Thanks to his huge left hand that led to a technical knockout in the second round, Conor McGregor rose to the ranks of Ultimate Fighting Championship icon.
The heavily Irish crowd erupted into a deafening roar at the UFC 189 interim featherweight title between McGregor and Chad Mendes this Saturday, applauding for the victory of Dublin’s new favorite son and the UFC’s next big thing.
Heading into the fight, many speculated if McGregor (18-2) would be able to hold his own against the wrestler. Despite going down several times from Mendes’ (17-3) relentless onslaught, the Irishman used his effective striking to overcome and claim the gold.
“It has been a hell of a ride,” the emotional McGregor says. “A little over two years I’m here, and I’ve already broken every single record in the game.”
Although the two combatants engaged in heavy verbal sparring leading up to the fight, Mendes gracefully accepted his defeat. “Sometimes your mind is willing but your body is not,” he says. “There’s not a whole lot I can say other than Conor was the better man tonight. I’d love to fight him again.”
The victory serves as the prelude to the inevitable undisputed title fight between McGregor and Jose Aldo, who was supposed to fight McGregor until he withdrew due to a rib injury. Set to take place either later this year or in early 2016, the fight is predicted to be the biggest pay per view event in the UFC’s history.
“I’m going to put Jose at a distant memory right now,” McGregor says. “He didn’t take that walk. I respect Chad for making that walk.”
While McGregor clamped his grasp on the UFC’s next big thing category, the headliners weren’t the fight of the evening. That honor belongs to the all-out war that took place between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald for the welterweight title, where the two 170-pounders bombarded each other with blows until they were bloody pulps by the final round.
In a violent brawl with continuous momentum changes, MacDonald (18-3) almost came out victorious with a head kick that sent Lawler (26-10) reeling. The champion recouped, taking down MacDonald with a flurry of punches at the 1:00 mark. By the end, half of Lawler’s lip was torn and MacDonald, who suffered a broken nose and foot, couldn’t recall the current year.
“Fight of the night? It is fight of the…ever,” UFC president Dana White says. “It was a war and a complete display of heart, grit, determination and the will to win.”