August 20th saw UFC 202 arrive upon us finally, after all the hype we were now going to find out if the arguments and posturing, the hype and drama and the anticipation and hubris were all worth it. Spoiler Alert: They were.
This event was a tricky one. It was the first event in some time that wasn’t explicitly focused on title matches, instead looking at McGregor Vs Diaz too, a grudge match as its main event.
The internet is obviously insane. The democratisation of information has created a hub for conspiracy theories, and with any combat sports you don’t even need a stray Wanderlei Silva comment to draw accusations of fight fixing and WWE style works and scripts. After the past year in the UFC though, nobody could accuse anything of even remotely going to plan. Everything simply went wrong from a marketability perspective. Marquee fighter Ronda Rousey had the mystique thoroughly kicked out of her head by Holly Holm; Rousey-Killer Holm gets choked out by Meisha Tate; Beach body Tate has her marketing train stopped at the first attempt by Amanda Nunes. The tiniest of silver linings for Dana White is that the vitally important Brazilian market has a champion to celebrate as there was a brief period where for the first time in a decade Zuffa federations had no champ from the spiritual heartland of MMA. In addition to this, WW supremo Robbie Lawler puts on the fight of the year with Rory MacDonald and a war with Carlos Condit, then gets easily knocked out in rumour filled circumstances by unfancied Tyron Woodley, who uses his new founds exposure to basically refuse to fight clear number one contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and demand snazzy pay days that make fans fall of their chairs laughing at the cheek of him. Additionally, the middleweight title, a longstanding GOAT associator, is dropped in embarrassing circumstances by Luke Rockold to 38 year old dad-body brawler Michael Bisping. Bisping’s inspiration “never give up story aside”, the UFC did not want their new prince to drop the belt to a man approaching retirement who took the fight on 2 weeks notice, nor did they want their former champion to proceed to put on an exhibition in bitterness ever since.
Things aren’t going well, so when the standout star of the company has his title shot cancelled due to injury to Rafael Dos Anjos (no Red Panty night in the dos Anjos household then), and his late replacement who is dismissed as an also ran shocks the world by dethroning the king, you can imagine Pfizers stock rising on Dana White’s blood pressure medicine alone. So they do the natural thing and plan to restore Conor McGregor’s legacy in the biggest event in history, UFC 200. Only McGregor decides to cause problems (whether it be through genuine concerns for schedule, a knock on of seeing a young fighter tragically lose his life at an event in Dublin, or simply an anatomy measuring contest between McGregor and the Fertitta family). Fight is cancelled, but no matter, not only do the UFC have Brock Lesnar coming back, they also have Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier in MMAs biggest grudge match. What could go wrong? Everything. Jones pulled from the fight for a positive drug test, Lesnar pops for drugs immediately after a lay and pray victory over Mark Hunt. Everything that could go wrong in a year, has.
Now it’s important to note that events like UFC 199 were some of the greatest MMA spectacles ever, exciting and dramatic as they are, but they certainly didn’t happen in line with the UFCs promo strategies. And so comes UFC 202. McGregor has made up with Dana and the Family and the event is on. Can normal service be resumed?
The card is good and in an attempt to grow the fanbase outside of the PPV market, the UFC have put some absolutely mouth watering bouts on the prelims on free TV and fight pass too. We have Lorenz Larkin and Neil Magny on the fight pass prelims, Magny gathering serious momentum this year and Larkin a renowned entertainer and on the FS1 prelims we have what is effectively being touted as a Bantamweight title precursor for Cody Garbrandt taking on Japanese veteran Takeya Mitzugaki. Garbrandt has been playing the PR game very well recently and this is a huge fight for him and a major coup for Fox Sports to have this on the free card.
The main card starts with debutants Sabah Homasi and Mike Perry being given big first UFC fights in Tim Means and Hyun Gyu Lim respectively. Perry does himself no favours by acting like a bell end at the weigh ins (and later audio indicating some pretty racist behaviour from his corner team). Cowboy Cerrone faces a real challenge continuing his impressive Welterweight run against strong wrestler Rick Story and a title eliminator in the light heavyweight division between powerhouses Glover Tiexera and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson precedes the main event, the rematch between McGregor and Nate Diaz.
