UFC 214 provided the promotion a much needed shot in the arm after a lacklustre first half of the year.
Top to bottom the card delivered on its hype, topped out by a phenomenal performance by Jon Jones to regain the UFC light-heavyweight belt from Daniel Cormier.
Away from the main event, though, key narratives formed so here are four things learned from UFC 214.
It was foolish to have hoped UFC crowds had outgrown booing and jeering fighters but the moronic gesticulating returned in the co-main event of UFC 214.
Yes, Tyron Woodley’s win over Demian Maia was far from enthralling but booing any fighter who steps foot into the Octagon is infuriatingly obtuse.
The welterweight champ faced a challenger who has suffocated his last seven opponents, a BJJ specialist who will capitlise on any error.
Caution reigned supreme but at the highest level of competitive sport, and this is a sport despite the separating line from entertainment ever more blurring, finding a way to win supersedes the performance.
Punishing the champ, who is undefeated in his last six fights, by taking away a clash with Georges St-Pierre is ruthless and the ensuing criticism from fans and UFC president Dana White harsh at best and at worst degrading.
A UFC belt wasn’t required for confirmation but by adding the featherweight strap to her collection, Cyborg cemented her spot as the greatest women’s MMA fighter ever.
The Brazilian, is virtually unbeatable and her dominance unquestionable. Victory is a matter of when, not if and against a tough as nails Tonya Evinger the ‘when’ was the third round.
Evinger recovered from a first-round knockdown to at least delay the inevitable before being crumpled by hard knees to the body in the third session.
Cyborg has long been anointed the best female MMA fighter on the planet and with UFC gold wrapped around her waist, she has the crown to legitimise that claim.
And for the first defence of her title, Cyborg targeted one of the best strikers in the game, Holly Holm – serve it up.
The fun is over, now it’s time to get back to business. Former welterweight champ Robbie Lawler stepped back into the Octagon for the first time since losing the belt to Tyron Woodley and he took a decision against Donald Cerrone.
From a rankings perspective the fight did nothing for Lawler but as a savage spectacle, watching these two high-output strikers go toe-to-toe was the brawl we all imagined it would be.
As Cerrone said after defeat “that was fun” but Lawler was typically stoic in victory as he put himself firmly back in the title picture.
The performance didn’t inspire too much confidence as he scraped the first and final round but welterweight isn’t exactly flooded with contenders right now and if Woodley has lost out on the GSP fight then Lawler could be next.
It took Volkan Oezdemir 42 seconds to replace Jimi Manuwa as the man next in line for a potential 205lbs title shot.
The Swiss has taken out two light-heavyweight contenders in just 70 seconds as he followed up the 28 second stoppage of Misha Cirkunov with a dynamite finish of Manuwa.
And both have come from shots with virtually no leverage, just short and accurate strikes to the chin, a sneaky left-hook in the clinch taking the legs from Manuwa before he bounced his head off the canvas.
It marked his third straight win in the UFC and fifth overall capping a remarkable ascension in the last five months from complete unknown to top-five light-heavyweight and a contender for 2017’s breakout fighter.
A story of revenge versus redemption, good versus evil, old versus young – the antagonistic narratives don’t end there but Daniel Cormier versus Jon Jones 2 is undoubtedly the most important fight this year.
The long-time animosity between these two warring light-heavyweights will reach – well, hopefully reach – some sort of climax at UFC 214 next weekend.
And that is said with a caveat because we’ve been here before, days out from the most anticipated rematch in UFC history only to see it scrapped, our hopes for a conclusion dashed.
Indeed, Jones and Cormier have been metaphorically joined at the hip since 2010 – metaphorical of course because in reality any time they are within each other’s air space they invariably turn it blue.
They are two characters juxtaposed yet inseparable, both at the centre of each other’s narratives, married by their hostility and a common detestation.
But the authenticity of their rivalry is rare, even for a sport built on aggression, so few have experienced the tangible heat of Jones and Cormier.
The feud hasn’t decayed despite two cancelled rematches following Jones’ dominant decision victory in their first bout back in 2015.
In fact, after another cooling off period in the wake of the former champ’s year-long suspension for a failed drugs test three days before UFC 200, the bad blood is boiling again.
“I am the champion,” said Cormier during a joint interview with Jones during the broadcast of Saturday’s UFC on Fox 25. “I’m going to remain the champion next week and I can finally put this chapter in a long, storied career behind me.”
Does the chapter end with respect for one another? Jones replied: “F*** DC.”
Cormier laughed then explained: “I have no desire to be friends with him. In terms of respect for his abilities, sure. He’s a great fighter, I’ve always said he’s a great fighter.
