This Saturday the UFC brings you an 11-fight card from Las Vegas that features not one but two world title fights, an incredible main card, and a main card-worthy preliminary set of bouts. In fight parlance — UFC 189 is stacked, from top to bottom.
You won’t want to miss a single fight this Saturday night, and you won’t have to with our horn-to-horn (and beyond) coverage! First, get ready for the card with our analysis and predictions.
In the main event, Chad Mendes and Conor McGregor fight for an interim featherweight title bout and the right to face champion Jose Aldo. In the co-main event, welterweight champion Robbie Lawler defends his title against Rory MacDonald in a rematch of their excellent 2013 thriller.
Chad Mendes (17-2) vs. Conor McGregor (17-2)
Much has been made of Mendes’ gameness in accepting a fight against McGregor at UFC 189 in replacement of featherweight champion Aldo on very short notice. To be sure, Mendes deserves credit for staying in shape and having the guts to fight someone as dangerous as McGregor, with just a few weeks to prepare.
Lost behind (and perhaps because of) all of McGregor’s bravado, however, is just how much credit he deserves for staying in UFC 189 and accepting the interim title fight with Mendes. After all, McGregor was well positioned to simply sit out the July 11 pay-per-view event and wait for Aldo once the champ pulled out with injuries.
That would have been a perfectly reasonable course for McGregor to pursue. Instead, he also has to prepare for a new opponent on short notice, and without the full and real championship being up for grabs.
Other than those general risks, McGregor deserves appreciation from fans for keeping the UFC 189 main event going for a much simpler reason. Mendes is a nightmare matchup for McGregor, and he is much too smart not to realize it.
To be sure, as the longest reigning world champion in the UFC, Aldo is the best of the best. In fact, I personally count him as the best fighter in the world, pound for pound.
So, facing Aldo was no gift for McGregor and he should have been considered a serious underdog against "Scarface." As good as Aldo is, generally, however, Mendes’ wrestling skill set and power striking make him a particularly challenging fight for McGregor.
McGregor will have to reckon with takedown attempts in ways that he would not have had to against Aldo, and it could be argued that "Money" is the hardest-hitting fighter in the division as well. Don’t believe the UFC’s official stats on McGregor’s takedown defense, claiming the Irishman has defended 100 percent of all takedown attempts levied against him.
Instead, believe your eyes. In his last fight, McGregor was taken down repeatedly by the karate-based Dennis Siver.
McGregor certainly got up immediately, but Mendes is about 10 times the wrestler that Siver is. In fact, the only person in the featherweight division who can make an argument at being a better takedown artist than Mendes would be Frankie Edgar.
Sharp-striking, top-notch wrestlers are precisely the type of opponent that McGregor has never faced. He may be able to counter Mendes’ double-leg takedown with his wide stance, and thereby stick to fighting the single-leg takedown, as Aldo did with great success in his second fight against Mendes.
And, McGregor may very well be able to get to Mendes with his long, powerful straight punch before Mendes can get to him, take him down, or simply keep him pressed against the cage. However, from a style perspective, this is Mendes’ fight to lose.
McGregor should have a conditioning advantage, however, since he’s had a full training camp. If he can last into the late rounds, Conor may be able to connect and hurt Mendes with strikes, if the Team Alpha Male star tires.
Prediction: Mendes by TKO in third round
Robbie Lawler (25-10) vs. Rory MacDonald (18-2)
Will power once again make the difference for Robbie Lawler (R), or will Rory MacDonald (L) become the new welterweight world champion?
You know your card is a solid one when this welterweight championship fight is somehow the co-main event, instead of the main event. These two faced off once before, in 2013, and the result was three close rounds that Lawler edged out on the basis of a late knockdown.
Just as with the first time, look for both men to pair patient and technical striking with explosions of power striking. Lawler may be the more aggressive of the two, typically, but MacDonald’s steady pace is also paired with big power when he gets a chance to show it.
MacDonald hasn’t lost since the decision to Lawler. For his part, "Ruthless" has looked better with each subsequent fight, as well.
Now, Lawler is the defending champion. He’s known for his punches, knees and kicks, but Lawler has also showed incredible conditioning, takedown defense and an ability to get back to his feet.
