The moment is almost near, where mixed martial arts (MMA) fans will either get to witness the culmination of the Conor McGregor hype or watch it all fizzle away.
It's soon time (hopefully) for epic knockouts and slithering submissions when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) kicks off its annual early-summer pay-per-view (PPV) blockbuster tonight (Sat. July 11, 2015) inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
UFC 189 features the aforementioned boisterous Irish striker taking on No. 2-ranked Featherweight in the world Chad Mendes for the interim 145-pound strap in the main event of the evening. Robbie Lawler aims to defend his Welterweight title for the first time against former foe and No. 1 contender Rory MacDonald in the co-main event.
Filling out the rest of the stacked fight card are several noteworthy scraps that will showcase Top 15-ranked Featherweight fighters Dennis Bermudez and Jeremy Stephens, as well as Welterweight up-and-comers Gunnar Nelson and Brandon Thatch.
All of these men possess a unique blend of grappling, striking and wrestling. As many as four fighters will walk away from "Sin City"with heavier pockets. Can you predict the bonus winners?
Below are my thoughts on how the five main card match ups of UFC 189 end and who might be collecting $50,000 checks.
Brad Pickett vs. Thomas Almeida
Tale of the tape: 21 T(KO), 13 submission -- total career finishes between both fighters
Two fighters at completely different crossroads in their MMA careers meet in the opening main card tilt.
"One Punch" is on the second multi-fight losing skid of his career and is set to careen with a fighter in Almeida, who is undefeated (18-0) and one of the most polished strikers in the Bantamweight division.
"Thominhas" is perfect (2-0) in UFC, with victories over Tim Gorman and Yves Jabouin. The 23-year-old has had his chin tested before in prior bouts outside of the Octagon and it was tagged quite a bit in his debut against Gorman in Nov. 2014.
In fact, "The Psycho" inflicted the Brazilian with a considerable amount of damage via a stinging jab.
He also exposed some holes in the young Almeida's wrestling game. However, he erased much of that from memory with a complete one-sided romp over the Tristar Gym representative Yves Jabouin in April.
It was the quickness of Almeida that was on full display in their bout. He was able to punish "Tiger" without much threat of offense.
The Brit is 36 years old and is no longer the fastest guy in the room, but will always be in the fight because of his punching power and his hardened chin. A fan friendly fighter, Pickett does not utilize much head movement and does not stick and move.
He welcomes a brawl, though it might not be the best thing for him. Former interim 135-pound title challenger Michael McDonald washed Pickett pretty good in their Aug. 2013 meeting, finishing the latter with a rear-naked choke in the second round.
Not to say this one won't be fun, but I don't think Pickett lasts very long.
What to watch for: The uppercut of Almeida
Prediction: First-round technical-knockout (Knockout of the Night)
Gunnar Nelson vs. Brandon Thatch
Tale of the tape: 11 T(KO), 12 submission
Two of the Welterweight divisions most exciting prospects come together for what should be an interesting battle of contrasting styles.
The Icelandic fighter, Nelson, looks to distance himself from a wrenching split-decision loss to perennial tough out Rick Story in Oct. 2014. Meanwhile, "Rukus" also showed guts in defeat, capturing at least one round from Benson Henderson in their February showdown in the former's homestate of Colorado before succumbing to a late submission.
Nelson is a refined striker with a slick Brazilian jiu-jitsu game. The multi-time jiu-jitsu world-champion can get crafty on the mat and find his way into dominant positions rather easily. His first-round submission win over Omari Akhmedov is a great example of both his grappling and striking prowess.
Early in the opening round of their March 2014 tussle, "Gunni" rocked the Dagestani fighter with a straight left, which was set up by various faints. The 26-year-old also has the uncanny ability to switch stances on a dime and launch an immediate offensive.
Needless to say, Thatch will have his hands full with the unpredictability of Nelson.
The 29-year-old dispatched his first two UFC opponents with relative ease. Then, he met "Smooth" in his first main event spot.
For four rounds, the pair exchanged blows; Thatch with plenty of straight punches and leg kicks and Henderson with vicious body blows. The MMA Lab star gained a lot of ground in rounds three and four with his wrestling and ended their fight with a rear-naked choke.
Thatch works his magic through aggression and the plethora of strikes he throws. Nelson prefers to pick his spots, but that does not mean he is any less dangerous.
Normally, I would go with the fighter who chooses volume over strategy but this time I'm going with Nelson, who is the more complete fighter. He will be able to expose the Colorado native with his selective timing and eventually cause him to make a mistake.
What to watch for: Nelson's counters
Prediction: Nelson via third-round submission (Submission of the Night)
Dennis Bermudez vs. Jeremy Stephens
Tale of the tape: 19 T(KO), 6 submission
Bermudez and Stephens are both in need of a "W" and that is the reason their fight is my dark horse pick for "Fight of the Night."
The New York native lost The Ultimate Fighter 14 (TUF), but ended up compiling seven-straight victories over the next two years. Over that span, Bermudez scored three finishes over Tommy Hayden, Jimmy Hettes and Clay Guida.
