Given Conor McGregor had made only a single, solitary appearance in an MMA cage – as a participant at least – in the last three years, there were many questions what the biggest name in the history of MMA would look like. It didn’t take long for him to show he’s at or near his best, shredding Donald Cerrone in a span of 40 seconds, the UFC’s all-time leader in wins landing next-to-nothing. He even showed some of the cockiness that had been missing on the lead up to the event in his post-fight interview while maintaining the respect he had shown to Cerrone during the promotion of the event. He seems serious about keeping a busy schedule too. Believe it or not, McGregor is back.
Conor McGregor: It was fair to question how focused McGregor was coming in. He has been dealing with a number of legal issues without a consistent fight schedule in several years. He had a brilliant strategy, going right at Cerrone from the get-go and using shoulder strikes – shoulder strikes! – to bust up Cerrone’s nose before finishing the job with a head kick and several ground strikes. Even better for McGregor, the crowd appeared to eat up everything he did, proving he still has a LOT of support out there. McGregor’s legal problems aren’t going anywhere, but it is said that winning solves a lot of problems. McGregor is showing just how much it helps as there are still plenty of reasons out there to dislike him… and yet, it feels wrong to do so right now.
Aleksei Oleinik: Glaciers may move faster than Oleinik, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with more know-how on the mat than the savvy Russian. Credit to Maurice Greene as he had more fight in him from the mat than most expected, but Oleinik wouldn’t be denied, trying a variety of submissions in addition to some GnP before finally finishing off Greene late in the second with an armbar. Oleinik has probably peaked, but he’s still durable enough to remain a useful gatekeeper at the age of 42.
Brian Kelleher: I was concerned Kelleher was nearing the end of the line as he had a long career on the regional scene with a reckless style. Instead, it looks like the time away did him some good as he looked refreshed against Ode Osbourne. He went right at the newcomer, getting him to the mat and pursuing a choke until he got it. He’ll never be a contender, but Kelleher looks like he’s back to being one of the more entertaining action fighters in the division.
Diego Ferreira: Ferreira reminded people so much of Rafael dos Anjos stylistically that few were surprised he was able to beat Anthony Pettis. However, beating up Pettis even worse than the man who took the belt from him was able to wasn’t expected. Ferreira threw the former champion around like he was nothing in the first, picked up where he left off in the second, and finished him with a choke that didn’t look like it was in all the way. The win should set up Ferreira for a top ten opponent in the shark tank that is the lightweight division.
Roxanne Modafferi: For many, it wasn’t necessarily the victory by Modafferi that was surprising. It was the complete domination, ragdolling Maycee Barber in a way that nobody saw coming. Granted, Barber was injured in the second round, but that doesn’t explain how Modafferi took the opening frame. The longtime veteran put her experience to good use, countering Barber’s attack with takedowns and shaking the younger fighter’s confidence early on. Modafferi may never get back into title contention, but she’ll have a role as the crafty gatekeeper as long as she wants to be.
Sodiq Yusuff: There were some rough times against Andre Fili, but Yusuff showed exactly so many are touting him as one of the best prospects in the sport right now. He hung in there early when Fili was winning the striking exchanges, turning things around late with some serious GnP. He showed off some solid wrestling too in the process. He may not have finished off Fili, but Yusuff fought a complete fight and overcame some adversity in the process. His star is burning brighter than ever.
Askar Askarov: Given how Askarov’s UFC debut, most expected him to win the ground battle with Tim Elliott if he was going to walk out of the event with a win. Instead, he showed he’s got some power in his punches, putting Elliott out on his feet in the first only for the fight to somehow keep going. In the process, Askarov proved he’s got as deep of a gas tank as anyone when he isn’t fighting in Mexico City by taking the last round as well. Askarov could be a sleeper in the division.
Drew Dober: While Dober’s improvements have been obvious over the last few years, no one expected a breakthrough performance to come of it. Well, a win over Nasrat Haqparast may not be a true breakthrough performance, but it was something no one saw coming. With seven wins in his last nine appearances, Dober has quietly put together one of the more impressive runs in the lightweight division. It’ll probably take another win for Dober to get a crack at a ranked opponent, but his quick finish of Haqparast was the best possible outcome he could have asked for.
Aleksa Camur: I wasn’t overly impressed with the youngster’s UFC debut, but he was more active than Justin Ledet and that made all the difference. Rather than be too picky and dock him for a so-so performance, I’ll look at it as a UFC victory in just his sixth professional fight is a hell of an accomplishment for a 24-year old. He should only get better from here.
Sabina Mazo: I don’t know why it took the halfway point of the fight for Mazo to start using the clinch, but the contest turned in her favor when she finally did and was able to take a very close decision from a game JJ Aldrich. Mazo still has a lot of defensive holes in her boxing, she also landed a few nice head kicks and showed why the youngster has so many touting her as a prospect to keep an eye on.
Jorge Masvidal: Masvidal seems to be the crowd favorite to face McGregor next. Given McGregor seems to be making a massive attempt to please the audience at this point, I like the chances of that happening. How about the winner gets to take the loser’s Versace robe…?
Nate Diaz: McGregor seems to be saying yes to everything right now, but it’s good for the younger Diaz that McGregor is open to the idea of a trilogy. At this point, that feels like the only money fight for Nate. It isn’t my favorite potential contest for Mystic Mac, but you better believe I’d be into it.
