Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

UFC 189 Prediction: Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes

The originally scheduled UFC 189 main event, featuring Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor, was one of the most highly anticipated fights in the recent history of the promotion. From the moment the fight was announced in January, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the fight. Betting markets had the fight roughly even as a lot of people picked the matchup apart, looking to figure out who would come out on top, and wondering whether McGregor was really deserving of so much hype.

Naturally, because good things don’t happen in MMA, Aldo suffered a broken rib and has been forced out of the fight. I was quite a bit disappointed at the way the situation was handled by the UFC, first lying about the nature of Aldo’s injury (presumably to earn approval from the state commission) and then throwing Aldo under the bus when he ultimately withdrew. The only cowardly thing Aldo could have done was show up in the cage, take a dive, and collect a paycheck.

(As a quick aside, the Aldo injury should be motivation for the UFC to do something I’ve suggested multiple times before on this blog. That is, to collaborate with some of the top gyms in the sport and team up with an injury prevention firm (like the San Antonio Spurs have done with Apollo M.I.S. for basketball) to research MMA, research the most effective training methods, and work on developing training standards that can best balance proper fight preparation with injury prevention. It’s impossible to eliminate injuries altogether but I absolutely think the rate of injuries can be significantly reduced.)

Fortunately, Chad Mendes was ready to serve as a back-up plan, and the replacement fight of McGregor vs. Mendes is every bit as compelling in my view. It’s a fight that should serve to answer lingering questions about McGregor’s true ability. Will his style hold up against a top-tier opponent? Can he defend takedowns against a powerful wrestler? McGregor can end any doubts people have about him in this fight against Mendes.

Now, Mendes isn’t just a power wrestler. He’s developed a very effective striking game as well, and does a terrific job of manipulating distance to keep opponents off balance. Mendes had some very good moments against Aldo in their second fight, landing a few haymakers and some sharp leg kicks early, combining power with decent volume. The ability to control distance also helps Mendes absorb fewer strikes than anybody McGregor has faced before. Mendes should be far more difficult to hit than guys like Dennis Siver, Dustin Poirier, or Diego Brandao.

Of course, I firmly believe the threat of a takedown is a big part of that. Fighters can’t be too aggressive with strikes against Mendes because spamming kicks against him is a great way to get taken down. The power wrestler model – a wrestler with plus athleticism, a great power double-leg takedown, and a big punch – is one of the most successful fighter models in the sport for a reason. Mendes is the epitome of that type of fighter.

Even so, if Mendes settles for a kickboxing match against McGregor, I firmly believe he’s going to get knocked out. As good as Mendes is, McGregor is simply on a different level with his movement, setups, feints, and combinations. McGregor engages opponents in such a way that he’s constantly in the better position to land clean, hard strikes. Mendes doesn’t have the same skill with lateral movement and creating angles.

I also don’t think Mendes will succeed if he spams double-leg takedowns, like Demian Maia tried to do against Rory MacDonald. McGregor is too good an athlete for that. It’s worth mentioning that McGregor hasn’t been taken down in the UFC yet (he hasn’t faced a wrestler yet, either, but it’s still significant). If it’s McGregor who proves to have the better effective movement, it will be tough for Mendes to just land a double-leg with no setup.

In my mind, Mendes has two approaches he can try. One is to turn the fight into a good, old-fashioned wrestling match, similar to what Daniel Cormier did to Rumble Johnson. In other words, to stick to McGregor like glue, constantly pressuring and working for takedowns and positional improvements. McGregor has never been tested in this way and it’s quite possible that this style of fight would break him down. After all, how many hard-nosed wrestlers are there to train with in Ireland?

The other approach – the one I find most likely to happen – is for Mendes to throw the kitchen sink at McGregor. That means a little bit of boxing, a little bit of clinch work, a little bit of wrestling/grappling, and then back to striking. If Mendes can establish the threat of hard, effective strikes to go along with the threat of the takedown, it should make his whole game more effective.

