The bright light and desert now seems to be Conor McGregor’s second home. In Floyd Mayweather Jr’s absence from the combat sports world, a young brash Irishman is now taking the place of old “Money” Mayweather as Sin City’s cash cow.
UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor was originally supposed to meet UFC lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos in an interdivision superfight for the 155 pound title but a foot injury to the champion left the UFC scouring the roster for a replacement. Being that McGregor is the money fight par excellence, it wouldn’t take long for Zuffa to find said replacement.
With a win over top contender Michael Johnson and an epic trash talking rant that might have given Fox executives a near aneurysm on last December’s Fox card, Nate Diaz got the call to get “the real money fight” that he was calling for when color commentator Joe Rogan put a microphone to his face. The man who has screamed from the rafters for years now that he deserves big fights and more lucrative paydays finally managed to snag not just a big fight, but possibly one of the bigger fights in the past half decade that was never even properly dreamt up or discussed by the mixed martial arts community. Nevertheless, the second featherweight champion in UFC history will meet a perennial lightweight action standout in a five round welterweight main event that will supersede a legitimate title fight in Holly Holm versus Miesha Tate, and with McGregor and Diaz’ pre-fight hype, bravado and enthralling fighting style, UFC 196 has all the makings of an event that will live on in fight fans’ memories for a good while.
For all the trash talk, sound bites and wild antics that both McGregor and Diaz exude, it is important to state the level of competency that both men possess in their respective MMA skills. The middle fingers will make perpetual appearances and the expletives will be audible but make no mistake, the Irishman and Stockton native are very skilled and unique. From the ground game to their fistic prowess, here is the breakdown.
In his 2015 campaign, he threw an almost comical amount of kicks to Dennis Siver before bludgeoning him with formidable boxing combinations in the latter half of the sub ten minute bout. In his bout against Chad Mendes he worked the body. Front and roundhouse kicks to the body did the necessary damage to stave off Mendes’ elite wrestling and ground and pound and get the second round left cross TKO. Jose Aldo, the only featherweight titleholder the UFC had ever known was the most unfortunate and high-profile victim of “The Notorious'” left hand. A beautifully timed inside angle left cross left Aldo stiffened thirteen seconds into the bout and flipped the MMA community on its head.
McGregor began his combat sports endeavors in boxing and his roots are evident. Nate Diaz has a classic boxing foundation, but is all things considered rather basic. Diaz is a clever pugilist and has many crafty manners of executing his punching combinations, but the contrast between him and McGregor is on the stark side.
McGregor has some of the best use of angles in all of MMA. Angles are one the primary factors that contribute to his high knockout ratio, but apart from angles, McGregor can run a torrid pace on opponents that they are almost assured to have never experienced. McGregor has yet to go five rounds in any of his 21 professional fights and has only gone the full fifteen minutes once in his career, but none of McGregor’s opponents ever await for his output to slow down because there has yet to be any smidgen of fatigue to gloss over McGregor’s face.
Although it is not presumed to be a good trait to be proud of, McGregor’s chin is as solid as they come. McGregor is hittable and definitely more so since his UFC debut, but he is quite defensively responsible. His low hands stance is not ideal, but McGregor is an outside-the-box thinker. The low hands stance is a good tool for takedown defense and since he has the utmost confidence in his stout beard and defensive acumen it is appropriate that McGregor utilizes his unorthodox stance to strong effect, and it may be of paramount importance in this fight against Diaz
Diaz likes to stand just outside of range and land peppering shots, preferring to keep opponents at the end of his punches and land popping punches on the counter or in combination moving forward. While it is effective against many foes, it’s going to be much more difficult to implement that plan of attack against a striker the caliber of McGregor. Angles, pace, versatility of strikes and most importantly power, will all be a deterrent to Diaz’ offense.
Conor McGregor is a special kind of athlete. Athletes usually have some sort of set pattern or a department in which they’re lacking, athletically speaking, McGregor seems to have no visible deficits in any subset of his athleticism. There seems to be no binary law that divides McGregor’s gifts, his power, agility and reflexes are all on point.
McGregor is starting to become a name that is synonymous with power a la Chuck Liddell or Anthony Johnson, but his speed has always been the one aspect of his skill set that is well-known yet still a bit undervalued.
