Conor McGregor's return to the fight game was rather glorious.
Fighting for the first time in 11 months, McGregor (15-2) ignited a sellout crowd at O2 Arena in Dublin, Ireland, on Saturday with a first-round TKO over Diego Brandao.
The Dublin native was near perfect in his return from ACL surgery in September, as he dropped Brandao (18-10) with a straight left hand near the fence late in the first round. Referee Leon Roberts pulled McGregor off at the 4:05 mark.
The Irish crowd somehow still had a voice, despite turning out in droves four hours before the main event for the preliminary bouts. McGregor, in his first UFC headliner, dared any featherweight (or man in general) to upset him in Dublin, where he trains under the SBG Ireland banner.
"I said I would put him away in the first round; I put him away in the first round," McGregor said. "It would take something special to come over to my hometown and take this away from me. There's not a man alive that come on this soil and beat me."
The 145-pound fight got off to a blistering start, as each fighter looked determined to meet the other head-first in the center of the cage from the start.
McGregor, literally fractions of a second after touching Brandao's glove, whipped off a spinning back-kick, laying doubt about his surgically repaired knee to rest. His Brazilian opponent wasn't impressed, however, and fired back with right hands.
Brandao scored a bodylock takedown moments later, but McGregor hit a reversal in midair to wind up on top and in Brandao's closed guard. He stood over Brandao for stretches at a time, kicking at his legs, before crashing down with more punches. According to cageside stats, McGregor landed 26 total strikes to Brandao's 13.
With two minutes left in the round, Brandao rolled back to his feet. He started to bob his head back and forth and wade through McGregor's reach advantage, which was substantial. He let his hands go in flurries, but never quite hit McGregor clean.
A body shot by McGregor appeared to bother Brandao, and then the straight left hand basically ended his night. A series of right hands on the ground finished the bout, but it was clear Brandao was done once he hit the mat.
"I checked myself, didn't want to come in too cocky," McGregor said. "I knew I was the bigger man. What's next is me and (UFC CEO) Lorenzo Fertitta in the back with whiskey to talk football stadiums. Stadiums and world titles: That's what I want."
Attendance 9,500. Gate was $1.4 million.
The Brandao win is arguably the most significant of McGregor's career. He has never fought an opponent ranked in the top 10 of his division, including Brandao.
McGregor expressed a desire to fight again as soon as possible and responded to remarks made online by ranked featherweight Dustin Poirier. UFC president Dana White hinted McGregor's next fight could take place in Las Vegas, which is hosting a UFC 178 pay-per-view on Sept. 27.
"That would be perfect for me," McGregor said. "I already know that guy doesn't want to fight me. His teammate, Cole Miller, was too scared to be here to compete tonight. He pulled out. [Poirier and Nik Lentz] would have known about that injury before the UFC knew and yet nothing.
"They didn't campaign for it. This is a main event slot, one of the fastest selling. It's a big, big event. And yet there wasn't a peep out of them. I know he doesn't want the fight [with me]."
McGregor, 26, improves to 3-0 in the UFC. Thirteen of his 15 professional wins have come via knockout. He defeated Marcus Brimage in his UFC debut via TKO in just 67 seconds in April 2013.
Brandao suffers consecutive UFC losses for the first time.
Cummings no match for Nelson
Nelson (13-0) submitted Cummings via rear-naked choke at the 4:48 mark of the second round of their welterweight bout. It marks his fourth UFC victory.
"This was a tough fight," Nelson said. "Zak is a very tough opponent. He is strong everywhere and he knows what he is doing.
"The atmosphere out there [in the O2 Arena] was something else; I have never felt like that in the Octagon. The crowd was so loud and so intense -- it is a different feeling. The title definitely is in my mind, but I want to take it a step at a time. Hopefully next time I fight, I'll be taking on a top contender."
The final sequence started with Nelson applying a standing guillotine choke, after Cummings had caught a body kick attempt and was looking for a takedown. Nelson abandoned the choke after Cummings defended but transitioned quickly to the back.
He put Cummings (17-4) into a tight body triangle with less than a minute left in the round and went to work with punches. Eventually the left arm crept under Cummings' neck and he was forced to tap with just 12 seconds left in the round.
It was a remarkable finish -- especially considering Nelson did so little leading up to it. He spent the entire first round bouncing on his feet at a far distance away from Cummings. According to cageside stats, he threw only 15 strikes in the round, landing five.
Perhaps emboldened by his opponent's inactivity, Cummings' comfort level seemed to grow as the fight progressed, despite the very pro-Nelson Irish crowd. He started to open up with flurries upstairs and finished with outside leg kicks.
The positive feeling didn't last, as Nelson earned his third submission win inside the Octagon. The Icelandic welterweight has nine submissions in his career.
McCall outclasses Pickett
McCall (13-4-1) earned his second UFC win in a dominant unanimous decision over Pickett. Judges scored the fight for McCall 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
"I was a little off -- I wasn't aggressive enough," McCall said. "But it was an intelligent fight, I think. I know Brad thinks I don't respect him as a fighter but I really do. He's a strong guy -- he's fought a lot of people.
"Now, there is unfinished business with Demetrious Johnson -- he has something that is mine."
Movement was key for McCall in the bout, as he continuously circled around the flat-footed approach of Pickett, darting in with lead left hands and kicks to the body. He owned Pickett in the clinch as well, landing knees and elbows on the inside.
Pickett (24-9) searched for an opportunity to land his winging right cross, but never really came close to changing the momentum of the fight. Immediate cageside stats showed McCall outlanded Pickett in total strikes 106-44.
Late in the first round, McCall allowed Pickett to draw him into a brief, brawling exchange -- but quickly thought better of it and circled away. He took Pickett down in the second round and achieved full mount at one point.
Pickett managed to cut off the cage a little late in the fight, but not enough to win the final round. McCall scored a potential round-clinching takedown with 1:40 left in the fight and spent significant time in top position.
After starting his UFC career with a 0-2-1 record, McCall has earned decision wins in each of his last two fights. He outpointed Iliarde Santos in his a three-round fight last August. Pickett drops to 2-3 in his last five contests.
Parke levels Kotani
Parke (20-2-1) easily defended Kotani's frequent attempts to take him to the ground and eventually secured a TKO at 3:41 of the round. Referee Marc Goddard stopped the bout after Parke took Kotani down near the fence and unloaded with left hands.
Fighting in the UFC for the first time since 2007, Kotani (33-11-7) might have been better off had he just elected to stand with Parke. He burned energy early with one takedown attempt after another, all of which were stuffed by Parke.
Late in the first round, Kotani shot a double leg with no setup whatsoever. After a brief scramble, Parke nearly took his back and hurt him moments later with elbows from top position.
In the next frame, Kotani shot again instantly and, when Parke defended, fell to his back in the hope Parke would simply follow him there. Parke refused, but eventually took him down anyway near the fence, which set up the finish.
Winner of "The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes" reality series in 2012, Parke is 4-1-1 in the Octagon. He fought Leonardo Santos to a draw in March. Kotani loses for the first time since April 2010.