Fight Pass Prelims
First fight saw highly active 22 year old UFC debutante Marvin Vettori take on Brazilian Alberto Pereira. Vettori came in with a 10-2 record, amassed quickly through a combination of first round finishes and Venator’s quick match making. He promptly extends this to 11-2 with a first round guillotine.
Then follows, Colby Covington extends his mini UFC win streak against Max Griffin with a stunning 3rd TKO. Both fighters put on a show and despite Griffin’s loss in his first outing with the UFC I have no doubt we’ll see him again. Covington could well make a serious step up the welterweight rankings fairly soon.
Then we arive as the Fight Pass Main event, heavily fancied Neil Magny up against journeyman Lorenz Larkin. Many had this as a springboard for Magny and despite Larkin holding a win over Robbie Lawler, the smart money suggested that at the end of his contract this could be Larkin’s last UFC outing. Until, of course, he absolutely sliced up Magny with a first round TKO that will sit on the highlight reel for an age. Larkin has been sniffing around Belator and may still feel that he can make more money as he approaches his 30s there, especially with the heavily stacked WW top 5 in the UFC at the moment, but he certainly gave Dana something to think about this night in Las Vegas.
Fist up saw Courtney Casey earn her second UFC win on the bounce with an armbar victory over Canadian Randa Markos, who has a stop-start UFC records with impressive wins over Aisling Daly and Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger, but a tight loss over Jessica Penne and a beasting by title challenger in waiting Karolina Kowalkiewicz. A solid win for Casey and a big step up for her in the Women’s Strawweight division.
Artem Lobov, TUF finalist and training partner of Conor McGregor, was up next against Nate Diaz team mate Chris Avila. A 0-2 UFC record versus a 0-0 UFC record is not normally a headline grabber, but given the context of the main event and the mayhem that had accompanied the press tour between both teams, this fight had an added adrenaline boost. Lobov was impressive in his game plan and Avila was far too cautious. Lobov is not known as the Russian Hammer for no reason and Avila seemed to do everything in his power not to be on the receiving end of a punch, meaning the fight was won in cagey exchanges and Avila’s lauded BJJ didn’t get much of an outing. Lobov impressive and this was certainly seen as first blood to the McGregor camp on the night. Lobov probably bought himself another fight in the UFC. Avila probably not.
Next up Raquel Pennington took a much expected decision victory over Elizabeth Philips, which was fairly unsurprising, but the 3 rounder had fans wondering if the early explosive promise of the event was fizzling out into more tactical decisions. Could this be an underwhelming event like UFC 200?
No. Step up Cody Garbrandt. It took him all of 48 seconds to turn Mizugaki’s lights out in ultra impressive fashion. There is a huge question mark about Garbrandt in that his undefeated streak hasn’t included any of the top 5 (partly because of Team Alpha Male being fairly top heavy at bantamweight), but he’s certainly got Dominick Cruz’s attention despite the CM Punk jibes. Common wisdom suggests a Grudge match against TJ Dillishaw would set up a title shot nicely, but Cody may well have talked his way there even earlier than that. He’s certainly the BW fighter with the best recent highlight reel.
The main card begins very much as expected, with Tim Means and Sabah Homasi putting on a great show as promised and experienced Means getting the TKO win in the second round. Homasi showed great attitude and will be back.
Mike Perry beat Hyun Gyu Lin and will receive more column inches in future if he and his team learn to tone down the douche-baggery.
Next up was Donald Cerrone against Rick Story. Cowboy is looking very comfortable at welterweight and is gradually being fed better guys and in this his third fight he was given a real test in Rick Story. Not only did he pass, but with flying colours. In one of the best combo TKOs in UFC history, Cerrone firmly established himself as a serious contender in this Division. He called out Lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez after the fight, but later called out Robbie Lawler on twitter. The only thing you can critices Cowboy for right now is involving himself in too many moutwatering match ups. We think he should stick to Welterweight for now as his body shape and power looks more natural and if he did pick up a win over Lawler, he’d be right behind Wonderboy and Maia in the title picture, whereas at lightweight, he’d have to deal with McGregor, Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov if he was in the title mix up.