“But every time going forward we see each other, there’s still going to be issues. Because either I’m gonna smack him upside his head or something is gonna happen.
“We’re not gonna be friends and we’re never gonna be able to be in the same space, because there are always gonna be issues. Because he’s a punk.”
That resentful exchange is one of many but each one has built what is now the biggest rivalry in UFC history.
While the faux feud between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather dominates the combat sport landscape right now, Jones and Cormier deserves its own mainstream attention.
It’s personal, physical and passionate and it’s just what the UFC needs. Indeed, 2017 has been distinctive in its ordinariness. Injuries have ravaged cards and big name players have been out of the game.
But UFC 214’s main event has all the ingredients required to cure their ailments. Jones is No1, arguably the best to do it, Cormier the champion in his rear-view mirror.
DC has tightened up his game and has looked unshakable in Jones’ absence but his inactivity provides a new layer of intrigue behind the war of words.
From a physical standpoint, this fight is blessed with skill and strategy.
Has Cormier made the necessary changes? Will he let the emotions envelop him again? What version of Jones will we see?
All these questions form part of the foundation for what is the most significant bout of the year.
Let’s just hope they can answer them in the cage because the UFC can’t afford for them not to.
Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor lit the touchpaper for their cross-combat superfight Tuesday, turning the air blue in an expletive-laden face-to-face meeting to launch their global promotional tour for the bout.
More than 11,000 fans crowded into Los Angeles’s Staples Center for a raucous first live showdown between former boxing world champion Mayweather and Irishman McGregor, one of the biggest stars of mixed martial arts.
The two men are set to face each other in Las Vegas on August 26 in what could be the richest fight in history after finally agreeing to climb into a boxing ring following a year-long guessing game over whether they would ever do battle.
Tuesday’s fiery face-off saw the swaggering, cocksure McGregor strut onto stage confidently in a three-piece suit featuring pinstripes made up of an offensive two-word insult.
The immaculately tailored profanity set the tone for a spectacle shot through with an endless torrent of abuse from both fighters, no doubt delighting promoters as they drum up hype for a bout which will demand $10,000 for ringside seats.
The suited McGregor was the first to take the microphone, mocking Mayweather’s decision to show up wearing a Stars and Stripes tracksuit, suggesting it was linked to the American’s reported tax difficulties.
“He’s in a tracksuit, he can’t even afford a suit anymore!” McGregor declared to roars of laughter from the massed ranks of his green-shirted fans crammed into the lower tiers of the famous basketball arena.
McGregor, who will start as an overwhelming underdog against one of the most accomplished defensive fighters in history, was bullish about his prospects of victory. “The 0 has got to go,” McGregor declared, referring to Mayweather’s perfect 49-0 record.
“I’m going to knock him out inside four rounds, mark my words,” McGregor said, to more roars. “On August 26, this man will be unconscious, he’s too small, he’s too frail.”
“I will come out and paint many pictures. I can fight in my styles. I can dazzle him.”
A stony-faced Mayweather meanwhile bided his time before taking the microphone and uncorking his own cascade of expletives.
“I’m going to knock this bitch out,” Mayweather said, to boos from the crowd. McGregor shot back: “You haven’t knocked anyone out for 20 years!”
Mayweather meanwhile responded to the jibes about his finances — he recently filed for an extension to pay his 2015 tax bill — by producing an uncashed check for $100 million from an assistant’s rucksack.
McGregor was again ready with a riposte: “Give it to the taxman!”
Mayweather, 40, was unruffled, vowing to administer a comprehensive victory over the 28-year-old Irishman despite giving away 12 years to his younger opponent.
“I’m not the same fighter I was 10 years ago. Or 5 years ago. Or 2 years ago,” Mayweather said.
“But I’ve got enough to beat you. He can choose which way he wants to go. Either on his back or on his face.”
Mayweather later appeared relaxed during a briefing with print reporters, suggesting his snarling braggadocio on stage had been solely for the benefit of the fans who had flocked to the arena.
“We have to give people what they want to see,” the former welterweight king said.
“That’s what the people wanted to see. To have a sold-out arena like today and give these fans something real smooth and calm? They don’t want that. That’s not what they wanted. These fans want entertainment. They got entertained today by both competitors.”
Unsurprisingly Mayweather declared himself the victor in the verbal sparring, saying McGregor’s incessant trash-talking indicated he had rattled the Irish fighter.
“He’s got to realise, I’ve been here before,” Mayweather said. “He just started this. I’ve been doing this for years. Years after years. He’s upset. He’s ready to kill me now. He’s mad. I was calm, cool.
“I gave him a little bit of his own medicine and he didn’t like it.”
Provided by AFP Sport