Conor McGregor's technical knockout victory over Chad Mendes at the UFC 189 pay-per-view (PPV) event last Saturday night (July 11, 2015) in Las Vegas, Nevada, will go down as one of the all-time most unforgettable moments in UFC history (highlights).
But, before McGregor fell to his knees as he embraced the Irish flag, completely humbled after closing the show at UFC 189 and realizing what he had just accomplished, the balloon looked like it was about to pop for the Irish featherweight only a few minutes before that fight-ending sequence.
All the talking, the tailored suits, sunglasses, and Sinead O'Connor's live version of "Foggy Dew" weren't going to be able to save him from the wrestling and ground-and-pound attack of Chad Mendes, who held him down for the majority of the second round while feeding him punches and elbows.
It appeared as if the brash and chatty fighter from Dublin was going to fail the test against a legitimate wrestler like most said he would. He wasn't going to be able to get off of his back in front of over 16,000 fans inside the MGM Grand Arena.
Except, he found a way.
McGregor never broke and remained resilient amidst the chants of "ole, ole, ole," from the Irish faithful in attendance and was talking to Mendes the entire time on the ground. After Mendes went for a guillotine attempt, McGregor made it back to his feet and came hard and heavy with his superior stand-up, dropping Mendes with a huge straight left before finishing the Team Alpha Male fighter on the ground to win the UFC interim featherweight title. He withstood the best Mendes had to offer and finished him.
A star was born.
While McGregor's popularity has already risen substantially, his win at UFC 189 cements him as a legit star of the UFC. It's undeniable. He had to deliver in a must-win situation at UFC 189 and he did so. There could be no second place. A hard-fought decision loss wasn't going to cut it. As Bull Hurley said in Over the Top, "second sucks." Many have said he wasn't deserving of the title shot against Aldo, but in beating Mendes, he proved he was worthy all along.
"I've been hearing all the time that I'm being protected from this style of opponent, that I've been gifted a title shot," McGregor told Joe Rogan after the fight's conclusion. "So when my title shot went running and they gave me the challenge I was supposed to be protected from, I knew I was going to prove to people that I'm a true fighter. It doesn't matter who it is, I show up. I'm a professional. I come in here and fight and I'm confident in my abilities."
Winning was the only option against Mendes and McGregor carried the weight of an entire country on his back, and he proved his legitimacy as a top featherweight in his division, passing his test against a top wrestler with flying colors. Yes, he has holes in his ground game. Yes, his guard doesn't look that great. But in the end, McGregor found a way to get it done. Losing on this night just wasn't going to fly and he dug deep and finished the No. 1-ranked UFC featherweight in the division.
The 18-2 fighter often talks about visualization and his will and mindset are truly something to behold. In just his sixth fight in UFC, he headlined a card that UFC President Dana White called "The Best Ever." He's finished five out of the six opponents he's faced, three in the first round, and picked himself up four "Performance" bonuses.
His win over Mendes earned him $500,000. Not a bad haul in your sixth UFC fight. And that's not including what he took in from the record-setting $7.1 million gate and PPV money, as well.
There will still be plenty of doubters, like the ones who have been chirping all weekend. The most popular excuse for the Mendes loss being, "He didn't have a full camp." Don't expect those detractors to die off any time soon as a title unification fight against champion Jose Aldo will be next, once the Brazilian heals from his rib injury.
First, the promotion will call on its new star to give a stale show a shot in the arm and coach the next season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) opposite Urijah Faber. TUF 22 will begin on Sept. 9, 2015. McGregor may be popular, but making that show interesting again may take a miracle.
McGregor is as polarizing as it gets and he is exactly what UFC needs. Ronda Rousey has been the promotion's big star as of late, but with Georges St-Pierre retiring, Jon Jones on indefinite suspension, and Anderson Silva suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), the promotion has been starving for someone else to step up and take the reigns, create buzz and interest, and put asses in the seats and sell PPV events.
McGregor has succeeded in doing all of those and in his words, he's "running the game."
"I have every record in the book: the gate, the pay-per-view, all the viewing figures on FOX and UFC Fight Pass, highest-attended weigh ins. I have every record right now and at the end of the day I am still only 26 years of age," he said at the UFC 189 post-fight press conference. "I am still very, very young in this game."
There are still many questions that experts, fans, and critics will want answered, and they will all will be, inside the Octagon in big fights of massive interest. UFC 189 was his career-defining moment and with his back against the wall he seized the biggest opportunity of his career.
Whether you love him or hate him, you cannot deny him. Conor McGregor is a star, he's proven his legitimacy, and he's here to stay.
For more UFC 189 results and reactions click here.