Bravery, skill, and tears – The Hit List: The 5 top moments of UFC 189

Conor McGregor kicks Chad Mendes during UFC 189.

Post-fight class

I’m not one for fist bumps, hand slaps and hugs during fights. In fact, it pretty much goes against the rules of a fight.

You shake when given an opportunity by the ref beforehand, and in between you try to kill one another. My apologies for shocked sensibilities if you thought fighting was something else.

I do know from personal experience, however, that there’s something about having a man try to kill you as you attempt to do the same to him that brings you close in some unspeakable way afterward if you both survive thanks to the rules of sport. As such, nothing is more honest than when two bitter enemies embrace after a fight,

Fighting isn’t sexual, but it is intimate. Only the two men or women locked in battle know completely what that experience was like.

Your family, friends and teammates get you there with their love and support, but those moments of actual fighting are ones you will only fully ever share with the person whom you were trying to take everything from. That’s why it came easy to a doubtlessly pained Chad Mendes to go over, embrace and congratulate Conor McGregor, even after all his taunts and all the fighting.

It’s wondrous that mutual respect, admiration and closeness can exist in the same space as wanting to slug a guy, but that’s the way it is. Good on Mendes, good on McGregor — who conceded afterward that he had nothing personal against Mendes and that he was grateful his opponent saved the event by replacing Jose Aldo.

Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald embracing and smiling through swollen and cut faces while in a hospital room together was equally moving. Only those guys know what it’s like to be in there.

And though they wouldn’t hesitate to train for months to fight one another again, seeing them share some strange, beautiful happiness warms the heart.

Irish fans appreciating it all

Speaking with a few of the thousands of Irish fans in Las Vegas to watch Conor McGregor fight at UFC 189, you got the feeling that they were just happy to be taking it all in. Hearing them, en masse, rock the house Saturday night, that feeling only intensified.

Sure, they were partisans of McGregor and the other European fighters on the card. But there was nothing nasty about it, even the booing somehow.

I’d never experienced that before. These folks, many of whom were drinking from dawn to dusk, it seemed, wanted their men to win, but seemed to want more than anything to have a good time.

They cheered with a special relish anyone they’d recognized from television with great enthusiasm, from well-known reporters and referees, to Arnold Schwarzenegger, to Mike Tyson. What’s more, they even cheered the men they booed for.

Chad Mendes was booed all week long, just like every other non-European fighter facing a Euro one. However, whenever Mendes or any of the others managed to do something impressive in the cage, the Irish fans oohed, ahhed and cheered as well.

The Irish fans were loud, constantly singing, completely dedicated to their fighters, but they weren’t "crazy." They appreciated any and all good fighting, no matter whom it came from.

Cheers, lads and lasses.

Chad Mendes stepping up

Can we appreciate "Money" for a minute? I personally think that Jose Aldo was right to pull out of the fight.

Well, more than right, he was simply sane. All passive-aggressive efforts from Dana White and the UFC to subtly bash the longest-reigning world champ in the promotion that followed were pretty sour to take in.

For what it’s worth, the creation of an interim title was pretty offensive as well, strictly speaking. That said, it makes sense that the UFC wanted to still have Conor McGregor fight.

Fighting creates a singular bond between participants.

Once he said he would, which took no small amount of guts, Mendes showed an incredible amount of confidence and bravery to agree to step up.

I don’t care how shredded Mendes and the rest of Team Alpha Male stays year-round, there’s a level of conditioning that only be achieved through a proper training camp. Let’s be real: Chad Mendes had absolutely no training camp in preparation for a world title fight.

He simply had time to cut weight. That’s it. 

Still, he "made that walk," as McGregor thanked him for in the post-event news conference, and put forth a fantastic fight. McGregor may have sold the fight, but there would have been no fight if it weren’t for Mendes.

More than that, he didn’t show up and play it conservatively. From the way the fight was going, it appeared as though Mendes was capable of taking McGregor down at will and keeping him there as long as he wanted.

Instead of grinding McGregor out, Mendes went for the finish. That was the space McGregor needed to make his move, and it cost Mendes.

Mendes will be questioning everything from his decision to take the short-notice fight to being so aggressive on the ground in it for some time. We can’t tell the man what was the right or wrong decision, but we can simply thank him for being who he is and doing what he did.

This Irish fans in Las Vegas went crazy for Conor McGregor but they appreciated all good effort, with good will.