More than talk, Conor McGregor puts himself at top of UFC’s new age

McGregor has choice words for now fellow champion and next opponent Jose Aldo

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L.E. Baskow

Interim featherweight title fight Conor McGregor, next to Joe Rogan, celebrates his win with his parents Margaret and Tony after defeating Chad Mendes in their UFC189 fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, July 11, 2015.

Sun, Jul 12, 2015 (2:23 a.m.)

Sometimes, Conor McGregor would mimic the sound a game-show buzzer makes when a contestant misses a question.

He’d respond with a simple “nope” at other moments. The featherweight superstar from Dublin occasionally threw in a complete sentence such as, “Is that all you got?” or “That was nothing.”

The only constant was McGregor having an answer to any shot Chad Mendes landed during the main event of UFC 189 — not necessarily physically but always vocally.

“The guy didn’t stop talking (expletive) the entire time,” Mendes said. “I was hitting him with everything I had, and he was still running his mouth.”

McGregor is not going to stop any time soon, not after coming back to defeat Mendes via second-round TKO for the interim featherweight championship Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Mendes exhausted himself over the first nine minutes by outwrestling and smothering McGregor, who kept composed and landed an overhand left with three seconds to spare on his promise for a knockout within two rounds.

“I knew I was being efficient in there and when my chance arose, I was going to crack him with every shot I had,” McGregor said.

UFC 189 marked the beginning of a new era for the locally based mixed martial arts league. The live presentation broke new ground with performances from Sinead O’Connor and Aaron Lewis as McGregor and Mendes, respectively, entered the arena.

The UFC debuted an improved broadcast production, Reebok fighter uniforms and an expanded drug-testing regimen.

Most important, the promotion crowned the man who’s suddenly become its biggest star. McGregor’s pull enabled the UFC to set a domestic record with a $7.2 million gate and a Las Vegas high mark with an attendance of 16,019. UFC President Dana White suggested it could also fall as the company’s highest-ever-selling pay-per-view, which would be astounding considering an opponent switch from featherweight champion Jose Aldo to Mendes occurred less than two weeks ago.

“Right now, I’m running the game,” McGregor said. “I own every record in the book and, at the end of the day, I’m still only 26 years of age.”

There was no better way for McGregor to celebrate than by continuing to mouth off. Although he tried to avoid discussing Aldo, who pulled out of the fight with a rib injury, the attempts were mostly in vain.

McGregor, who’s rumored to have suffered a significant knee injury during training camp, blasted Aldo even if it was indirectly whenever his name came up.

“Just know that I had a hell of a lot more wrong with me than a bruised rib, and I still showed up,” McGregor said.

“I don’t think he deserves to be spoken about right here. He didn’t show up. This was an event we built. He should have made that walk. I respect Chad for showing up and making that walk but, in my opinion, Jose is done.”

The 28-year-old Aldo, who hasn’t lost in 10 years, will return. There’s no timetable for when he’ll be back, but McGregor will be his first opponent and the fight will take place in Las Vegas.

The only local events expected for the next six months are UFC 191 on Sept. 5 at the MGM and the annual New Year’s Eve weekend card presumably scheduled for Jan. 2. UFC officials might be open to some maneuvering, however, for a matchup that White gushed got taken “to a whole different level” with McGregor’s victory Saturday.

“Look at how big this thing was with Chad in it,” White said. “Now what would it have done with Jose vs. Conor?”

Mendes is solid. The top-ranked 145-pound contender’s only two previous losses came against Aldo.

Many believed his wrestling would be the weapon to slow the rise that had seen McGregor knock out four of his five UFC opponents. It looked that way when Mendes got McGregor to the canvas three times in the first round and added another pair of takedowns in the second.

But he tried for a guillotine choke late, which gave McGregor the opening to spring to his feet and ultimately finish Mendes. The knockout came a round later than the one Aldo scored with a flying knee the first time the champion fought Mendes in 2012.

“I’m just going to say that Aldo is a different beast,” Mendes said.

Mendes fared much better last October in a rematch, losing a unanimous decision that many saw as the fight of the year and a few thought he may have won.

Not surprisingly, McGregor put more stock into that meeting.

“Chad mauled Jose in their fight,” McGregor said. “I feel it was a back-and-forth, evenly fought fight. But I was never in any danger in that contest.”

Danger is perhaps subjective, but Mendes repeatedly placed McGregor in compromising positions. Mendes couldn’t shut McGregor up, though.

No one has accomplished that.

“Every shot he threw, I spoke to him,” McGregor said. “He has heavy shots and he’s put people away, but I didn’t feel nothing. I don’t feel anything when these featherweights hit me. I feel like a concrete block.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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