UFC 189: Mendes vs. McGregor
July 11, 2015 | Las Vegas, NV
It’s been a pretty great week for Chad Mendes, a not so great one for Jose Aldo and a “worst week ever” contender for Giblert “Le Nino” Melendez. Mendes has stepped in for Aldo, who suffered a fractured rib in training, to face Conor McGregor in an interim title match main that marks the first time fighters belonging to a lighter weight class than the guys vying for a belt in the co-main event slot are headlining a card since Renan Barao and Urijah Faber took top billing over Aldo and Ricardo Lamas back at UFC 169.
Despite the last-minute change, UFC 189 remains among the best cards of the year.
Here are my predictions for the entire card, in five sentences or less per fight.
MAIN PPV CARD – 10PM/7PM ET|PT
Featherweight interim championship bout
#2 Chad “Money” Mendes (+135) vs. #3 “The Notorious” Conor McGregor (-155): A change in opponent merely two weeks out from a title fight would give most men cold feet, but time and time again Conor McGregor has proven himself unlike most men. The brash, confident, wickedly talented Irishman is indeed facing an altogether different monster in Mendes, a fighter whose only two career losses were to the champ, Aldo. Many believe this bout has only two courses of action, a McGregor knockout or a Mendes decision via stifling wrestling, but that selling point means both fighters —especially Mendes — draw short of everyone’s problems. More than content to stand and trade with his opponents, “Money” hasn’t allowed his comparatively diminutive height to become a disadvantage (as his body punch knockout of a much taller southpaw, Cody McKenzie, proved). Dana White and the Fertittas have never shied away from taking risks and this most certainly is a big one since it has a pretty good chance of blowing up in their faces. Mendes by SUB.
Welterweight championship bout
(C) “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (+150) vs. #3 Rory “The Red King” MacDonald (-175): This rematch between two men once heralded as “MMA’s next big thing” is being slept on, big time, and it wouldn’t surprise me the least bit if it wound up stealing the show altogether. Lawler, back from a much-needed break following the best year of his career, is looking to solidify his place atop the 170-pound division. MacDonald, fresh off of his first finish since 2012 (an artful performance against Tarec Saffiedine which saw the Belgian, Saffiedine, suffer his first career knockout), hopes to deliver on the promise he’s shown as George St-Pierre’s prime understudy. Though from a technical standpoint MacDonald is the more elusive and diverse of the two men, Lawler’s toughness, power and strength in the pocket have only increased as he’s learned to channel his inner berserker (read: gotten that cardio under control) into becoming possibly the most effective punch-for-punch striker in the division. He’s also faced better wrestlers over the course of the last couple of years, which is something worth considering when looking at their routes to victory. Lawler by TKO.
#8 Dennis “The Menace” Bermudez (-200) vs. #11 Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens (+170): Despite only being a year apart in age, there is no denying that there is a wide discrepancy in cage mileage between these two fighters. Stephens, who in 2011 took former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis to a split decision, celebrated a decade fighting professionally back in January and will try to right his ship after losing back-to-back decisions against Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira. Bermudez, similarly, is aiming to return to the win column after a dejecting outing against Ricardo Lamas that snapped a division-high seven-fight win streak. Both men hit hard—although in terms of sheer, jarring power Stephens is a notch above “The Menace”—and both have sturdy chins, so versatility will likely be the deciding factor. At this juncture, Bermudez is more hittable (though not by much), but he’s also the better overall mixed martial artist. Bermudez by UD.
#15 Gunnar “Gunni” Nelson (+155) vs. Brandon “Rukus” Thatch (-180): Two perfect examples of how a single loss can dispel all hype surrounding a fighter, Gunnar Nelson and Brandon Thatch are entering the Octagon this Saturday vying for a spot in their division’s top 15. Thatch, a monstrous 6’2” welterweight, showed more than one chink in his armor in his dreadfully bad outing against former lightweight champ Benson Henderson—most notably his shallow gas tank and questionable takedown defense. “Gunni” fared slightly better in a loss to Rick “The Upset Machine” Story that soiled his otherwise pristine record. Although Nelson’s side-on karate style striking is fun to watch, he’d be wise to utilize it mainly to set up takedowns and put his much-lauded ground game to work. “Rukus” likely spent the last few months drilling takedown defense, but Nelson’s a tricky cat. Nelson by UD.
Brad “One Punch” Pickett (+600) vs. Thomas “Thominhas” Almeida (-900): Two losses in a failed run at flyweight gold have sent Brad Pickett back up to bantamweight. Welcoming him there is a veritable monster in Thomas Almeida. At 18-0, the former Legacy FC titleholder Almeida is a finishing machine; only one of his victories (a UD over Tim Gorman in his UFC debut) has come by decision. Pickett’s preferred route to victory is on the feet and Almeida will certainly relish in meeting him there, center-stage, as is evident by his 78% knockout rate. Almeida by TKO.
FOX SPORTS 1 PRELIMS – 8PM/5PM ET|PT
#5 Matt “The Immortal” Brown (-187) vs. Tim “The Dirty Bird” Means (+162): The real question surrounding this fight is, “Will the Matt Brown we’ve grown to love and believe in show up?” At 34 and with possibly the highest-potential year of his career now behind him, this bout should serve to tell us if Brown has another run in him or if he’ll be relegated to gatekeeper status for the foreseeable future. Means, on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise since rebounding from his sole UFC loss to Neil Mangy after transferring back over from Legacy FC in early 2014. He’s been among the most active welterweights this year and a win over Brown could see him enter the division’s top 10. Neither man has much quit in them, so the edge has to go to the fighter who took the two most recent welterweight champions to decisions. Brown by TKO.
Mike “Quick” Swick (+330) vs. Alex “The Dominican Nightmare” Garcia (-400): Mike Swick hasn’t fought since 2012 and has fought three times in total since February 2010. I’m not saying he doesn’t have a chance, but it doesn’t look good for the TUF 1 alum. Garcia by KO.
Cathal “The Punisher” Pendred (-110) vs. John “Doomsday” Howard (-110): A loss on Saturday will make it 0-4 for Howard, who hasn’t secured a win since out-pointing Siyar Bahadurzada back in 2013. Pendred by UD.
UFC FIGHT PASS EARLY PRELIMS – 7PM/4PM ET|PT
Neil “2Tap” Seery (-107) vs. Louis “Da Last Samurai” Smolka (-113): I’ll bypass riffing on Seery’s nickname here. Smolka by SUB.
Yosdenis “Pink Panther” Cedeno (-190) vs. Cody “The Fist” Pfister (+165): Cedeno is a terrific fighter, however Pfister’s style will give “Pink Panther” difficulty. Pfister by UD.
Cody “No Love” Garbrandt (-600) vs. Enrique “Bure” Briones (+450): One of the UFC’s most recent acquisitions from Team Alpha Male, Garbrandt has the power, technique, cardio and quality of training partners to make a big splash in the bantamweight division. And judging from his third-round stoppage of Marcus Brimmage in debut, he’s got the poise and killer instincts to remain dangerous for all 15 minutes of competition. However, it’s a bad idea to sleep on Briones, whose experience and training at Jackson’s MMA make the disparate odds for this fight rather eyebrow-raising. In terms of explosiveness, Gambrandt has the edge–he’s an interesting stylistic hybrid of Pat Curran’s movement and Jeremy Stephens’s slugging style–but Briones has more routes to victory. If this fight hits the mat for an extended period of time, expect “No Love’s” corner to start sweating. Gambrandt by TKO.
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