Word Association: UFC 189

UFC 189 was so awesome that it made Ben Rothwell tear up. That’s right, the mad villain himself…

So what had Big Ben so fired up that he could barely contain his emotions? How about a night of entertaining fights, each one more intense than the last. Sorare is it that a PPV delivers as advertised and then some. It made the horrible Reebok deal an afterthought, and distracted most of us from how comical the corner men looked in those all white kits. Here is a quick round of word association.

Conor McGregor: Battle tested
While Zuffa have been working tirelessly to bring the Irishman’s name to the casual audience, McGregor’s loudest and most vocal critics have controlled the narrative among the hardcore fan base. They have painted McGregor as the face of the Reebok era, a company man willing to happily shill the Dana White agenda. To the message board mutants, Conor McGregor represents an invasion of bandwagon fans with no real respect or regard for MMA. To them, McGregor is all flash and no substance, a loud mouthed kid better suited for WWE than UFC.
These criticisms, while dramatic, have not been totally unfounded. McGregor did benefit from more than favorable match making, as Joe Silva and company have steered him away from elite wrestlers. He was vaulted into a high profile title shot instead of the arguably more deserving Frankie Edgar. The company has spent an unprecedented amount of money on the Conor McGregor hype train, making backlash inevitable. There is also the question of McGregor’s ground game, which is passable at best (even in victory this past Saturday, this has been confirmed).
Despite all of the ammunition that McGregor’s critics have against him (be it real, exaggerated, or imaginary), there is one phrase that can no longer be used to describe him: untested. McGregor has now faced a legitimate top 5 contender and won in spectacular fashion. He has faced an elite wrestler, he has had to fight off his back, he has been way behind on the score cards, and he has scored a crushing knock out over one of the most gifted and under rated counter strikers in all of MMA.
Many will talk about how McGregor faced an opponent on short notice (he did), how his style has some serious weaknesses (it does), and how he ended up back on his feet only because his opponent made a mistake (debatable). They will cry “early stoppage”, and say that a more prepared Mendes would crush McGregor, and that a fully healthy Jose Aldo (he has not been fully healthy in years, by the way) would win easily.

These claims are not entirely disconnected from fact. Striking analyst Conor Ruebusch noted that last weekend’s performance showed a continuation of Conor’s walk down the “puncher’s path”, arguing that McGregor has fallen in love with his own power, and has begun to abandon his defensive strengths. This is alarming for those concerned with the longevity of McGregor’s run at the time of this division, as well as his career in general.

All of this ignores the obvious truth.

On this night, Conor won the fight. It was not pretty, it was not perfect, and he looked like he was in serious danger. In the end, though, on this given night he found a way to win.
Isn’t that what champions do? (Even the interim ones)
Chad Mendes: Full camp?
For as gracious as Mendes was in defeat, he really seemed to lean heavily on the “if only I had a full camp” argument. Saying “I don’t want to make excuses but…” followed by anything still qualifies as an excuse. It is also worth noting that McGregor only had two weeks to prepare for an opponent who was completely different than the guy he had prepared months for. Before blaming the lack of training time, look at the number of body shots that Mendes was hit with during the fight. Body work, particularly those front kicks that McGregor favors, are an under rated and silent killer (see Jack Slack’s write up of the fight). One can not overlook the role that damage taken to the body had on the outcome of this fight. This is not to mention the fact that Mendes also broke his thumb during the first round, another factor leading to his eventual loss that is completely unrelated to the amount of time he spent training for the fight.
The full camp argument is not entirely without merit. Fighters have camps for a reason, as staying in “fight shape” year around is virtually impossible given the level of fitness required to be competitive in this day and age. Modern trainers have systems in place that allow the athlete to work up to an optimal level of fight readiness, and this kind of training requires careful planning as well as time. Let us not forget, however, about Mendes bragging on the Embedded episode about how his clean living allows him to take fights on short notice. Perhaps this bit of bravado was unwise. Mendes did not look like he was ready for a five round fight. He did not even look like he was ready for a three round fight.  We could say he was not ready for a two round fight, as he found himself gassed out and unable to maintain top position in a fight that he was clearly winning.
Mendes mentioned the “full camp” thing in passing, but this will surely become the new war cry for the aforementioned McGregor critics. They will concoct hypothetical scenarios in which a fully prepared Mendes grinds McGregor into dust over the course of five rounds. They will try to make “full camp” the equivalent of an asterisk next to McGregor’s victory. Do not let the fact that Mendes was legitimately under prepared for the fight overshadow the fact that he agreed to step into the cage and he was knocked out. If you agree to the fight, you do so with the understanding that you are prepared. There should be no whining, no hand-wringing, and absolutely no excuses (even subtle, implied ones).
Robbie Lawler: Nick Diaz tried to warn us

It is likely that Lawler’s victory last weekend was the culmination of a long journey. He made his pro debut way back in 2001, and has fought for such promotions as EliteXC, Strikeforce, Pride, and even the goddamn IFL. This was easily the biggest win of his career. Lawler has experienced something of a career renaissance these last few years. We can no longer hold off on stating the following: Robbie Lawler is the best active welterweight in the world.
Then again, it’s not like Nick Diaz didn’t try to warn us. As he states in the video below, “too many Robbie Lawler punches…that’s not good…for your head.”


Rory MacDonald: Canadian Psycho
Here I was, concerned for Rory’s well being and wondering if he would ever be the same again. There is something about watching a grown man get his face smashed in for over 20 minutes before finally grabbing his face and crumpling to the canvas in pain that inspires a little sympathy. Then I see Rory posting this on Twitter.

