Conor McGregor sent a message to his doubters with a straight left hand.
McGregor stopped Chad Mendes with second-round punches to capture the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight crown in the UFC 189 headliner on Saturday before a raucous pro-Irish crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Mendes (17-3, 8-3 UFC), who accepted the bout as a short-notice replacement for injured champion Jose Aldo, wilted 4:57 into round two.
McGregor (18-2, 6-0 UFC) dealt with the first significant adversity since arriving in the UFC. Mendes secured four takedowns, opened a cut near his right eye with a slashing elbow and piled on the punishment with ground-and-pound from inside guard. McGregor bided his time, and Mendes made a tactical error late in the second round, as he surrendered top position while fishing for a guillotine choke. McGregor escaped to his feet, uncorked a series of accurate punches, dropped the fatigued Team Alpha Male standout with a straight left and polished off his 14th consecutive victory with unanswered rights to a turtled Mendes.
Related » UFC 189 Play-by-Play
Lawler Stops MacDonald in Classic
In the co-main event, Robbie Lawler retained the UFC welterweight championship with a fifth-round technical knockout against Rory MacDonald. Lawler (26-10, 11-4 UFC) closed out the Canadian 60 seconds into round five, bringing a decisive conclusion to an instant classic.
MacDonald (18-3, 9-3 UFC) forced the American Top Team standout to rally to keep his title. He withstood a ghoulish onslaught from Lawler in the second round, the “Ruthless” champion leaving his face mangled with a seemingly endless volley of punches down the pike. Straight lefts followed digging jabs, as Lawler slammed one fist after another into his face.
Tristar Gym’s MacDonald shifted the momentum in a blink, as he wrapped a head kick around his opponent’s defenses. Lawler staggered and absorbed a barrage of punches, standing elbows and knees from the challenger but refused to wilt. Round four provided more of the same from the two welterweights, who stood and traded. MacDonald seemed to get the better of the exchanges, especially early in the frame. However, the damage to his face left him vulnerable.
Less than a minute into the fifth round, Lawler sent a straight left crashing directly into MacDonald’s nose. He crumbled to his back in visible distress, and Lawler finished him with follow-up punches.
Stephens Knee Stuns Bermudez
Alliance MMA’s Jeremy Stephens wiped out Dennis Bermudez with a jumping knee and follow-up punches in the third round of their sizzling featherweight showcase. Stephens (24-11, 11-10 UFC), who missed weight for the fight, sealed it 32 seconds into round three.
The two men traded barbs in a frenetic confrontation that took place almost entirely on the feet. Stephens fought through a head butt-induced cut to his eye, a takedown and some ground-and-pound in the first round, his experience and durability serving him well. In the second, both featherweights scored knockdowns, Stephens with a left uppercut and a left hook, Bermudez (14-5, 7-3 UFC) with a Superman punch.
As he has been known to do, Stephens turned the tide permanently in his favor with a single strike. He clipped Bermudez with a jumping knee while moving backwards, folding him at the base of the cage. Unanswered punches came next, forcing referee Marc Goddard to act.
Nelson Choke Submits Thatch
SBG Ireland’s Gunnar Nelson submitted Brandon Thatch with a first-round rear-naked choke in a featured battle at 170 pounds. Thatch (11-3, 2-2 UFC) tapped out 2:54 into round one.
Nelson (14-1-1, 5-1 UFC) leveled the Elevation Fight Team rep with a left hook-right hook combination, tracked him to the mat and set the table for the finish. The Renzo Gracie disciple passed between side control and full mount before Thatch yielded his back. Nelson softened him with short punches and hammerfists and then cinched the choke.
The 26-year-old Nelson has won 14 of his last 15 bouts.
Almeida Flying Knee KOs Pickett
Undefeated Chute Boxe prospect Thomas Almeida knocked out Brad Pickett with a flying knee in the second round of their wild bantamweight showcase. Almeida (19-0, 3-0 UFC) brought it to a spectacular close 29 seconds into round two.
Pickett (24-11, 4-6 UFC) tested the young Brazilian like no one else had. The American Top Team export sat down Almeida twice in the opening round, first with a left hook and then with a sneaky knee strike along the fence. The bloodied 23-year-old survived and answered with a knockdown of his own, flooring Pickett with an exquisite standing elbow in the center of the cage.
All of Pickett’s good work went out the window in the second round. Almeida backed up the Brit with a stiff jab and then launched himself skyward, blasting Pickett with a knee to the face. “One Punch” collapsed where he stood, his head bouncing off the canvas violently.