Joe Callaghan reports from the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.
The king is back. Conor McGregor's first four words after he came out on top in one of the most enthralling fights in recent combat sports memory with the Notorious and Nate Diaz going all the way to an incredible climax at UFC 202.
The T-Mobile Arena is only open a matter of months but its structural integrity was tested as the two bitter rivals went toe-to-toe in a punishing, pulsating war of attrition. McGregor, who floored Diaz three times early on only to be dragged back into the battle and dice with another disaster, had his hand raised on a majority decision with one judge unable to declare a winner after such a soul-sapping contest that left punters gasping for air themselves.
"Surprise, surprise! The king is back," roared McGregor, his face showing all the effects of the night. "If you want the trilogy, it's on my terms. I knew what I had to do this time around and I did it."
He did. But he almost didn't. McGregor failed to take advantage and then endured a battering response from the man who had submitted him in March. But this time he survived.
In one telling admission earlier on fight week, McGregor had boasted that he was about to reclaim control of the UFC, in essence an admission that after being choked out in March, he had lost control of the game he insists he changed forever. Reclaiming control meant levelling the scores with Diaz.
He did it in incredible fashion as a star-studded crowd in Sin City - with the likes of Kanye West, Niall Horan, Mike Tyson and a host of NBA and NFL big names present - in raptures.
Highlight of the night: the legend Tony McGregor, Conor's dad, taking a picture backstage with Kanye West.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) August 21, 2016
McGregor came into the fight on the back of the most turbulent five months of his career. Having lost his perfect UFC record in the first instalment in March, the featherweight champion proceeded to engage in an ugly battle of wills with UFC Chiefs, briefly threatening to walk away from the sport altogether. This rematch with as originally scheduled to headline the organisation's summer spectacular - UFC 200 here last month.
Yet none of that negativity had an effect on his payday as McGregor set a new record with the highest disclosed purse in the sport's history, taking a base check of $3million from this outing.
Diaz's reward for victory last time out was a quadrupling of his fight night fee - from $500,000 to $2million. Neither fee included pay-per-view revenue however with McGregor widely expected to again hit eight figures once the final numbers are crunched.
McGregor entered an arena that was buzzing but not nearly as boozy and wild as those that have greeted his three most recent Sin City outings with the crowd very much split in its favouritism, in spite of late surge of Irish fans.
After the riotous scenes involving the duo at their press conference on Wednesday a wall of nine Nevada State Athletic Commission officials separated the pair during the pre-fight ceremonies.
Once the ring was cleared they went at it early and often, McGregor bloodying and bruising Diaz with big lefts in the first then dropping him to the floor, something he hadn't done first time round. He summoned the veteran back and they traded shots that left Diaz's right eye bruised.
It was bloodied early in the second as McGregor mixed things up, landing leg kicks as well as strikes. He was getting caught too but soon had Diaz back on the ground twice in quick succession, ignoring the opportunity to take the fight to the ground.
He could have lived to regret it as Diaz responded in some style late in the second landing a hard combo that rocked McGregor. It was enthralling stuff.
McGregor's decision not to capitalise on his early dominance looked even more flawed in the third as Diaz took command landing plenty and looking for a takedown that didn't materialise. It was clear however that the Californian had now dragged McGregor into a war.
A war was what they served up in the final two rounds, McGregor's gruelling pre-fight camp paying off as he kept his composure and defended well, even if his continual walking away upset the crowds.
Diaz's corner told him he needed to win the fifth round as the T-Mobile Arena saluted the fighters before the closing stanza. McGregor actually turned his back at one stage as he looked to stay out of danger but they were soon back grappling against the cage as energy levels ran empty.
In the end Diaz got his takedown with the clock running out but it's wasn't to be enough as the Dubliner's hand was raised soon after. The cost of these two non-title bouts could be telling on McGregor but his status as the biggest draw in the sport has been emphatically confirmed.
McGregor may have spent much of the past five months in the bad books of his employers but the payment ledgers showed his return as another record-setting night. The featherweight champion earned the highest disclosed purse in MMA history here, taking a base salary of $3million, breaking Brock Lesnar's one-off UFC 200 payday by 20 per cent.
Diaz may have spent his recent years complaining about being shunned by the UFC when it came to earnings and profile but his reward for stunning the sport and suffocating McGregor in March was a four-fold financial jump - from $500,000 to $2million. Neither fee includes pay-per-view payments however with McGregor expected to again clear $10million for his night's work.
Those cheques are likely to keep on rolling in once McGregor recovers from the most punishing night of his life.