UFC: There is nothing the UFC wants more than McGregor fighting – and winning – on a consistent basis and it looks like the former double-champ is motivated to do just that. If so, there’s a very good possibility the organization ends up producing more revenue in a single year than it ever has.
Donald Cerrone: While Cerrone being finished as quickly as he was didn’t turn out to be a massive surprise – look at his track record on the biggest of stages – that doesn’t mean it wasn’t disappointing. There is certainly something magical about McGregor returning in the manner he did, but it would have been far more enjoyable in the moment if the Irishman would have engaged in a back-and-forth battle with the rugged Cowboy. Given the way the fight went down, it feels like a definitive end to Cerrone’s days as an elite fighter. Yes, I said elite. Sure, he may never hold a title, but how many guys can claim to formerly hold the career record of UFC wins? I can tell you that it’s less than the amount that have held UFC gold. How’s that for elite? Regardless, Cerrone didn’t look good in the least.
Raquel Pennington: Pennington isn’t a big bantamweight, but she isn’t a small one either. She looked really small against Holly Holm, getting crushed against the cage for a massive chunk of the fight. It’s even more disappointing when Pennington appeared to be winning the standup game in the limited amount of time they fought at a distance.
Ode Osbourne: Osbourne’s UFC debut couldn’t have been worse. Typically, when someone makes their UFC debut, it’s on the early prelims. Osbourne debuted on a PPV main card. A high profile PPV. In other words, lots of people saw him get his ass handed to him. Nerves appeared to play a part of it, so I’d expect Osbourne to look better in his sophomore effort. Then again, it would be difficult for him not to look better.
Anthony Pettis: There was a part of me expecting Pettis to pull off some magic given he pulls something out of thin air every time I expect him to get thrashed. There was no wizardry this time as it could be argued this was the worst performance of his career. Pettis had no effective offense over the course of the contest. I’m not going to say Pettis is finished, but I feel confident saying his days as a contender aren’t coming back around.
Maycee Barber: Barber proved she’s tough as nails, earning the respect of everyone who watched her fight. Beyond that, there wasn’t a damn thing that went right for the youngster. She tore her ACL in the second round and couldn’t reasonably stand after that moment, getting dominated by Modafferi in the process. Perhaps most worrisome is the recovery time that will go into the surgery and rehab from the torn ACL. Her goal of becoming the youngest champion isn’t looking so well right now.
Tim Elliott: Elliott has long been one of the more entertaining members of the flyweight division, but his fight IQ has long been questionable. His fight with Askarov solidified that idea. You have to throw something back when you march forward with your hands down. Instead, he threw fisticuffs only intermittently in the final round, giving away the last round and the fight in the process. I’ve been a defender of Elliott, but I can’t do that this time, even if he put together an entertaining scrap.
Nasrat Haqparast: Haqparast was on many people’s list “to watch” heading into the event, believing he’d be a strong candidate to enter the rankings before the end of the year. That isn’t happening with his quick loss to Dober. I don’t want to critique too much into why he lost; sometimes, you just get caught. I don’t expect this loss to hurt his development too much, but it does affect the timeline.
Justin Ledet: While the commentating team was busy complementing Ledet’s defensive skills, they didn’t notice until it was too late that Ledet wasn’t throwing much in return. You can’t win a contest without any offense. In the process, Ledet probably cost himself his employment in the UFC.
Kamaru Usman: Anyone else get the vibe he isn’t on McGregor’s radar? At least not quite yet. It’s obvious Usman would like his chances against the Notorious One – it’s hard to blame him – but it doesn’t look like that payday is coming his way any time soon.
Justin Gaethje: Gaethje’s chances look even worse than Usman’s from where I’m sitting. Gaethje wasn’t even in the building and his name wasn’t floated on the broadcast. Anyone else get the feeling Gaethje might be treading water for a while?
Holly Holm: There were a lot complaints about Holm’s performance online, but it isn’t because Holm wasn’t effective. Yes, it was a boring performance, but Holm was more active in the clinch than she has been in the past. Plus, Holm forced Pennington to be the aggressor, allowing Holm to counter. Given Holm is far more effective countering than she is leading the dance, that’s a good thing. So while Holm’s performance may have been boring and did her no favors with fans, it was a major strategic improvement, putting her back on the right track.
Maurice Greene: Given I would have expected Greene to tap in the first round after all the compromising positions Oleinik put him in, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the progress of the Crochet Boss. He escaped from some bad situations I wouldn’t have expected him to in addition to holding out for a long time from a neck crank. Throw in the fact Greene was winning the standup battle and I’d say it was overall a solid performance for Greene. It may be his second loss in a row, but Greene is clearly improving.
Andre Fili: While I wouldn’t have agreed with it, a case could have been made that Fili took the first and third round in his contest with Yusuff. Nonetheless, Fili’s performance was spirited enough that his stock probably took a bump up even in a loss. He just couldn’t handle the physical strength of Yusuff, no surprise given Yusuff is a physical marvel. Fili brought out the best in the rising star and showed he’s no joke. Props to the Team Alpha Male product.
JJ Aldrich: Aldrich may not have swayed the judges, but she appears to have won the Twittersphere with her slick boxing against the longer Mazo. Aldrich’s fall came when she couldn’t effectively combat Mazo’s clinch, but it was one of the better losing efforts on the evening. Aldrich should stick around for a while as a tough gatekeeper.