A look back at the past week's UFC events...
There was almost a feeling leading up to Saturday’s UFC Fight Night main event in Dublin that local hero Conor McGregor couldn’t possibly live up to the hype he created. An arena sold out in minutes, reams of copy written about the Dubliner, and endless obligations for the featherweight prospect. But “The Notorious One” pulled it off, not just beating a tough opponent in Diego Brandao, but doing it in a way that left his fans satisfied and the critics silent, if only for a moment. There will be those who are still unconvinced that McGregor is as good as he thinks he is, but just digest this: In three UFC fights, he’s done everything that has been asked of him, and he’s been impressive in the process. That’s all you can ask. As for the rest, only time will tell, and that’s going to be the fun part because no matter who he fights and beats, there will be a segment of the public that will never give him his due. But love him or hate him, you will watch Conor McGregor, and that kind of notoriety is never a bad thing – for McGregor, the UFC, and the sport of mixed martial arts.
THE IRISH TAKEOVER
It was the kind of quote that you expect to see on a t-shirt soon, and rightfully so, because it was a good one, but when McGregor declared to the O2 crowd that the Irish were “not here to take part; we’re here to take over,” it was a mission statement that is hard to argue with after this weekend’s card. McGregor, Cathal Pendred, Patrick Holohan, and Neil Seery were the Fab Four of Dublin and you’re going to hear a lot more from the quartet in and out of the Octagon in the near future, whether fighting at home or abroad. McGregor is the charismatic ringleader, but Pendred is a crossover star in the making as well, and both Holohan and Seery have that everyman appeal which goes a long way not just in Ireland, but everywhere. Kudos also go to SBG Ireland coach John Kavanagh, whose work with the trio of McGregor, Pendred, and Holohan, not to mention welterweight rising star Gunnar Nelson, has an entire nation excited about mixed martial arts. And you can’t forget “Stormin” Norman Parke, a Northern Ireland native who quietly built a 3-0-1 UFC record before smashing his way to Octagon win number four with a blowout win over Naoyuki Kotani. Irish eyes are smiling indeed this Sunday.
Mixed martial arts is a game of inches, where one mistake can spell the end for a fighter. That’s the beauty of the sport, and the beauty of watching Gunnar Nelson in the Octagon. The fighting pride of Iceland seems to be incapable of getting rattled on fight night, and if he catches you napping, you WILL be napping for good seconds later. On Saturday, Nelson picked up another win for his unbeaten record, and he did it with his characteristic cool, taking his time, figuring Zak Cummings out, and when Cummings gave him the opening, Nelson capitalized, taking him down, bloodying his nose, and finishing him. It was a perfect sequence of events from a master chess player, and it did what every fight should – not just entertain, but make you want to see the winner fight again. If you’re a true fan of MMA, that’s what every Nelson fight has been thus far. And while a proposed bout between Nelson and Canadian contender Rory MacDonald is an intriguing one, please, no stories about how two “Serial killers” are about to meet each other. Just because a fighter doesn’t beat his chest, trash talk, or go over the top with emotion in the Octagon, it doesn’t mean he’s a serial killer. Nelson and MacDonald are two quiet young men who prefer to do their talking in the Octagon. Let them be.
Saturday’s event in Dublin was electric, but you can’t forget that last Wednesday’s event in Atlantic City delivered on all counts as well. That’s not surprising given the night’s headliner, and Donald “Cowboy’ Cerrone continues to amaze in the Octagon. Whether he ever wins a lightweight title or not, he simply embodies everything you want to see in a fighter, and that “everything” should mean two things: He wants to fight and he shows up to fight. Cerrone never disappoints on either count, and he did it again in his bout against Jim Miller. Miller looked sharp early, tagging Cerrone – a lot. But the Colorado veteran adjusted and turned things around in the second round, actually finishing Miller twice, a feat not seen in the Octagon since Murilo Bustamante submitted Matt Lindland twice in 2002. Thankfully for the integrity of the sport, both fighters got the wins they deserved, and in Cerrone’s case, it was the perfect metaphor for his career – he loves to fight so much, he was willing to knock his opponent out twice in one fight.
STORY AND SMITH
In this job, you can’t play favorites. Objectivity is the key, simply because you have to deal with everyone on the roster. But that doesn’t mean you can’t smile a little when someone gets a break they need. That was the case Wednesday night when Rick Story defeated Leonardo Mafra and Leslie Smith beat Jessamyn Duke. For Story, it was his first fight without his longtime training team and with Arizona’s MMA Lab. That kind of upheaval can shake up a fighter’s confidence, but Story looked better than ever in submitting his opponent, and more important, he seems to be happier than ever. How can you not appreciate that? As for Smith, she’s never in a bad fight, but at the same time, a 6-5 record isn’t the type of slate that spells longevity in the UFC, especially when you’re 0-1 in the hole. But when Duke got pinned to the fence by “The Peacemaker,” Smith appeared to be unleashing years of frustration in a matter of seconds. The fight was soon stopped, and Smith had a UFC win and a new lease on her Octagon life. Again, it was something worth smiling about.
John Lineker is a bad man, and I mean that in a good way. The hardest-hitting flyweight this side of John Dodson, Lineker can make you rethink your vocation with one swing of his fist. On Wednesday though, as bad as Lineker was, Alptekin Ozkilic was just as bad. Again, that’s in the best sense of the term. A wrestler by trade, Ozkilic took everything Lineker had to give and gave plenty back of his own, with the result being a Fight of the Night war that even had us jaded souls at Octagonside impressed. Sure, Ozkilic got stopped with nine seconds left in the fight, but anyone who saw that bout really won’t remember the finish; they’ll remember the 14:51 that preceded it.