MacDonald doesn’t often shoot for takedowns, but he’d be smart to employ some grappling in this one. If "The Red King" does mix up clinch and takedown attempts with his pinpoint striking, he could put the champion a bit off-balance.
If Lawler can pressure MacDonald and not get countered too often, or chase him and get taken down, his power punches could once more make the difference. Rory insists that he’s more focused than he was the first time he faced Lawler, and his coach Firas Zahabi says that they’ve changed a lot around back in Montreal at the TriStar Gym.
Frankly, there’s no clear favorite here in my book. If Lawler and MacDonald fought 10 times, there’s a good chance each would walk away with five wins apiece.
Either has the ability to end a fight quickly, but it remains to be seen which 170-pounder could outlast the other in a long, five-round fight. If it does go the distance, MacDonald had better stay on his toes and be aggressive when he can, because Nevada judges have already shown that they like Lawler’s aggressiveness in close fights.
Prediction: Impossible to call, but we’ll give MacDonald a go as an upset (in our book, at least) on the basis of having less mileage, and having very good striking defense on the feet.
Dennis Bermudez (15-4) vs. Jeremy Stephens (23-11)
This featherweight fight should be a good one, for however long it lasts. Stephens is a very well-rounded fighter, with grenades in his hands.
The "Lil Heathen" has the experience edge, here, but Bermudez has youth, and the benefit of a long layoff since his last fight back in November. If Bermudez uses his striking selectively, namely to set up clinch and takedown attempts, he gives himself his best chance at winning.
Bermudez is an explosive wrestler and should be able to put Stephens on his back. As long as they’re standing, however, Stephens has a chance to turn the lights out.
Prediction: Bermudez by decision
Gunnar Nelson (15-1) vs. Brandon Thatch (11-2)
This fight is an intriguing clash of styles. Though Nelson has a long history in karate, his biggest strength is his world-class submission grappling.
Thatch’s advantage in this fight will be on the feet, with his strikes, and with his size. The Colorado fighter is a large welterweight.
That said, Thatch lost his previous bout against a much smaller Benson Henderson, because "Smooth" proved durable, could mix in crazy strikes, and because he was able to continually wrestle the striker to the mat and wear him down. Nelson is a more predictable fighter than Henderson (most are), but if he can find a way to get Thatch to the ground repeatedly, he likely has the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills to finish the fight.
That’s a big "if" however, as Thatch isn’t easy to take down. He will also not just have a height and reach advantage over the Icelander, but will likely just be a lot heavier as well on fight night.
Prediction: Nelson by submission
Brad Pickett (25-10) vs. Thomas Almeida (18-0)
Pickett has earned his nickname of "One Punch." The Brit is a dangerous and aggressive striker and could very well start a resurgence for himself with a KO win over the undefeated Brazilian prospect.
That said, Almeida may be the quicker, fresher, and more well-rounded fighter, here.
Prediction: Almeida by submission
Matt Brown (21-13) vs. Tim Means (24-6-1)
Matt Brown (R) wants to get back in the win column, this weekend.
Remember what we said about a card being excellent if its co-main event was Lawler vs. MacDonald? Well, if Brown is fighting on freaking prelims, that card is insanely stacked.
Here, Brown tries to get back on track after a decision loss to former champion Johny Hendricks. The Ohio fighter has shown that he can fight with the very best at welterweight, but he’ll need to continue to beat the top up-and-comers like Means to get another chance at fighting for gold.
These two fighters are similar in their aggressiveness, speed and length. Means may not be very well known yet among fight fans, but he is a bad dude.
Both Brown and Means are fluid with their Muay Thai striking styles, and neither shy away from grappling exchanges. Chances are, whoever can absorb the most punishment while still moving forward will win this one.
Prediction: Brown by decision
Mike Swick (15-5) vs. Alex Garcia (12-2)
It will be so good to see "The Ultimate Fighter" season 1 pioneer Swick return to action after long and repeated battles with illness. The fighter has started up an AKA gym branch in Thailand, gotten healthy and strong as ever, according to him, and is motivated to let his fists fly once again.
Garcia is a winnable fight for Swick, but he’d better hope he doesn’t have too much rust against the explosive Dominican fighter.