UFC 189: Robbie Lawler And Conor McGregor Make It A Knockout Affair

Four men walked into a cage: a brawler, a prodigy, a braggart, and a long shot, and two champions emerged. There were flawed calls and questionable decisions made throughout the night, but the main events of UFC 189 will be remembered for their blood, heart, and power. After Saturday, there's no denying the complete evolution of Robbie Lawler into a complex thinking powerhouse, and love him or hate him, the loudmouth from Dublin, Connor McGregor, clearly showed that he's as genuinely passionate and invested in his craft as his strikes are brutally powerful.

Lawler vs. McDonald: A split lip for the ages

Few fighters in the welterweight division are more at odds stylistically than the champion, Robbie Lawler, and his challenger Rory McDonald. Lawler is a veteran with over 35 fights to his name. For much of his career he's been known as a simple come-forward brawler with fierce power. His victories and losses have been defined by their savagery and the will to power. McDonald, on the other hand, is what many consider an evolution of MMA - not a specialist who added other fighting styles to round out his game, but rather a pure mixed martial artists who from an early age blended various styles with the cage in mind. While only 16, he became a professional, facing off against grown men.

Where Lawler has been defined by his fierceness, McDonald has been defined by his finesse, until Saturday night. In a performance that stole the show, Lawler and McDonald grew immeasurably in the eyes of all fans. Lawler's approach was the embodiment of patient tactics. He reigned in his usual go-for-broke style and became a beautiful counter-puncher. It was odd to see such a reversal of his style, but it proved incredibly effective against one of the most respected thinkers in the game. McDonald, losing the fight in a style, and at a distance and pace he usually prefers was given the (brutal) opportunity to show just how gritty he could be. Later, the world would find out that he'd broken his nose in the first round, shattered his foot sometime thereafter, and according to Dana White, after being knocked out, McDonald was so badly dinged (no doubt caused by a concussion) he didn't even know what year it was.

Even with his newfound finesse, Lawler was still forced to show his grit and in an insane amount of guts in fighting with one of the worse split lips ever seen in the cage.

Jul 11, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Robbie Lawler (red gloves) and Rory MacDonald (not pictured) fight during their welterweight title bout during UFC 189 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Lawler won via fifth round TKO. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 11, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Robbie Lawler (red gloves) and Rory MacDonald (not pictured) fight during their welterweight title bout during UFC 189 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Lawler won via fifth round TKO. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

When you a see a fight with this level of brutality my first reaction is awe, followed quickly by respect. How either man lasted as long as he did is a wonder and a testament to each man's training and fighting spirit. Less than a day later, McDonald told the world in very clear terms that despite the loss (and vicious beating) he'd be back:

No one can question his tenacity and passion for the sport. But after such an intense back-and-forth war, it is difficult not to think about how many years a fight like this takes off of a career (and life). The human body is incredibly resilient, and it can be trained to become a machine capable of miracles. At some point, however, even the best machines are decommissioned -- replaced by newer models. Long before that happens lets hope these fighters are paid their just due, not just with well earned glory and praise, but with cold comforting cash.

McGregor vs. Mendes: A belt is earned, but questions still remain

With his second round knockout of late replacement, Chad Mendes, The Notorious One, Conor McGregor has become the UFC's first interim featherweight champion. McGregor finally beat a wrestler that many have wanted to see him fight, but didn't really quell all of the criticism.

Mendes, a runner up at the NCAA Division 1 national wrestling championship, took McGregor down almost at will. While on the ground, he landed vicious elbows that did more damage to McGregor in two rounds than he's felt in his last five fights combined. In fact, the main reason the interim title isn't going home to Sacramento, California is that Mendes strayed from his wrestling base.

While on top, McGregor had no real answers. His guard did little to stop Mendes' ground and pound. Even McGregor's clearly illegal elbows had little effect from his back. But from a dominant posture Mendes made a mistake / move common to Team Alpha Male, he attempted to transition into a guillotine. The fighters from his gym, Uriah Faber in particular, are famous for their guillotines. But why, God why, give up a clearly effective tactic for half-assed submission attempt against an opponent who'd already escaped the same move a few minutes earlier? Mendes' best chance to win the fight was taking a page out of Ben Askren's playbook: stand, shoot, takedown, ground and pound, repeat. Simple. Effective.

Instead, Mendes went for a second failed choke in the second round that allowed McGregor back on his feet. From there, McGregor showed once again that his freakish length and power are truly one of a kind in the division.

The next fight is clear and more marketable than ever: McGregor vs Aldo. Both men stand to make huge money, if they can make the fight happen. Only Aldo knows how long it will take him to recover from the injury he claimed kept him out of UFC 189 to begin with. You can bet that whether its a few months or a year, the fans will be eagerly awaiting the unification match.

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