McGregor always seems to be a step ahead in his bouts, the Aldo fight was the best indicator of that. Dustin Poirier seem almost baffled by McGregor’s speed, and the double jab, overhand left that ended Poirier’s night was never anticipated by him.
Speed is not the be-all end-all crux of McGregor’s game but it definitely doesn’t hurt. Diaz has a high work rate with an approximate 4.3 significant strikes landed per minute according to UFC.com, but it still falls short of McGregor’s 5.5 strikes a minute and speed is a factor in that. McGregor can match Diaz’ output but his speed will allow him to throw numerable shots in the time it takes to Diaz to land one or two.
There are no rugs being pulled out from anyone’s feet here, Nate Diaz will have the clear advantage should the fight go to the mat. Diaz has been training under Cesar Gracie and with his brother Nick Diaz since he was a teenager. Like his brother, Nate’s introduction into combat was through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and his submissions are as slick and high-level as anyone else in the sport. Diaz’ domination and eventual tapout win of former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi is one of the more spectacular victories one Diaz’ resume. the transition from armbar to triangle choke to armbar was a thing of delectable beauty. His counter grappling wit displayed against Jim Miller was astonishing. The manner in which Diaz countered Miller’s takedown attempt with a slight adjustment in foot positioning and a subsequent neck clasping was utterly brilliant.
Diaz’ reputation as a brawler or exclusive boxer is somewhat misleading, he’s obviously well-rounded in his overall skill set but his instincts will always regress him back to his submissions. Of Diaz’ 19 wins, only three have gone to a decision, more than half of his wins are by some kind of submission. Whether it’s a knockdown followed by a quick limb snatch or a counter choke off of a takedown, Diaz is an opportunistic and technical submission grappler.
Diaz’ clinch skills are also not to be overlooked. Although he gets categorized as a non-physical type of grappler who can get bullied in taxing, grinding type of situations, Diaz is actually quite adept at staying out of most unfavorable situations in the clinch. He is proactive to not get his head pinned against the fence and will usually wait out and neutralize most meaningful offense until he can reverse positions, break free or launch an opponent with a hip toss.
With the exception of Max Holloway, Conor McGregor hasn’t even attempted a takedown in years. Against Diaz’ it would behoove him greatly to not pursue it in any manner. Diaz is simply several notches above McGregor in the neck wringing department. The Irish fans in attendance will definitely be holding their collective breath should this fight go to the ground for any considerable amount of time.
A two-inch reach advantage could be a negligible thing in a fist fight, but when an opponent has been accustomed to a decent disparity in reach and has now had the tables reversed, things can get really tricky for said combatant. Diaz is one of the longer lightweights in the division and the reach will be a puzzle that McGregor will have to solve by digging deep in his arsenal. One more factor that benefits Diaz is his familiarity with southpaws. Of his last six bouts, four have been southpaws and seems to have no issues when facing either stance. Diaz knows how to play the long distance game and his stinging straight punches and well-timed head movement can keep McGregor at bay for a decent amount of time, and possibly the entire fight with a disciplined gameplan.
The fun matchup that was made after the legacy building mythos fight against Dos Anjos was scrapped offers a very intriguing endeavor for both Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. McGregor goes up 25 pounds to face a lightweight who has already competed in the welterweight division, but there is solid reason to believe that Conor will still be Conor come Saturday night, and that can be very problematic for Diaz.
This is not an easy fight for McGregor in any way but if everything barring reach, stays similar this should be his fight to lose.
Diaz has respectable pop in his hands and underrated counters, but the athletic discrepancy is far too wide for this one. Contrary to popular belief, Nate Diaz is not his brother and doesn’t really stalk and punish opponents against the fence like Nick. Nate would prefer a fight on the outskirts where he can step in and land the heavy blows, problem is Conor McGregor is about as good an all-terrain fighter competing today. Added on with McGregor’s voluminous attack and it seems clear that Diaz has a long road ahead of him.
Early takedown attempts by Diaz would not be surprising, neither would a close technical striking battle as both men would be encountering something relatively alien to one another. A win over a Diaz brother is never anything to scoff at and that rings true with McGregor as well. Diaz will have his moments to shine, a knockdown of McGregor wouldn’t be all too surprising given his reach and toughness, but a finish halfway into the bout after an exchange in the pocket seems very apropos as it is the spot where Diaz can be hittable and it is the range where McGregor is in premier form.
Conor McGregor by third round TKO.