That’s what I would tell Mendes if I was in his corner. Whatever you do, never settle for a striking match at distance. If that’s the type of fight we get, I see McGregor fulfilling the hype, winning the interim title, and making a match against Aldo even more exciting and anticipated than it already was. But if Mendes attacks McGregor with his full range of skills, and can ultimately take McGregor out of his element, I think he can play the spoiler in this one.

Pick: Chad Mendes by decision


12 responses to “UFC 189 Prediction: Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes

  1. Howard Morton July 9, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Nice write up. The Spurs are old, right? I do not follow the NBA, but I am pretty sure they are an older team. Maybe that firm is helping them or maybe it is PED’s. I am always skeptical when there is a bunch of money involved.

    The only chance Mendes has is to make it a pure wrestling match like you wrote about in your write up. But, McGregor will not gas like Anthony Johnson did against Daniel Cormier and a striking match favors McGregor.

    I think another factor in this fight is the difference between confidence and over confidence. Faber and Mendes seemed genuinely unconcerned with McGregor’s abilities. They are coming across as arrogant and over confident in the “Embedded” series. McGregor on the other hand seems very focused and confident and did not care about the opponent change. For that he deserves a lot of credit win or lose.

    My pick is Conor McGregor by TKO.

    • David Williams July 9, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      Tim Duncan is 39 and Manu Ginobili is 37. Both are still very good players, in a league where most good players are badly diminished by their mid-30s. You know I never rule out PEDs but the longevity of Duncan and Ginobili is impressive regardless.

  2. r.mattioli July 9, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    I`m anxious to see the weigh in….I admit that I was one that was going to take the plunge on McGregor vs aldo….matter of fact i anxiously grabbed McGregor +160 and I was salivating at the opportunity…in no small part because I believed that aldo`s style presents a favorable scenario for McGregor… I honesly think that aldo`s starting to show some give and I sensed that McGregor`s psychological warfare was paying dividends even early on…

    mendes is a different story,match-up-wise…if you look closely,mcgregor has been matched very smartly by the ufc…siver.poirier,brandao,holloway,brimage……good fighters though not exactly a grappling-centric group…`s very hard to gauge McGregor vs mendes by his ufc wins….mendes` is a completely different style and I can`t even venture a guess as to how mcgregor will do when faced with such a high level grappler….but McGregor completely outclassed some damned good strikers(Poirier and Holloway were drubbed…those guys are serious dudes)

    the worry is that mendes either underused his grappling or was unable to impose his grappling will vs aldo…..and a look at mendes` resume indicates that he also has benefitted from fortuitous ufc matchmaking….the only real striker he`s faced(aldo aside) was swanson way back in 2010(before swanson went on his ufc hot streak)…lamas,lentz,guida,elkins,meza,cody mckenzie,rani yahya,omigawa….not exactly a murderers row of strikers….looking closely at both resumes gives me a greater appreciation of dana white`s long term strategy for bringing high level prospects along…

    so we`re dealing with some ??? here…mendes disappointed me vs aldo by not pressuring more and doing everything possible to take aldo down……he allowed it become a boxing match(more or less)…and that`s not a good thing to do vs aldo(or McGregor)….mendes has solid stand-up but he`s giving up at least 3″ in height and a reported 8″ in reach….throw in the fact that McGregor is a lefty and probably more lethal on his feet than even aldo…imo,it`s close combat for mendes here(or land a big shot,which he can do…he has big power)… but an extended stand-up fight highly favors McGregor,imo…

    the second aldo fight aside,I fully expect mendes to do everything in his power to get this to the mat(the att brintrust didn`t just fall off the mma turnip truck)…. wish I`d seen more of McGregor`s takedown defense but he just hasn`t been matched in a way that would give us a true indicator….

    imo,mendes has to get McGregor down early and do damage…if he doesn`t and doesn`t inflict enough damage early on mcgregor to slow him down,i think he`ll be in trouble as the fight wears on….

    but I really don`t have a clue in regard to McGregor`s grappling or takedown defense….I do know that years ago a very solid fighter(joseph duffy) took him down and made short work of him on the ground after getting buzzed by McGregor…but that was back in 2010..

    does the vegas venue favor mendes or will the place be packed with mics(lol)…I really don`t know…

    I don`t know how anyone can feel sure about this fight…looks to me like whichever guy imposes his will(style) will win the fight(how`s that for going out on a limb?)……I felt pretty good about my chances with mcgregor vs aldo…I think this could be a much tougher nut to crack for McGregor….

    still,gun to my groin,in a 5 rounder,i`m leaning( ever so slightly with little conviction) toward the Dubliner…

    if McGregor loses,aldo pulling out could potentially end up costing the ufc millions….

