From the Vault: On this day four years ago, Conor McGregor defeated Chad Mendes to claim his first UFC title

From the Vault: On this day four years ago, Conor McGregor defeated Chad Mendes to claim his first UFC title

Conor McGregor’s first taste of UFC gold came exactly four years ago today.

By John Balfe - 11 Jul 2019

Four years ago exactly, fate conspired for Conor McGregor to wait for his official title shot against then-featherweight king Jose Aldo.

A rib injury suffered by the Brazilian in the lead-in to what was then one of the most anticipated fights in UFC history forced the champion’s withdrawal from the contest, temporarily denying the Irishman a shot at undisputed UFC gold. However, the fight game waits for noย one.

The next man up was Chad Mendes. The American wrestler and longtime Team Alpha Male member was 17-2 at the time, with those two defeats coming to Aldo, but other than the champ Mendes had had no equal in the octagon — until July 11th 2015, that is.

McGregor, who was dealing with a significant knee injury in advance of the fight, made what to this day remains as the most spine-tingling entrance in the company’s history as Sinead O’Connor sang him to the cage with Irish ballad ‘The Foggy Dew’, the fiercely nationalistic song written around the theme of Irishmen and women fighting for their country.

And that is exactly what happened on that balmy summer’s evening in Las Vegas.

McGregor started the fight strong. His length and pinpoint striking kept Mendes circling with his back to the cage, as McGregor set traps for the American to walk into his left hand or, if he zigged instead of zagged, into a spinning back kick to the stomach. Mendes’ knees buckled in the first when one particularly venomous cross landed square to his chin but the NCAA All-American had one of the better wrestling pedigrees in the UFC and he seized any available opportunity to use his grappling to take McGregor to the mat.

As the first round ended with Mendes in McGregor’s guard, the Dubliner rose and smiled in his opponent’s face. On to round two.

McGregor’s striking was beginning to tell but Mendes landed another takedown in the latter half of the second before rolling for a guillotine in a transition — a staple move from the Team Alpha Male gym — but McGregor expertly neutralised the move and got back to his feet, took a deep breath and moved forward.

With second remaining in the frame, McGregor landed a combination of teep kicks to the stomach and a flurry of hooks and uppercuts. With Mendes retreating once again against the cage, perhaps with one eye on the next round, McGregor pawed out with his right before delivering an expertly-timed left cross to Mendes’ chin, dropping the American. Herb Dean stopped the contest seconds later.

The frenzied Irish support in Las Vegas went wild. McGregor, to our eyes at least, initially seemed to take a moment to realise the gravity of what he had just accomplished but it soon sank in. The win gave the Irishman his first UFC title, the interim featherweight belt, and set in stone a future date with Jose Aldo.

But for all of McGregor’s accomplishments — two consecutive UFC titles, pay-per-view records and the mammoth fight with Floyd Mayweather — so much of that can be directly traced back to what happened in that cage at UFC 189. Of course, the record-breaking Aldo fight several months later, the two thrilling contests with Nate Diaz and the sublime Eddie Alvarez performance all contributed to McGregor’s legacy but would that same trajectory have been possible had McGregor not overcome first a knee injury and second the challenge of Chad Mendes that night?

Either way, the history books will record McGregor as having one of the most stratospheric rises in the history of combat sports. And this fight set the whole thing in motion.

 

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