The next fight between Teixeira and Rumble Johnson was over before you’ve finished reading this sentence. Emulating the same time McGregor took to put away Jose Aldo, Johnson sent a message to the world that he is probably the most powerful fighter pound for pound on the planet. His uppercut KO of Teixeira sent a tooth flying 12 feet into the air and had Glover so out of it that he attempted a double leg take down on referee Dan Miragliotta well after the end of the fight. Teixeira is no slouch, but Johnson is an animal and thoroughly deserves a title shot against Daniel Cormier. Here’s hoping Jones potential suspension lift doesn’t scupper that.
The Main Event
All backstory and PR stunts aside, fight fans were looking forward to seeing if McGregor could answer the serious questions Diaz put to him last time out. Nobody had excuses now and there was no last minute arrangements. This was two men, on their terms, fighting it out.
McGregor walked to the ring in much less animated fashion than normal. Stony faces and driven, fans were teased that they could be seeing a different Conor tonight, a game plan heavy calculated warrior. The indicators were there until he stepped into the cage with his usual swagger and did a Vince McMahon style strut around.
Diaz received a massive ovation and his fans, wearing black at his request, cut an imposing atmosphere. This was his time to go stratospheric and you could see it in his eyes.
The two men lines up in the middle of the ring. More commissioners than normal for the added security concern made it difficult for the camera to get the angles it wanted, but this only adds to the tension.
McGregor comes out in round one and puts on an absolute exhibition in striking and game plan. He lights up Nate’s front leg with kicks, a weakness previously exploited by RDA and Benson Henderson, and he absolutely destroys him with precision punching. He sticks to his gameplan, even when dropping Nate early on and letting him back up. Don’t engage with a guy on the ground who has better ju jitsu than you.
Round two starts explosively for McGregor, knocking Diaz down twice and dominating exchanges. Diaz is starting to bleeed a lot and is unable to go heavy on his front leg in a boxing stance because McGregor has leathered it so well. But with less than a minute to go McGregor starts to tire and Diaz feels his shots having less power. This allows Diaz to walk down Conor and get in the pocket and trade and he finishes the round on a flurry. Its not enough to win the round, not by a long way (despite what you’ll read in the youtube comments), but it sends a serious message that Nate’s conditioning means he’s no pushover.
Round 3 is out and the difference in cardio is visible. McGregor is breathing deeply and is pulling Nate into deep clinches to avoid big punches, but is seriously risking takedowns and close range elbows. Nate is unloading and trying to get him down and while Conor is offering some decent shots of his own, he is losing the round. Nate’s takedown attempts are stuffed, showing exactly why Conor spent a rumoured 6 figures on bringing Dillon Danis into this camp.
Round 4 is a revival. A combination of Conor digging deep and Nate now getting tired give Conor opportunity to pick Nate off with distance shots and stuff his takedowns and clinch game with relative ease. Blood from an expanding cut on Nate’s face covers both me. They are at war and it is beautifully brutal. Conor’s winning of this 4th round is a wonderful performance given he was in trouble in round 3 and memories of gassing and getting rocked in the first fight must have been playing over and over in his head.
Round 5 is in and two warriors trade again. It’s arguable even but Conor is more tired and doing more to try an avoid engaging. Nate pushes him to the fence and they both land great close range shots. Despite this being the longest time Conor has ever fought for and not exactly familiar territory for Nate either, both men are putting on an exhibition of digging deep and going for it. Nate continues to try to take Conor down against the fence but Conor defends excellently. Conor is looking at the clock a lot now. He knows he has 3 rounds in the bag so far and needs to hold on. With ten seconds left and all the energy drained from the fighters Nate finally gets him down and takes position. It’s enough to take an even round in the judges eyes, but there isn’t time to get a finish or do serious damage.
The Judges scores seem somewhat underwhelming after such a war. That two gladiators are reduced to a 10 point must system doesn’t do their talent, commitment and heart justice. Two of them give McGregor 48-47 win, one inexplicably sees round 3 as 10-8 round and scores is 47-47. McGregor wins. The questions have been answered. There will be a rubber match in the future. This is an example to all MMA fighters. True heroes put on their best performances at the biggest stage. Nobody came out tonight to stifle and subdue. These guys went to war.