    • David Williams July 9, 2015 at 9:38 pm

      You’ve accurately described why I like the matchup so much. The most common criticisms of McGregor are that A) he hasn’t fought a wrestler and B) he hasn’t fought a top-tier opponent. Mendes is both of those things, so both questions should be answered on Saturday night.

      With that said, McGregor’s ground game has improved dramatically since his two early-career submission losses. Even in brief periods of grappling against Max Holloway and Diego Brandao, it seemed pretty clear that McGregor had some skill on the mat. But of course, Chad Mendes is a different kind of grappler.

    • Howard Morton July 9, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      I am here in Las Vegas and I went down to the open workouts and the Irish were everywhere inside the MGM. Unfortunately I arrived too late and the open workout was full so I got turned away as did about 1,000 other people mainly Brazilians and Irish. It was a total zoo. I got a feeling the MGM Grand is gonna be packed come fight night by the Irish. I am going to the weigh ins tomorrow so I will keep you updated.

      • David Williams July 9, 2015 at 10:50 pm

        I’m not surprised to hear it. There were a bunch of Irish fans in the crowd when McGregor fought Dustin Poirier in Las Vegas. This fight is probably going to feel like a “home game” for McGregor and an away game for Mendes. I’m jealous that you’re going to be at the weigh ins, that should be quite a spectacle!

  3. Howard Morton July 9, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    Hopefully I can get in.

  4. r.mattioli July 10, 2015 at 8:09 am

    g.l.. getting in howard…very cool that this site has “a man on the ground”(an mma edward r murrow)……keep us posted(if david doesn`t mind)

    i was not a mcgregor fan originally…but i have to admit to becoming a bit of a convert…i honesly can`t remember being as goosed as i was for the potential mcgegor/also fight…as a lifelong boxing guy,i can honestly say that i was more excited to see mc/jose than mayweather/pacquaio….and to be honest,although a small step back,mcgregor /mendes is still(imo) the most anticipated mma fight in recent memory….personallyi was nowhere near as axcited about velasquez` return or any gsp or anderson silva fight….

    the irishman seems to have been spit out of the womb a p.r. prodigy…he`s really brought some serious excitement to the game…..

    and as david said,the co-main(and rest of the card,means /brown in particular), is as solid as solid can be….

    thanks for providing the forum,david…

  5. Nick July 10, 2015 at 8:56 am

    It didn’t even sound like Mendes was training. On the MMA Hour – he talked about cycling during his time off. So 1 week notice to fight a southpaw without Bang around… if Mendes doesn’t get the takedown, he’s in trouble.

  6. Howard Morton July 10, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    This is my first weigh in and it is cool as hell. 75% Irish. They are loud and proud. Packed as hell. It is gonna be a home game for McGregor.

  7. Howard Morton July 10, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Make no mistake about, the MGM Grand Garden Arena will be part of Ireland tomorrow night. I was hanging out with a big group of Irish fight fans at the weigh in and they fully support all of the Irish fighters: Seery, Pendred, Nelson and McGregor. They gave a lot of love to Robbie Lawler and a little to Rory MacDonald.

    I told the Irish that Tim Means and Matt Brown would be a hell of a fight and they just kind of looked at me with blank faces. They seemed to have little interest in fights with no Irishman. Although the crowd gave Matt Brown a healthy applause. Means got basically nothing from the audience.

    I still think McGregor wins by TKO and if he does the Irish fans in the Arena will cheer so loud that the roof will cave in.

    That was my first weigh in, if you have never been to one I would definitely recommend going to one.

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