"The Menace" is almost always at a reach disadvantage, which forces him to mix up his strikes if he wants to score points. He will usually feel his way into striking range with good head movement and a leg kick or jab.
Leg kicks are an underrated aspect of Bermudez's game and one that helped him attain a win over Max Holloway in May 2013. His intelligence and ability to change levels on a whim will also play a pivotal role in tonight's match up.
Stephens is also quite the scrappy fighter, who is relentless and puts power behind all of his strikes. "Lil' Heathen" can plant you with a kick, as he did TUF: "Brazil" winner Rony Jason, or grind out a decision win as he did against Darren Elkins.
He will likely yield the wrestling advantage to Bermudez, but power would appear to be equal among both men. Each has a eerily similar style of striking.
When it comes to the clinch, that is a toss up, as both men are two of the larger featherweight fighters around. However, I will give the edge to Bermudez due to his stout wrestling game.
I see Bermudez coasting for a unanimous-decision win here by doing a good job of keeping Stephens guessing with takedown attempts. Stephens' submission defense is on point (watch his loss to Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Charles Oliveira), which leads me to believe we will more than likely not see a finish.
What to watch for: The wrestling of Bermudez
Prediction: Bermudez via unanimous-decision
Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald
Tale of the tape: 26 T(KO), 7 submission
"Ruthless" and "Canadian Psycho" set out to steal the show on a fight card that also features fFatherweight firecrackers McGregor and Mendes.
Each fighter is efficient in their own way, but how they employ their offense is completely different. Let's start first with the champion.
The 33-year-old Lawler captured gold on his second try against Johny Hendricks at UFC 181 in Dec 2014. He notched the split-decision win off of a reckless, but sound gameplan.
Lawler scored points with good knees and kicks. He also added a few stinging haymakers in for good measure. Perhaps most importantly, his gas tank is formidable, having gone 25 minutes in three of his last four fights.
He can also take punishment, as evidenced by his two wars with Hendricks.
MacDonald had won his last three-in-a-row, most recently stopping former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine in his last Octagon outing. For the better part of 11 minutes, the 25-year-old kept his range by pumping his jab and mixing in leg kicks.
The Firas Zahabi-trained MacDonald also does an excellent job of confusing fighters with his attempts at takedowns. As was the case with his mentor Georges St. Pierre, for someone who has no formal wrestling background, MacDonald's takedowns are very good.
For starters, I thought Lawler's second fight with Hendricks was really close and I happen to lean towards the latter's side. Though, I will always give credit where credit is due and he put up a heck of a fight, taking multiple shots right on the jaw.
MacDonald will be ready to go, fully aware of how close his previous meeting with Lawler was, and have planned for the kinds of strikes Lawler will be throwing at him. Plus, he will be fully healthy, or a lot closer to it, this time around after suffering through an ankle injury in their first meeting at UFC 167 in Nov. 2013.
We will have a new champion later tonight.
What to watch for: Rory's counters
Prediction: MacDonald via fourth-round technical knockout
Chad Mendes vs. Conor McGregor
Tale of the tape: 22 T(KO), 3 submission
Mendes and McGregor have their impromptu title clash after a war of words throughout the month of June.
They have been itching to get their hands on each other and now the time has arrived. "Money" last competed in April, defeating fellow heavy-hitting wrestler Ricardo Lamas via first-round technical knockout. "Notorious" hasn't been seen since he clobbered Russian-German kickboxer Dennis Siver in January.
The 26-year-old Dublinator has been on a beeline for gold ever since he set foot in UFC and is a winner of five-straight fights in the Octagon. Regardless of whether you think he was gift-wrapped a title shot is out of the question, we're here to talk about the reason(s) he is great.
First and foremost, McGregor is an extremely accurate puncher. He stays light on his feet and explodes. His weapons of choice are spinning back kicks/elbows, uppercuts, jabs -- the works.
There are not many weapons he lacks in his offensive arsenal.
On the grappling side, we've yet to see a lot of McGregor in the clinch or on the mat, except when he tore his ACL in a fight with Max Holloway in Aug. 2013. The Irishman grounded the Hawaiian in the last two rounds, using a smothering wrestling strategy.
We know that the Team Alpha Male leader Mendes can wrestle, though a majority of his last few wins have come because of his hefty hands. He has throttled the likes of Elkins, Guida and most recently Lamas. His shot is also second-to-none.
Mendes' striking defense has also held up and stood the test against Aldo at UFC 179.
Both he and McGregor are equally dangerous and there is no right or wrong choice here. What worries me is that Mendes may resort to his wrestling too soon and he may end up getting caught by an uppercut coming in for a takedown.
Many people will expect McGregor to get booted almost immediately now that he is facing a wrestler, but I think it is going to be a much tougher fight than that.
What to watch for: Body kicks of McGregor
Prediction: McGregor via unanimous decision (Fight of the Night)
And there you have it Maniacs. My picks are signed, sealed and delivered. Enjoy yourself and this heck of a fight card.
Remember, keep it locked to MMAmania for all of your UFC 189 needs, including live updates later this evening (right here) and post-fight analysis.