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UFC 189 / TUF 21 Finale Observer Picks: Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes

UFC 189

By Josh Nason, WrestlingObserver.com

I feel like the only fight fan that isn’t aware that Conor McGregor is fighting tonight are those that are either in a coma or dead. If you are into MMA, it’s impossible for you to not know what is happening at UFC 189 and I’d dare say it’s impossible for any MMA fan to not have interest in watching -- even if there’s the slight bit of interest.

Why? Because McGregor vs. Chad Mendes will give us perhaps the most important and pivotal outcome that the UFC has had in years. Think about it:

If McGregor wins, he’s answered the questions about fighting a wrestler, a top contender, and what’s perceived as an equal. Even if he’s "just the interim champion", he will wear that belt like a crown. You thought he was all up in your business before? You ain’t seen nothing yet. The UFC will officially coronate their next big star and away we go toward a mega payday against Jose Aldo in the fall.

If McGregor loses, the air comes out of the balloon. Maybe not all the way, but he then becomes Chael Sonnen: the guy that can’t close when he’s talked such a big game about doing just that. McGregor would still be an interesting fighter and would be put in high-profile featherweight bouts, but there would always be that one thing that anti-McGregor fans could point to: he couldn’t win when it mattered most. And if he loses badly? Things will be ugly.

In a span of time where the UFC has been beaten up over the Reebok launch, the Aldo broken rib situation, and even Giblert Melendez getting popped for banned substances, they could really, really use a big win of their own tonight. And while they would never openly root for McGregor, you have to think they are hoping for some luck of the Irish in the main event.

*****

If you want to get a great preview for the show, check out this free edition of Josh Nason’s Punch-Out with John Pollock of The Fight Network. Please share with your MMA lovin’ friends!

For this week, we’re doing the 189 main card and two key fights from Sunday’s show. Seven big fights!

Our Panel:

Jack Encarnacao (58-22 | .725) Sherdog Rewind host, The Lapsed Fan podcast co-chair, Steve Austin impersonator

Steve Juon (53-27 | .662) AngryMarks founder, MMA Mania writer

Mike Sempervive (52-28 | .650) Wrestling Observer Live co-host | Big Audio Nightmare

David Bixenspan (52-28 | .650) Figure Four Weekly writer, Observer Daily Update writer, podcast host

John Pollock (50-30 | .625) Fight Network personality, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, The MMA Report host

Front Row Brian (48-32 | .600) MMA newsbreaker, Twitter personality, podcast host

Dave Meltzer (46-34 | .575) Wrestling Observer founder & writer, occasional cougher

- Josh Nason (45-35 | .562) Wrestling Observer digital media and content guy, WON Twitter enabler

Mike Sawyer (44-36 | .550) Tough Talk MMA, 2014 picks panel champion 

*****

UFC 189 --

> UFC Interim Featherweight Championship: Conor McGregor (17-2) vs. Chad Mendes (17-2)

Seriously, what more can be said about this fight? The 26-year-old McGregor is undefeated in his last 13 and has three straight Performance Of The Night bonuses. The 30-year-old Mendes is 6-2 since 2012 and has Performance bonuses in his last two. Just go watch the UFC Embedded series, crack a few beers, and enjoy this whole thing play out.

McGregor (slight favorite): Nason, Juon, Bix, Pollock
Mendes: Sempervive, Meltzer, FRB, Encarnacao, Sawyer

> UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler (25-10-0-1) vs. Rory MacDonald II

Is this the most underpromoted and underappreciated title fight in recent history? This is the first title defense for the 33-year-old, who is also on a three-fight win streak. However, the oddsmakers have him as an underdog to help spark some action. After dropping a split to Lawler in November 2013, Rory Mac went 3-0 in 2014 with victories over Demian Maia, Tyron Woodley, and Tarec Saffidiene. He’s lost just once since 2011, a span of nine fights. If he was to ever get a shot at the title, the time is now.

Lawler: FRB, Encarnacao, Sawyer, Bix
MacDonald (favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Meltzer, Juon, Pollock


> Dennis Bermudez (14-4) vs. Jeremy Stephens (23-11)
149.5 pound catchweight

The 28-year-old Bermudez was cruising on a seven-fight win streak until he ran into Ricardo Lamas in November and got choked out in the first round. He looks to get back on track against an overweight Stephens who missed by 3.5 pounds. After winning his first three bouts at 145, Stephens has lost back-to-back decisions against Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira.

Bermudez (favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Meltzer, FRB, Juon, Encarnacao, Sawyer, Bix, Pollock

>Gunnar Nelson (13-1-1) vs. Brandon Thatch (11-2)
Welterweights

I love this fight so much that I might send them both Valentines. A bout of two rising prospects coming off tough defeats, this is the ultimate test of striker vs. grappler. Rick Story tagged Nelson (the grappler) with his first career loss (split decision) after Nelson had won his four UFC bouts. After being out for more than a year due to injury, Thatch stepped up to fight Benson Henderson at 170 pounds and lost via 4th round submission, snapping a 10-fight win streak (2-0 UFC).

Nelson: Nason, FRB, Juon, Encarnacao, Sawyer, Pollock
Thatch (slight favorite): Sempervive, Meltzer, Bix

> Brad Pickett (24-10) vs. Thomas Almeida (19-0)
Bantamweights

The 36-year-old Pickett returns to 135 after a 1-2 mark at flyweights. This is his “last call” if he can’t win as he’s just 2-3 in his last five. The undefeated Almeida is being put in a position to shine, but the only real notable name on his record is Yves Jabouin who he viciously knocked out in his last bout. There’s a reason this is the PPV opener, folks.

Almeida (huge favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Meltzer, FRB, Juon, Encarnacao, Sawyer, Bix, Pollock

UFC TUF 21 

UFC TUF Finale Sunday --

> Jake Ellenberger (30-9) vs. Stephen Thompson (10-1)
Welterweights

The 30-year-old Ellenberger snapped a three-fight losing streak with a submission win over new Bellator signee Josh Koscheck. His two victories before that? Jay Hieron and Nate Marquardt. Ugh. The 32-year-old Thompson has won four straight after losing to Matt Brown in April 2012. He’s coming off a September decision over Patrick Cote and the kickboxing champion is still young enough to make some noise at 170 pounds.

Ellenberger: Sempervive, FRB
Thompson (favorite): Nason, Meltzer, Juon, Encarnacao, Sawyer, Bix, Pollock

> Jorge Masvidal (28-9) vs. Cezar Ferreira (8-4)
Welterweights

Masvidal returns to 170 pounds for the first time in a long time, and is coming off a split decision loss to Al Iaquinta in April -- a fight he could have won if he hadn’t coasted in the final round. That win snapped a three-fight win streak for the guy that goes to the scorecards in nearly every fight. “Mutante” is coming off a first round KO at the hands of Sam Alvey and with knockout losses in his last three defeats, he’s got no chin. Luckily, Masvidal hasn’t knocked out anyone since November 2009.

Masvidal (favorite): Nason, Sempervive, Meltzer, FRB, Juon, Encarnacao, Sawyer, Pollock
Mutante: Bix

Dave will have your live coverage from cageside Saturday night and one of the crew will have you covered on Sunday for the UFC/TUF finale. Enjoy the weekend, especially if you’re in Vegas for the annual website convention!