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UFC 189 – Everybody Wins!

Sean O’Connell – Outlook Web App

Sometimes, on the rarest of occasions, against once-in-forever-odds… when the wind is right… and the stars align… and the chips all fall in the correct place… EVERYBODY wins.  UFC 189 in Las Vegas was one of those times.  The internet is aflame today with praise for a fight card that somehow lived up to the huge expectations of UFC fans around the world.  When the fanboys and experts alike call it the “best card in UFC history!” they are not stretching much, if at all.  After months and months of promotion, media tours, controversy, rumors, changed fights, more promotion, ESPN coverage, and non-stop message board chatter, UFC 189 finally went live and improbably, impossibly– OVER-DELIVERED.  Despite a makeshift main event, slapped together on 17 days notice, UFC 189 will go down as one of the most important nights in the history of the sport.

So let’s talk about the big winners.I’ll start with the obvious: Conor McGregor, whose brash self-promotion and viciously smooth striking have made him into the sport’s biggest star in the blink of an eye.  He faced the test we all thought he was avoiding in an elite wrestler, and came through with another TKO victory.  The Notorious One even managed to drop the act for long enough to show us his human side.  Not for too long though… The incredulous minority screaming about fight-fixing and early stoppages will only fuel the fire for his title unification bout with Jose Aldo once the Brazilian heals.  (and yes, I will be openly campaigning for a place on that card.)Welterweight Champ Robbie Lawler came away a huge winner in defending his belt and proving once again that there are men walking the earth today who were simply born to fight.  As a longtime veteran of the sport, “Ruthless” has a dedicated following, but for the late-comers, Saturday was an ideal introduction.  I won’t attempt to describe the bout in detail, because words could never do such a display of brute courage justice.  I will say that if the UFC Hall of Fame is worth a plug nickel, Lawler-MacDonald II (and the bloody-faced staredown between rounds) will play on continuous loop until the nuclear winter claims us all.

Even the losing fighter, Rory MacDonald – as impossible to like as he is with his awkward demeanor and ever-changing nicknames (stick with ‘Red King’) – showed incredible heart in standing toe-to-toe with Lawler and giving as much as he got.  A legendary fight only happens if both men make it so.  No quarter was asked, none was given, and their faces told the tale after the fight was over.

Reebok won big.  On a night when the new uniforms could easily have become a headline or point of contention, the clean lines of the apparel instead settled into their correct place as an anecdotal cast-member in the UFC 189 action epic.  Meanwhile, the new look will appear continuously in every replay, every photo, every highlight reel compilation.  From a branding perspective, I can’t imagine a better event to debut at.  From a business perspective, the brand paid a grand total of 230,000 dollars to the fighters for the right to be exclusive sponsors of the most memorable MMA event in recent memory.  That’s cheap.

The UFC itself came away as huge winners of course.  They over-promised, spared no expense, and put a very significant amount of eggs into the Conor McGregor basket.  Somehow things went exactly to plan and the organization now finds itself in a sort of waking dream, where nothing is off limits, not even Sinead O’Connor-sung entrance songs.  No stadium is too big, no claim is silly.  Because on the night where every imaginable eye was on the sport and the UFC, the fighters came through to put on a show that even the staunchest MMA opponents had to acknowledge as exciting, compelling, and economically intriguing (looking at you NY…)

Do I really need to explain how the fans came away as winners?  I sometimes find myself jaded to the fan experience because I know the nitty gritty of the sport. Yet on Saturday night I found myself yelling at the screen in a room full of strangers who couldn’t help but do the same.

I got asked at the viewing party as we watched Lawler destroy Rory’s face, how I am able reconcile just how much the UFC asks of fighters and how little the slice shared back seems to be sometimes.  But events like UFC 189 remind me that I don’t fight to be rich.  Even the guys getting rich don’t fight for the money.  I’ve said it before, the UFC is the last bastion of pure passion, true “for the love of the game” in pro sports.  If you don’t believe me, find a replay of UFC 189.  You’ll see.

So, sure, there were a dozen fighters or so who left the MGM Grand Garden Arena with bruised egos (or pulp noses) but even some of them are able to walk around today better off than they were Saturday morning; pockets lined and legacies cemented.  So I am gonna say that the UFC pulled it off and somehow managed to do the impossible with what transpired in Las Vegas on July, 11 2015 A.D.

Everybody won.


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