What a night for the top mixed martial arts promotion on the planet.
Only a month removed from the most shocking moment in UFC history — a moment that saw Holly Holm knock Ronda Rousey out in front of 56,000 people in Australia — the proceeding UFC pay-per-view delivered with flying colors.
Conor McGregor is now the UFC’s featherweight champion. Luke Rockhold can say the same at 185 pounds.
It was a night of stunning performances from some of the best fighters housed inside of this Zuffa roster. Scroll down to see how the main card winners stack up against one another:
5. Max Holloway
It was a close bout between Max Holloway and Jeremy Stephens; it wasn’t the sort of performance Holloway needed to secure a title shot at 145 pounds. Not while Frankie Edgar did what he did the night before. Amped as he may have been, Croke Park with Conor McGregor or Hawaii versus Jose Aldo probably won’t be in his future unless the ever-healthy Edgar drops out of an all-but-guaranteed title contest of his own.
Holloway played it relatively safe for the first two rounds, not looking to engage with a fighter entirely capable of turning his lights out at any given moment. He did a solid job of defending against Stephens’ takedowns, while also showing solid footwork to evade those heavy, heavy hands belonging to his opponent. “Blessed” scored most of his points in a late takedown in Round 3, landing several damaging shots on Stephens who — with one of his hands tied behind Holloway’s legs — could do nothing but watch.
4. Yoel Romero
Another controversial victory for Yoel Romero, but not because of anything he did outside the actual contest. It was a relatively close fight between he and “Jacare” Souza, likely earning him a title shot against Luke Rockhold.
If nothing more, it would have been nice to see Romero fight well for 15 straight minutes — proving he had the cardio to go five rounds with the new champion. He didn’t do that, though. He kept his composure for much of the first round before unleashing a whip of a spinning back fist that dropped Souza. He gassed quite a bit in the following rounds, breathing heavily from his mouth and moving a lot less fluidly than he had in the early goings. Romero defended well against most of Souza’s takedowns, not falling victim to any of “Jacare’s” patented submission attempts.
Save for a quick knockout, it’s hard to see Romero winning a title fight at 185 pounds. But he’s pretty good at getting those KO wins, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
3. Demian Maia
Contextually, this could be the most impressive performance of Demian Maia’s already decorated MMA career. We came into this contest wondering if Gunnar Nelson — in all his BJJ glory — had enough to contend with Maia. Quite possibly the best grappler in the history of the UFC, Maia quickly offered us a response.
As good as Nelson may be on the canvas, Maia was simply better. It wasn’t even close. A matchup of really good vs. really great, if you will.
Latching onto Nelson’s back or unleashing elbows and punches from top position, it didn’t matter. Maia dominated the fight no matter where it went. Midway through the third round, spectators were prompted with an on-screen graphic, reaffirming that Maia — up 141-5 in strikes — was dominating the contest. The Brazilian called on the UFC to give him a title shot at 170 pounds, questioning the official promotional rankings along the way.
Earning a pair of 10-8 rounds against one of the better fighters in the division may not be enough for the former middleweight, unfortunately.
2. Luke Rockhold
Just an absolutely stunning performance from Luke Rockhold, who became the first man to defeat Chris Weidman.
He was faster than Weidman, landing some of the most devastating strikes anybody’s ever landed on the former champion. Rockhold also proved to be able to hold his own in the grappling department in the later rounds. He certainly struggled with Weidman’s strength early, but a poorly timed wheelkick from Weidman gave the AKA fighter all he needed to secure the win.
You could argue he should’ve won the fight in the third round. Maybe the situation got the best of referee Herb Dean, or maybe he genuinely felt Weidman was still in it. Whatever the case, Rockhold battered the champion just as the championship rounds neared, proving himself the better man. It’s the sort of beating that would prompt the UFC to skip their patented immediate rematches for fallen champions. It’s a new era at 185 pounds, ladies and gentleman.
1. Conor McGregor
One flush left hand to the chin was all it took.
I was almost certain Luke Rockhold would take hold of this list’s top spot after seeing what he did to Chris Weidman. And then the Irish one came along, shocking the world with a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo — the most dominant featherweight champion in the sport’s history.
A sign of the times, Conor McGregor now becomes the sport’s highest-drawing titleholder while also authoring the fastest stoppage featured in a UFC championship bout. With an 82,000-capacity Croke Park awaiting his first title defense, he may soon become the owner of the UFC’s all-time attendance record — the same one that was just broken by Ronda Rousey last month. It’s too soon to tell if he’ll get the all-time pay-per-view record for his performance with Aldo at UFC 194, but it may be the only one left for him to take when all is said and done.