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March 21, 2019

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Aldo vs. McGregor II leads reasons why future is golden after UFC 200

Brock Lesnar hints at another fight after beating Mark Hunt


L.E. Baskow

Jose Aldo connects with a shot to Frankie Edgar during UFC 200.

UFC 200

Brock Lesnar takes Mark Hunt airborne while throwing him to the canvas during UFC 200 action. Launch slideshow »

If his immediate rush to the side of the cage served as any indication, Jose Aldo cared little for the interim featherweight championship belt UFC President Dana White strapped around his waist. Aldo’s real prize sat in the first row dressed in a purple suit.

In a direct reverse of a previous confrontation between the rivals, featherweight champion Conor McGregor sat somewhat stoically as Aldo pointed and yelled at him. Aldo assumed instigator duties Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena after defeating Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47) in a pay-per-view bout at UFC 200.

“I’m prepared and willing to fight him right now if he wanted to,” Aldo said of McGregor later through a translator.

With UFC 200’s overall action short of awe-inspiring, Aldo’s aggression toward McGregor will likely be the night’s most replayed moment. The UFC passed on awarding a standard Fight of the Night bonus at an event it advertised as “the biggest, baddest ever.”

The fights weren’t fantastic, and it didn’t matter. A card the promotion created as a celebration of the current turned into a formation of the future.

And the future looks as golden as UFC 200’s specially painted octagon. McGregor always led any conversation of what’s next, but now he’s got another potentially record-breaking fight regardless of what happens in his rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 202 on Aug. 20.

Before UFC 200, there was fan fatigue on the McGregor-vs.-Aldo matchup. The two had been slated to fight for nearly a year before McGregor’s 13-second knockout at UFC 194 last December, which many thought marked the end of Aldo’s time as one of the best fighters in the world.

Stock was so low on Aldo, who hadn’t lost in 10 years before the McGregor knockout, that he entered as an underdog in Saturday’s rematch with Edgar. He rose back up by virtue of counter-punching, bloodying Edgar into what was possibly the best performance of his UFC career.

It caught the attention of McGregor, who spent portions of the bout looking toward Aldo with a blank stare. On the Fox Sports 1 post-fight show, White said McGregor’s intentions were to drop back down to 145 pounds after facing Diaz at 170 to take on Aldo.

“We’re just going to have to see if he keeps his word,” Aldo said. “If he doesn’t show up, then I’m just going to have to see him somewhere else to fight him.”

There were fighters at every turn who remained as bellicose as Aldo after victories Saturday. UFC 200 unearthed four viable, if not likely, top contenders — bantamweight T.J. Dillashaw, welterweight Kelvin Gastelum, women’s bantamweight Julianna Pena and heavyweight Cain Velasquez — three hours before the pay-per-view concluded.

Nothing happened at the top of the card that could adversely affect anything the UFC is plotting. Light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier admitted it would have been “catastrophic” if he had lost to Anderson Silva, who took the fight on two days' notice, in a non-title bout.

So Cormier dominated one of the greatest fighters of all time with a unanimous decision in which he won every round on every judge’s scorecard. If Brock Lesnar would have gotten knocked out by Mark Hunt in the co-main event, as most everyone and the betting odds suggested, then the 39-year-old top draw in UFC history was never coming back again.

Instead Lesnar took Hunt down with ease in the first and third rounds while surviving heavy punches in the second to win a unanimous decision in his first fight in nearly five years. Lesnar, who’s still under contract with the WWE, didn’t supply a professional wrestling script that spelled out he would return to the octagon after the win, but he put the storyline in place.

“Let’s make one thing clear: Brock Lesnar does what Brock Lesnar wants to do,” he said.

“I still think I’m the toughest son of a (expletive) and I’m in the top 10 of the game. Granted, I’ve got some work to do, but don’t we all? If I want to keep fighting, I’m going to fight.”

The main event is where the UFC is perceived to have taken a hit. Miesha Tate, a nearly 3-to-1 favorite, no-showed in her first attempt at a women’s bantamweight title defense to forfeit a potential trilogy bout with old foe Ronda Rousey.

Brazilian striker Amanda Nunes broke Tate’s nose, knocked her down and finished her with a rear-naked choke all within three minutes and 16 seconds. Tate is a much bigger name than Nunes, but Rousey has reached such transcendent star status that her opponent will make no difference if she ever returns.

Unlike when Holly Holm refused to wait for a Rousey rematch, the UFC isn’t going to get any resistance with whatever it plans for Nunes.

“Whatever Dana White puts in front of me,” Nunes said, “I’m going to take it.”

UFC 200 was always naturally compared with UFC 100. UFC 100 wins in terms of being a milestone event.

Memorable fights spread throughout that July 2009 card that capped with the two biggest stars of the era, Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre, defending their titles. UFC 200 didn’t have any of that.

But years from now, Saturday’s card will be looked back upon as an important transitional moment for the promotion. Several of the fights that will define the UFC’s next period will have origins from the first event held at T-Mobile Arena — none bigger than McGregor vs. Aldo II.

UFC 200 revitalized a rivalry with lots left to give.

“I was born to be the champion,” Aldo said. “If I get the next fight with him, I’m still going to be the champion.”

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