The UFC may have very well just reaped the most successful weekend in its 22-year history. From Friday through Sunday of this past week, the events surrounding UFC 189 peaked in popularity, crushing nearly every pre-existing record that the UFC held for its previous promotions. From ticket sales to pay-per-view purchases to mass social media traffic, the UFC reached new frontiers of triumph this past weekend as an organization.
Originally, the UFC 189 promotion paired UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo (25-1) against contender Conor McGregor (18-2) for the title belt. From the start, the promotion seemed like a dream come true for UFC President Dana White. The brash, trash-talking McGregor was set to challenge the soft-spoken, yet ferocious, champion Aldo for the belt. White and the UFC took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime title fight, launching a massive promotional tour for the event. World tours, a docu-series on both fighters and a flat-out impressive and aesthetic commercial campaign hyped UFC 189 as one for the ages.
Then, the tides shifted when Aldo suffered a rib injury in training for his title defense. Aldo was cleared medically to compete at UFC 189 and many members of the media were convinced that he would defend his title on July 11. However, much to the dismay of McGregor, White and MMA fans worldwide, Aldo pulled out of the main event two weeks prior to the scheduled event. Aldo has since received criticism from McGregor, White and several MMA analysts in the media since making his decision to pull out of the fight.
As a result of the Aldo fallout, Chad “Money” Mendes (17-3) stepped into the main event to battle McGregor, this time for the interim UFC featherweight title belt. Despite the new opponent, McGregor didn’t miss a beat in hyping up this fight, calling Aldo a “scared man running” and promising to “tear off” Mendes’ head in their upcoming bout.
From the fan turnout at the Friday weigh-ins preluding UFC 189, the UFC knew that this event was going to be a whole other animal in terms of revenue and output. The UFC 189 weigh-in garnered 11,500 fans in attendance, with several hundred more fans turned away at the door due to overcrowding and safety regulations for the MGM Grand Garden Arena. This mark crushed the previous UFC record for weigh-in attendance, which was 8,000 in 2012 at UFC 148 which pitted Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen against each other in a rematch for the middleweight championship.
While the weigh-in featured the cliché fighter stand-off, in which White had to restrain McGregor and Mendes, another headline would develop beside the massive attendance turnout. McGregor and UFC bantamweight Uriah Faber engaged in a minor altercation back stage during the weigh-in. While the altercation was nothing more than a mere push and shove, it was a testament to the showman that McGregor is. Boy, can that guy rack up headlines and make news or what?
Once the actual UFC 189 promotion came and went Saturday evening, fight fans around the world could collectively agree that the main card lived up to the hype. Even aside from the main and co-main events on the fight card, the night was stacked with solid fights and dazzling finishes. Both bantamweight Thomas Almeida (20-0) and featherweight Jeremy Stephens (24-11) would finish their opponents with devastating flying knee knockouts Saturday night. The prelims also included a highlight-reel finish as welterweight Matt Brown (20-13) submitted Tim Means (24-7-1) in the first round via a guillotine choke.
The co-main event of the evening, between welterweight champion “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler and contender Rory MacDonald, would go on to receive Fight of the Night honors and is considered by many an ‘instant classic’. Lawler would finish MacDonald in the fifth round with a straight jab, breaking the nose of MacDonald, before finishing the fight on the ground with fists. The fight was a bloodbath throughout, with neither fighter giving in, but Lawler would defend his title in dramatic knockout fashion.
In the main event, McGregor would realize his dream of UFC gold, winning the interim featherweight title via knockout in the second round of his bout against Mendes. The win only sets up even more prospective profit for the UFC when Aldo and McGregor square off in a unification bout for the outright UFC featherweight title.
Aside from the outstanding fights on the night, the UFC presented itself as a very renovated and remodeled brand. Fighters and their coaching staffs no longer sported sponsors, but instead all UFC fighters and personnel wore Reebok gear from head to toe. In the main event fight, both McGregor and Mendes walked to the ring with live performance music playing behind them. Visually, and with good results, the UFC brand looked noticeably altered Saturday in almost every aspect of its presentation.
If fight fans were left hungry for more MMA after Saturday night’s spectacle, they would not have to wait long as the UFC presented a Fight Night on Sunday evening. The UFC Fight Night was headlined by welterweight veterans in Jake Ellenberger (30-10) and Stephen Thompson (11-1) squaring off. Additionally, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) finale fight took place as a part of the evening’s main card.
The TUF finale featured American Top Team’s welterweight Hayder Hassan (6-2) against the Blackzillains’ Kamaru Usman (6-1). Usman would submit Hassan via an arm triangle choke in the second round; thus winning his own custom-made Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, the TUF team trophy, and the $300,000 cash prize for the Blackzillians.
Thompson would knock out Ellenberger in devastating fashion with a spinning right heel kick to the forehead, ending the fight in the very first round. Thompson now emerges from the fight as a premier contender in the welterweight division.
The UFC’s gem of a weekend is not only one of the finest in the organization’s history, but in the history of Mixed Martial Arts as a sport. With viewership through the roof this past weekend, one can only expect the UFC to grow exponentially in popularity throughout the nation.
Can you even begin to fathom the revenue storm that this Aldo-McGregor fight will spark once it comes around? Yikes.