Conor McGregor had the weight of a nation on his shoulders as he stepped into the Octagon in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland on Saturday for the UFC’s first trip to the Emerald Isle in five years. Following knee surgery that kept him out for the last year, McGregor returned to face former Ultimate Fighter winner Diego Brandao in the main event, but the crowd in Ireland only came to see one man and one thing happen — and they certainly got their wish.
McGregor took a slow walk to the Octagon with Sinead O’Connor serenading the crowd to the tune of ‘Foggy Dew’ while Ireland’s son embraced every moment before stepping into the cage. Once the fight started, it felt more like a title fight than just a five round featherweight main event between two competitor currently sitting outside the top 10.
Despite being out for a year, McGregor wasted no time getting right in Brandao’s face using his long range and quick punches to tag the Brazilian before getting the fight to the ground on a reversal. Brandao tried to keep McGregor at bay with an early leg lock attempt, but it was all for naught and quickly the fight was back on the feet.
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From there, McGregor took over and didn’t give Brandao a moment to breathe as he unleashed punches and pressure to wear the former TUF winner down until he wilted from a stiff shot that landed directly on the jaw. Once Brandao fell to the mat, McGregor opened up with a short burst of punches and that was all she wrote as the referee swooped in for the stoppage at just 4:05 into the first round.
"I said I was going to put him away in the first and I put him away in the first round," McGregor said following the win. "There’s not a man alive that can step onto this soil and beat me."
McGregor definitely soaked in every last second of what was an incredible crowd in Dublin, who lived and breathed with every word he spoke on the microphone while being interviewed by UFC commentator Dan Hardy.
"Football stadiums and world titles, that’s what I want," McGregor stated while addressing his home Irish crowd. "We’re not here to take part — we’re here to take over."
It was a truly impressive outing for McGregor, who not only rose to the occasion but once again proved that showmanship and promotion when combined with talent can turn a third time UFC fighter into a legitimate superstar and potential contender. Things won’t get any easier for McGregor, however, as his days of fighting outside the top 10 are probably over and there are plenty of sharks in the deep waters of the UFC featherweight division.
Slow Start But Good Finish for Gunnar Nelson
Undefeated prospect Gunnar Nelson looked asleep in his first round against former Ultimate Fighter Zak Cummings, but as the second round started he found his range and eventually caught a submission to put an end to the fight.
Nelson used a quick straight right to pop shot Cummings and bloody his nose before the fight transitioned to the ground and from there the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt took over. Nelson locked on a body triangle and punched away at Cummings until he left his neck open. It didn’t take long for the Icelandic native to sink in a rear naked choke to get the finish.
Another win for Nelson despite the slow start, but now it seems Nelson will take a decided step up in competition for his next fight in the Octagon to see how he measures up in hype versus reality.
Ian McCall Back in the Hunt
Following a rocky start in the UFC going 0-2-1 through his first three fights, Ian McCall has gotten back to form where he was once rated as the best flyweight in the sport. McCall put on possibly his best performance yet toppling former bantamweight fighter Brad Pickett winning in a shutout.
McCall was quick to the punch, putting together combinations while Pickett could only counter with a haymaker earning his nickname ‘One Punch’ throughout the three round affair. By the time McCall got to the third round he was already ahead, but he had a strong finish to close the door on his rivalry with Pickett and pick up the unanimous decision win.
Following the fight, McCall called out flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, looking for a rubber match following two previous bouts in the Octagon. With his win over Pickett, McCall definitely puts his name back in the hat for the short list of contenders in the flyweight division.
Norman Parke Makes Good
TUF The Smashes winner Norman Parke made good on a pre-fight promise to finish returning Japanese lightweight Naoyuki Kotani, picking up a second round stoppage due to strikes.
Parke was able to put Kotani down towards the tail end of the first round and started to open up his offensive barrage on the ground. The former Ultimate Fighter champion did the same thing in round two, except this time he trapped Kotani against the cage and bludgeoned him with punches and elbows until referee Marc Goddard saw enough and stopped the bout.
Parke moves to 4-0-1 since debuting after his season of the reality show.
TUF 19 Proving Ground
Former Ultimate Fighter 19 teammates Cathal Pendred and Mike King stole the show on the preliminary card with one of the most lopsided opening rounds followed by an incredible comebacks in round two.
King rocked Pendred with a big shot early before transitioning to the mat where he nearly locked up a rear naked choke and then worked for ground and pound, looking to finish the fight. Somehow, Pendred survived and made it back to his corner to recover for round two.
At the restart, King was zapped from attempting to get a finish early and Pendred was able to take over, get the fight to the ground and lock on a choke of his own except this time there was no escape. King went unconscious in a matter of seconds and raucous Irish crowd erupted in applause for their countryman who picks up his first win inside the UFC Octagon.
FULL RESULTS FOR UFC FIGHT NIGHT: MCGREGOR VS. BRANDAO
Conor McGregor def. Diego Brandao by TKO at 4:05, R1
Gunnar Nelson def. Zak Cummings by submission (rear naked choke) at 4:48, R2
Ian McCall def. Brad Pickett by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Norman Parke def. Naoyuki Kotani by TKO (strikes) at 3:41, R2
Ilir Latifi def. Chris Dempsey by TKO (strikes) at 2:07, R1
Neil Seery def. Phil Harris by unanimous dec (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Cathal Pendred def. Mike King by submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 3:33, R2
Trevor Smith def. Tor Troeng by unanimous decision Dec (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Nikita Krylov def. Cody Donovan by TKO (strikes) at 4:57, R1
Patrick Holohan def. Josh Sampo by submission (rear naked choke) at 3:06, R1