Ireland’s Conor McGregor and Stockton’s finest Nate Diaz will once again come face to face inside the octagon at UFC 202 on Saturday night (20th August).
When Nate Diaz (19-10) slid his arm under the chin of a badly beaten Conor McGregor (19-3) back in March at UFC 196, everyone knew what was coming but nobody was quite ready to believe it. With a few reluctant taps of his hand, Conor McGregor relinquished his undefeated UFC record and for the first time since he broke onto the world stage, his supporters fell silent.
MMA fans across the world were left staring slack-jawed at their television screens trying to comprehend how McGregor – whose sharp tongue had convinced many he was invincible – had somehow lost. For Nate Diaz though, this wasn’t an upset, it was just another day at the office.
As he stepped back into the centre of the octagon to give his post-fight interview, the younger of the two Diaz brothers snatched the microphone from Joe Rogan, stared deep into the barrel of the camera and uttered the now infamous phrase, “I’m not surprised, motherfuckers”.
Fast forward five and a half months and we’re on the precipice of the rematch. The bout was initially scheduled to headline UFC 200 in July, but a disagreement between McGregor’s camp and the UFC got the fight pulled from the card – with the Irishman even teasing retirement on Twitter and subsequently breaking the internet.
Now the rivals will face off once again on Saturday (20th August) at UFC 202 in Las Vegas. The major difference between this and the last fight is that Diaz will have the luxury of a full camp to prepare. However, because of the media circus that surrounds a McGregor bout, that time has been eaten into by a slew of press obligations – something the Stockton native has never experienced on such a large scale.
For McGregor, facing an opponent with whom he shares an even remotely similar level of fame is a break in itself. The featherweight champion has taken a noticeable step out of the spotlight in the lead up to this one in order to give himself sufficient time to prepare. He’s even admitted that this is the first time he’s prepared for a specific opponent because, in his words, ‘they all usually pull out’.
The First Fight
In the first fight it was pretty obvious that Conor was winning until he got tired. You can’t really blame him for fighting the way he did, either. Like he always does, he pressured Diaz and threw a barrage of different strikes in the hope that he’d go down in the same fashion as pretty much all of his previous opponents.
However, he was fighting a slightly heavier guy with a notoriously granite chin, so his best shots weren’t causing the damage he was hoping for. By the time he realised this he’d managed to gas himself out and he just broke mentally. He’d hit Nate with everything he had for just over a round, but Nate was still there eating his shots, firing back and goading him on.
Diaz, a typically slow starter anyway, stepped up a gear when he realised McGregor was tired. He found his range and started hitting him with that classic jab and cross combo that he pops off his wrist so well with pretty much no wind up.
After eating a handful of those McGregor decided to shoot for an optimistic double leg takedown, which is where it really started to go to shit for him. Diaz tried to lock in a guillotine, which to his credit, Conor managed to escape from.
However, in doing so he let Diaz get into side control where he expertly slid into mount before McGregor rolled and gave up his back. All that was left to do for Nate then was soften him up with a punch and lock in the rear-naked choke.
This Time Around
If ‘The Notorious One’ wants to avenge his defeat to Stockton’s finest then he’s going to have to prepare for a much longer fight. Diaz has only been knocked out once in his career so it’s going to take a lot to finish him.
We can fully expect Conor to implement the same sort of aggressive game plan, simply because he doesn’t know how to do anything else. But this time he’s going to have to acknowledge the fact that there’s a very real possibility the fight could last all five rounds.
One technique that McGregor might want to implement more this time around is kicks to Diaz’s front leg. Nate had a pretty difficult time dealing with these in his fight against Dos Anjos because he has such a wide boxing stance. As well as hurting his lead leg it will also go some way towards preventing him from finding any sort of rhythm to land combinations.
For Diaz, it’s likely we’ll see more of the same as well. He’ll start slow while he looks to find his range before he starts trying to land a few softer warning shots to show McGregor’s he’s got him figured out.
To compliment his boxing Diaz would be wise to use his massively underrated clinch game. That way he can grind some of the stamina out of McGregor while also preventing him from staying in kickboxing range where he’s most effective.
Prediction – Diaz by submission
As much as it sounds like a cop out, I’m really struggling to pick a winner here. McGregor has already made adjustments in his camp to make sure he is more specifically prepared to fight Nate this time around, so you’d think he’ll rectify some of the mistakes he made last time out. However, Nate has had a full training camp to prepare for this fight – a luxury he was not afforded in their first showdown.
I keep flipping between the two but as I’m writing this I’m edging ever so slightly in favour of Nate – purely because historically rematches often go the same way as the first fight. However, he is fighting a formidable opponent in McGregor so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him get the win back.