Sherdog.com’s 2015 Event of the Year

UFC 194

1. UFC 194 “Aldo vs. McGregor”
Saturday, Dec. 12
MGM Grand Garden Arena | Las Vegas

It was by all measurable standards a smashing success. UFC 194 “Aldo vs. McGregor” -- Sherdog.com’s 2015 “Event of the Year” -- drew an announced crowd of 16,516 to the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Dec. 12, good for a $10.1 million gate. More importantly, it gave rise to two new champions and countless storylines.

In the end, it was all about Conor McGregor.

McGregor completed his ascent to the top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s featherweight division, as he knocked out Jose Aldo with a counter left hook and follow-up hammerfists to unify the 145-pound title in the main event. It was over in 13 seconds, with Aldo unconscious at the feet of referee John McCarthy. They traded left hands in the first exchange, and both landed flush. McGregor connected on the chin, absorbed the return fire without issue and then pounced on the fallen Brazilian for the finish. The loss was Aldo’s first in more than a decade.

“Jose has been a phenomenal champion,” McGregor said at the post-fight press conference. “It would’ve been nice if the contest had of stretched out a little bit longer just for all that it’s been through, but I still feel the same process would’ve happened. Timing beats speed; precision beats power. That’s it. I respect Jose. I wish him well, but now we are on to the next chapter.”

In the immediate aftermath, McGregor extended an olive branch of sorts to a man he spent the better part of a year taunting and belittling. The two men were originally scheduled to meet at UFC 189 before a rib injury forced Aldo to withdraw.

“What I said was, ‘Look we can go again.’ Although it’s a nice feeling to get that knockout, it’s kind of not nice because you can see what’s happening around,” he said. “You don’t want to see the only champion in the company’s history going out like that. I had a little moment where I felt sorry for Jose. It’s been a long road and I appreciate that he showed up here and made the journey, because I have no doubt there were options to pull [out] like the last time. This time, he stuck around. I just said we can do it again, but he was off in his own world, I believe. They are probably still resentful and bitter towards it. Like I said, winners focus on winning, losers focus on winners.”

In the co-headliner, Luke Rockhold stopped Chris Weidman with fourth-round punches to become the seventh undisputed middleweight champion in UFC history. Battered and bloodied, Weidman succumbed to blows 3:12 into round four.

After plenty of give and take in the first two rounds, Rockhold turned the fight his way in the third, where he countered an ill-conceived wheel kick from the “All-American” with a takedown, moved to the back, set his hooks and eventually advanced to full mount. From there, Rockhold unleashed some savage ground-and-pound with sharp elbows and concussive punches. Referee Herb Dean showed surprising restraint in allowing Weidman to continue on. When the round ended, he staggered back to his corner a shell of his full-strength self.

The American Kickboxing Academy’s Rockhold picked up where he left off in the fourth, as he delivered another takedown, moved to an advantageous position and mopped up what was left with punches.

“I’ve been saying for a long time I believe I’ve been the best in this sport for a long time,” he said. “People want to beat down my Strikeforce accomplishments and what I did. I knew I’d come in there and I’d outperform him and get the job done, no matter what I faced going into this fight.”

Meanwhile, American Top Team’s Yoel Romero took what appeared to be the final step to becoming the No. 1 contender at 185 pounds, as he claimed a split decision over Ronaldo Souza in their featured middleweight battle. Scores were 29-27 and 29-28 for Romero, 29-28 for Souza.

Romero almost rendered the judges meaningless in the first round, where he sat down “Jacare” with a magnificent spinning backfist, jumped into the former Strikeforce champion’s guard and bludgeoned him with punches and elbows. A dazed Souza retreated to his corner on wobbly legs, his fate all but a forgone conclusion. However, Romero ran out of gas in the second round, became more and more stationary and allowed “Jacare” to claw his way back into the fight.

In the third round, Souza flurried into takedown range, struck for a double-leg on the Olympic silver medalist and assumed top position, using his ground-and-pound to hunt for openings from half guard. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, the finished he needed never materialized.

Another decorated Brazilian grappler fared much better, as Demian Maia humbled SBG Ireland’s Gunnar Nelson with shocking ease and cruised to a unanimous decision in a welterweight showcase. Scores were 30-26, 30-25 and 30-25 for Maia, who has rattled off four consecutive victories.

Nelson never had a chance. Maia got in on his legs at will, initiated scrambles and deftly advanced to top position against the Renzo Gracie protégé. The 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist achieved full mount twice, transitioned to the back on multiple occasions and battered Nelson with an endless stream of ground-and-pound. FightMetric figures told the tale of utter domination: Maia landed 193 total strikes to Nelson’s seven.

Finally, efficient standup and sublime takedown defense carried Max Holloway to his eighth straight victory, as he recorded a three-round unanimous decision over Jeremy Stephens to kick off the main card. All three judges scored it for Holloway: 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.

Holloway operated from a comfortable distance, countered beautifully and steered clear of the Alliance MMA rep’s power. The 24-year-old Hawaiian did his best work in the third round, where he surprised Stephens with a takedown and punished him with punches and elbows before advancing to his back and threatening with a rear-naked choke. The finish did not materialize for Holloway, but the fight was won.

The UFC 194 prelims were highlighted by Urijah Faber’s unanimous decision over Frankie Saenz, Warlley Alves’ guillotine choke submission on Colby Covington and Leonardo Santos’ stunning upset of Xtreme Couture prospect Kevin Lee.

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