Conor McGregor arrived as a phenomenon.
He left as a fighter.
The combat sports industry's most notorious lightning rod earned his blood-and-guts chops late Saturday night in Las Vegas, fending off a determined Nate Diaz to win a majority decision in their rematch atop the UFC 202 card at T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas.
McGregor got a 48-47 nod - three rounds to two - on a pair of official scorecards, while the third had it even at 47-47.
CBS Sports agreed with the majority, giving McGregor the first, second and fourth rounds.
He'd been stopped in two by Diaz when they met in March, after Diaz took the fight on 11 days' notice.
"That was the best fight I've ever had," McGregor said to his rival as they touched gloves at the final horn, a show of respect after the run-up to the second fight was marred by thrown cans and bottles at a midweek press event.
He upped the vitriolic ante in a post-fight interview with UFC analyst Joe Rogan, though, grabbing the microphone and shouting, "Surprise, surprise [expletives]. The king is back."
A trilogy fight was instantly suggested, with Diaz saying it needs to happen and McGregor saying that it'd have to be at 155 pounds -- which is closer to his usual fighting weight of 145. The first fight was contested at 170 pounds to accommodate Diaz's lack of a full training camp, and McGregor agreed to the rematch at the same weight in deference to Diaz's initial victory.
"Good job today, Conor," Diaz said. "But we going for three for real."
McGregor was near perfect in the opening five minutes Saturday, strafing Diaz with leg kicks and landing sharper head shots with his hands, including a left that dropped Diaz about 90 seconds in.
He declined to rush in and pressure Diaz on the mat, however, avoiding the sort of sequence that cost him the first fight - which Diaz won with a rear-naked choke.
It was more of the same to start the second as McGregor scored two more knockdowns with clean, crisp left hands and turned Diaz's right leg purple with kicks. Diaz kept plowing forward, though, and finally landed a series of shots in the final 60 seconds that forced McGregor backward to the cage.
The Irishman looked tired between rounds.
Diaz was a decisive winner in the third as he began landing shots on a significantly weakened McGregor. The Irishman landed the occasional stinging blow, but he spent a lot of time evading, too, and Diaz punctuated the third with a prolonged flurry along the fence.
Somehow, though, McGregor rallied in the fourth and spent the round strafing Diaz again and forcing the bigger man to continually wipe the blood from his battered eyes. Diaz pushed the proceedings back to the fence in the fifth and was superior as the two men grinded in close quarters, but McGregor was able to defend against multiple takedown attempts and was eventually able to move away before spending the final sequences again landing potshots from distance.
He limped to the locker room with a large bruise on his left foot and initial indications were that he might have broken a bone thanks to all the stiff kicks he landed.
Diaz, meanwhile, implied that it might have been more than McGregor that beat him.
"They can't have a mother [expletive] like me win," he said. "I'm too real for this sport."
Earlier on the card, light heavyweight bomber Anthony "Rumble" Johnson lived up to his nickname in the final bout before the main event, rendering Glover Teixeira helpless with a single right uppercut after just 13 seconds of the initial round.
Teixeira was coming forward when he took the shot and was instantly laid out.
Johnson pounced and landed two quick hammer fists before the Brazilian was rescued by referee Dan Miragliotta. Teixeira was so concussed, in fact, that he attempted to grapple with Miragliotta before being informed that the fight was over and he'd been stopped.
"Good lord, that it a terrifying man," UFC analyst Joe Rogan said. "There's a level he's at that no one else is at. It's a 'Touch you and you go to sleep' level."
Johnson, whose only loss in the last four years came to light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, reacted to the quick win with a quick callout of his former conqueror who was sitting ringside.
"Daniel, you the man baby, but I'm coming for you," he said.
Newly-minted welterweight Donald Cerrone made it three straight wins in the weight class with a sudden second-round stoppage of Rick Story, then quickly made it clear that he'd like to return to 155 pounds for a title match.
The "Cowboy" landed a viciously picturesque combination to force the hand of referee Herb Dean, blasting Story with a right to the body, a left to the head, a right kick and a follow-up knee that left him crumbling along the cage at 2:02 of the second.
Cerrone has beaten Alex Oliveira, Patrick Cote and Story in a combined six rounds in his three outings at 170, but said afterward that he's looking for a lightweight championship shot against kingpin Eddie Alvarez - preferably, he said, at Madison Square Garden later this year.
"I've got things I've got to do at 155," Cerrone said.
"Platinum" Mike Perry made his UFC debut a smashing success, dropping veteran Hyun Gyu Lim three times on the way to a first-round stoppage in a scheduled three-rounder at welterweight.
Perry sacrificed five inches in height to his South Korean foe, but was clearly the faster man and was able to land heavy blows with both hands in the early going. He dropped Lim with a pair of right hands to get the violence started, landed several blows as the two men grappled on the floor and dropped him again with a left.
Some additional ground pummeling prompted referee John McCarthy to halt the proceedings at 3:38.
And Perry, never a dull one with a microphone, claimed it's only the beginning.
"I'm not here to make friends. I did what I came here to do," Perry said. "I came to get the knockout. I got it in the first round like I wanted to. One-hundred-seventy (pounds), you better watch out."
In the pay-per-view show's welterweight opener, New Mexico-based Tim Means needed just short of eight minutes to bludgeon Sabah Homasi into a bloody stoppage.
Referee Dean intervened at 2:56 of Round 2 after Means had spent the majority of the encounter landing scoring strikes and elbows to the head of Homasi, who was making his UFC debut.
The 27-year-old was bleeding from the forehead and gasping for air by the end of the initial five-minute session, and had little to offer in terms of resistance in the second. Dean jumped in after Means landed a series of blows that left Homasi standing, but reeling, against the cage.
It was Means' sixth win in seven fights and boosted his career mark to 26-7-1.
Homasi is 11-6.
|UFC 202 results|| || |
| || || |
|Anthony Johnson||Glover Teixeira||1st-round TKO|
|Donald Cerrone||Rick Story||2nd-round TKO|
|Tim Means||Sabah Homasi||2nd-round TKO|
|Mike Perry||Hyun Gyu Lim||1st-round TKO|
If the live blog below is not loading properly for you, please click here to view it.