Of course the gloomy guy who walked out to Tool’s “Forty Six and Two” is going to post something like this. Of course the guy who has nicknamed himself The Red King, and who insists that we call him that, is going to post something like this. He loves it. He lives for this stuff.
It is just too bad that if he had won the fight,  he would have still made less than Robbie Lawler. It pays to be the champ. Let’s hope those Reebok checks will cover the difference.

As a fan of MacDonald, I have to say that watching Lawler/MacDonald 2 was like Game of Thrones. Very bloody, very tense, very awesome, but the guy you were rooting for dies.

Jeremy Stephens: Zero chill
This is not to say that he knock out victory was not spectacular, just that he celebrated a little too much for a guy who missed weight. When you are unable to fulfill your professional obligations, and your opponent allows you to fight him anyway (because what choice did he really have anyway), maybe you should refrain from thrusting your pelvis and making a spectacle of yourself after you knock the poor guy out. It took Dana White putting him on blast at the press conference to even remind him of the fact that he came to the weigh in too heavy. Great win, great knock out, zero chill.

Dennis Bermudez: Probably deserved better
After all of your hard work and weight cutting, your opponent strolls in, takes a pay cut and knocks you the hell out. Despite the fact that you fight your ass off and put on the kind of fight that would steal the spotlight on any other night, you miss out on a $50k fight of the night bonus because Robbie Lawler and Rory McDonald put on a horror show later that night. You end up becoming the most forgettable part of one of the greatest UFC events of all time.

Gunnar Nelson: Mr. Personality
That just seems to be his thing. Nelson is seemingly the polar opposite of his teammate Conor McGregor. He is a grappler with no noticeable tattoos and little interest in selling fights. He is still an under rated talent, a submission machine who rarely lets the fight go to decision. He has lost one fight, a split decision to Rick Story this past October. The fact that, among the MMA diehards, enthusiasm for Nelson died down after one underwhelming loss probably says a lot more about us than it does about him. He may not have all of the dazzle, but he his calm and plain spoken nature is strangely endearing. A comparison of his face after his victory when compared to the look on his face when histeammate won in the main event is quite telling. He is also a promising young talent who may have just earned a shot at a true test at welterweight.
Brandon Thatch: He’ll be back
True, he is now coming off of two losses. That is not a good place to be if you value your job security in the UFC. Still, those two losses are to Nelson and former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. Before that, he has not lost a fight since 2008. He is still young, and he fights with a pressure based, fan friendly style. If he can stay healthy (which has been a serious issuse with him in recent years), there is no reason why he should not be able to bounce back from this loss.

Thomas Almeida: Promise
Almeida is a promising young prospect with an established history of finishing fights with his fists, knees, and elbows. He looked great this past weekend, as he notched a victory against a fighter who actually has a Wikipedia page. He also won in spectacular fashion, earning himself a Performance of the Night bonus. Dana White seems to be high on him. Now all that remains is to give him a real test.

Brad Pickett: Wrap it up
Pickett has had a long and respectable MMA career, but he is 36 years old and is now being booked as the guy who loses to the up and coming prospect. He is fast approaching “we’re concerned for your physical well being” territory. While Dana White’s comments to him after the fight were somewhat touching, he might not have been doing Pickett any favors by encouraging him to keep fighting.

Hopefully Pickett is able to find another way to support his family before he ends up becoming another sad case of hanging around just a little too long.

Matt Brown: Solid
Matt Brown said in the press conference after UFC 189 that he felt that his “demotion” to the prelims was justified because he lost his last two fights. He stated in interviews leading up to the event that he had rededicated his life to MMA, (http://www.foxsports.com/ufc/story/ufc-189-matt-brown-i-want-to-show-tim-means-doesn-t-belong-in-there-with-me-070615) cutting out many of his favorite outdoors extracurricular activities. It is this kind of thinking that has endeared Brown to many fans, including myself, and I doubt that any of us were really worried during his two fight losing streak. Those losses were to Robbie Lawler (the best in the world at 170) and Johny Hendricks (the former champ who many feel was robbed of a decision over George St Pierre). Brown has always been not only a fan friendly fighter, but a dangerous pressure fighter and a perennial contender.
Tim Means: Ceiling
No disrespect to the Dirty Bird, but after 11 years, we have probably seen the best that Tim Means has to over. This is not to say that he should retire, he probably has a number of entertaining fights still left in him, but that if he was going to take it to the next level that he probably would have by now.
Alex Garcia, Mike Swick, John Howard, Cathal Pendrad: Bathroom break

Cody Garbrandt: Failure to launch
For all of the justifiable attention that Garbrandt has been getting among MMA diehards, he failed to live up to this hype on the big stage this past Saturday. Even though he won the actual fight, he came across as timid and unable to pull the trigger. He looked less like a killing machine and more like a green prospect with great promise but who still has not put it all together yet. With respect to Enrique Briones, who gave a valiant effort playing spoiler, this fight showed us that Garbrandt is more upside than finished product.
Ben Askren: Troll of the Night
Here is what the ONE FC title holder had to say about the Irish…

The Octagon Girls were not safe either, as he tweeted the following night at the TUF finale

BJ Penn: No respect
The poor guy finally makes it to the UFC Hall of Fame, when this pops up on Reddit:
Looks like he lost his ID, they are asking him questions like where do you work and when he try’s to say ultimate fighting championships she said that’s not a job where do you work. Every time he tried to speak she put her hand in his face. He tried to explain he was here to be inducted to the hall of fame and she said I don’t care and put her hand up again.

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