Don’t worry, Checkdown faithful, I’m back. While I’m sure you’ve all had fun reading about baseball sabermetrics and speculations on the Super Bowl halftime show (T Swift all the way), it’s time for some UFC talk. I know in an earlier iteration of my UFC previews I said that UFC 200 was slated to be the most influential card in the history of MMA, and it was definitely awesome. However, I am ecstatic to say that the UFC 202 card scheduled for this Saturday night is primed to blow UFC 200 out of the water and one man is responsible, the international megastar Conor McGregor. The most famous Irishman since Bono, Dana White pulled McGregor out of complete anonymity during a routine European talent search and was gifted with arguably the most charismatic figure in combat sports since Muhammad Ali. In three short years, McGregor has jabbed and jawed his way to the pinnacle of the UFC’s featherweight division and the entire sports world. Never had the UFC seen a fighter who could so brilliantly and eloquently trash talk his opponents, and then enter the octagon and completely back it up with a dominating and aggressive opponent. When McGregor finally seized the undisputed lightweight championship by knocking out UFC Hall of Famer Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds, McGregor had finally cemented his status as the golden boy of MMA and one of the top 10 global stars in sports.
As with any MMA competitor, McGregor’s undefeated reign had an expiration date. McGregor’s arrogance and perceived lack of a legitimate challenge in the featherweight division had him itching to do something that had never been done before in the UFC. McGregor was granted a title shot against Rafael dos Anjos in the 155-pound lightweight division immediately after his dispatch of Jose Aldo. With a victory, McGregor would have been the first fighter to simultaneously hold belts in two separate weight classes. When dos Anjos broke his foot two weeks before the fight, the veteran welterweight Nate Diaz (an outspoken critic of McGregor) was offered the fight. Now scheduled to be held at 170 pounds, McGregor was forced to put on nearly 20 pounds in under two weeks in order to make weight against the larger, more experienced Nate Diaz. Regardless of how the fight ended, moving up 20 pounds in ten days is a badass move and I have nothing but respect for it.
The ensuing fight was one of the most exciting and fun to break down bouts that I have ever had the pleasure of watching. McGregor, as he always does, came out swinging right off the bat. Conor utilized right left combos and uppercuts to rough up Nate in the first round, opening up several nasty looking gashes around his eyes that were producing a significant amount of blood. McGregor was much more so the aggressor in the first round; Diaz allowed McGregor to expend lots of energy in the first round but did sustain a significant amount of damage. In the second round Conor continued to vigorously go after Nate with his fists and feet. Conor was landing power punches but at no point did Nate appear to be in serious danger of being knocked out; his bloody face was apparently not as serious as it looked on camera. Late in the first round, Diaz appeared to hit his stride and began out-boxing Conor; the momentum seemed to be turning. All of a sudden, Nate was able to connect with a hard left hand to Conor’s chin that clearly hurt him. With that shot the momentum completely shifted and Diaz was able to start teeing off on McGregor, forcing him up against the fence and battering him blow after blow. Clearly fatigued and in serious trouble, McGregor went for a desperation takedown to try and avoid any more punishment, ill advised against the black belt in jiu-jitsu, and Diaz was quickly able to dominate McGregor on the ground and secure a rear naked choke, ending the fight and sending the MMA world into utter chaos.
Post fight, the common narrative about the loss was that Conor was simply not conditioned to go five rounds at 170 pounds and became too fatigued after his aggressive first round barrage, leaving him susceptible to Diaz’s more levelheaded style that ended the fight. This argument is valid (Conor did have to put on 20 pounds of fat and water in order to make weight), but I believe it is overstated. Upon watching the fight replay, Conor looked and acted much differently during the Diaz fight than during his past victories over Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo. In previous bouts Conor’s high octane fighting style and untouchable persona had him bouncing off the walls and oozing confidence. His energy, athleticism and speed were noticeably superior to other featherweights, allowing him to overwhelm his opponents with his strikes. Against Diaz, on the other hand, McGregor looked soft and sluggish, a shell of himself. His power punches simply didn’t seem to do the damage they usually did against his smaller and less tough featherweight opponents. Diaz was able to easily absorb Conor’s blows, tiring him out and exposing Conor’s weaknesses. The strategy that had McGregor dominating the featherweight division simply was not effective against the seasoned welterweight. With the rematch looming one question remains: Is Conor McGregor talented enough to beat Nate Diaz at 170 pounds or is this chase of multiple belts all a big pipe dream? Here is how I think it will all go down at the MGM Grand this Saturday night.
Nate Diaz (20-10-0) vs Conor McGregor (19-3-0)
In the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time pondering whom will come out of UFC 202 victorious. From a fan’s perspective, I’m really in a win-win situation; seeing Conor McGregor win is just as fun as watching him lose. From an analyst and bettor’s perspective, I feel like I have a very solid grasp on how this fight will shake out. First of all, I expect McGregor to be looking like a much leaner and natural 170-pound fighter than he did back at UFC 196. He has had nearly 6 months to cut fat and add lean muscle to his frame, along with an extended training camp for him to familiarize himself with the intricacies of fighting at a higher weight class. He has sparred against larger fighters and is said to have improved his ground game immensely. He has had a full training camp in preparation for this Nate Diaz, reportedly spending over 300 thousand dollars on a private gym in Nevada for him to train at without distraction. Diaz, who was coming off of a booze and food filled vacation in Cabo when he first fought McGregor, should also be in much better shape for the rematch. For this reason, I expect the fight to extend into the fourth or fifth round before somebody finishes it. These fighters are too tough and too well conditioned for this fight to end in a first or second round finish.
If the fight stays off of the ground, as I expect it to, I foresee the bout to be a tale of changing momentum. While Conor McGregor is a world-class striker, Nate Diaz has a world-class chin and should be able to absorb lots of punishment from the Irishman. With his three-inch height advantage and two inch reach advantage, he should be able to keep Conor at a reasonable distance and protect himself from getting really clocked by a right or left hand from McGregor. After watching the first fight I don’t believe that Conor will be able to line up head kicks effectively at 170 pounds, eliminating a major knockout tool of his. This fight will be a slugfest until the late rounds where the larger and longer fighter will begin to dominate once again. I think that McGregor will start out strong and effectively land punches to Diaz’s head early on, but will lose effectiveness as the fight rolls on. Especially once fatigue sets in, I don’t see the slight McGregor being able to generate enough force to seriously hurt or knock out the freakishly tough Nate Diaz. Diaz is simply too tough and holds too many physical and stylistic advantages over Conor. Like we saw in the last fight, Diaz will begin to use his size and experience to consistently land power punches in the later rounds once Conor is hurt and fatigued. I expect the fight to be close early on but will devolve into a dominating performance by Nate Diaz, culminating in a late round knockout. McGregor does not have the power in his game to knock out someone like Nate Diaz, especially after Diaz has already beaten him once. Diaz knows how to beat Conor McGregor and his confidence is at all time levels going into this fight. Conor McGregor is just not a natural welterweight and hopefully this performance will knock him back to the featherweight division where he can use his natural speed to dominate once more.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Diaz over McGregor (4th round TKO)
Well, there you have it. Haydo the swami is back with his hard-hitting UFC predictions. Diaz is currently going at even money on Bovada.com and is a spectacular bet for this weekend. Hammer Diaz and go watch the fight this Saturday night. It’s going to be a spectacle and I hope each and every one of you has the chance to experience it.