis Bermudez via TKO (flying knee and punches) at 0:32 of the third round.
- Gunnar Nelson defeated Brandon Thatch via Submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:54 of the first round.
- Thomas Almeida defeated Brad Pickett via KO (flying knee) at 0:29 of the second round.
- Matt Brown defeated Tim Means via Submission (guillotine choke) at 4:44 of the first round.
- Alex Garcia defeated Mike Swick via Decision (unanimous) 29-28, 30-27, 30-27).
- John Howard defeated Cathal Pendred via Decision (split) (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).
- Cody Garbrandt defeated Henry Briones via Decision (unanimous) (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
- Louis Smolka defeated Neil Seery via Decision (unanimous) (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
- Cody Pfister defeated Yosdenis Cedeno via Decision (unanimous) (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
- Fight of the Night: Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald
- Performance of the Night: Conor Mcgregor
- Performance of the Night: Thomas Almeida