Conor McGregor fights Nate Diaz at welterweight in the main event of UFC 202: McGregor vs. Diaz II on August 20th, 2016, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: McGregor takes another shot at his white whale and tries not to get dragged back down into the depths.
David: Nate looks to take another shot at roping the dope wrapped in the same Irish zig zags he rolled him in.
Record: Nate Diaz 19-10 Conor McGregor 19-3
Odds: Nate Diaz+115 Conor McGregor -125
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Nate Diaz, welcome to stardom. He’s still definitively the B-side in this particular fight, but now the big money fights he’s been hunting for for years have fallen into his lap. It wasn’t that long that Diaz was being laughably bumped from the UFC’s lightweight rankings due to "inactivity" and getting 30k to show. Now, he holds the whip hand and a win over the man who is debatably the UFC’s biggest homegrown draw.
David: We all laud Robbie Lawler for what he’s done: staying relevant in the grandest of ways without reinventing himself. But where Lawler commands respect and reverence, I feel like Nate is still seen as a curiosity. Yet I’d argue he’s accomplished exactly what Lawler has. In different ways? Sure. But when you look at just the sheer physics of it all, they’re remarkably similar. Robbie just happened to get the breaks he needed. And was a little less petulant...
Phil: This had to happen to McGregor sooner or later. He simply rolled the dice too many times, on short notice changes of opponent, on fighting injured, on disregarding weight classes. Was it awesome? Yes it was, but it always had to end like this. If he’d beaten Diaz, he probably would have gone on to fight Robbie Lawler. Could he have beaten him? Maybe, but then could he have beaten Tyron Woodley? Or Wonderboy? No, eventually something was going to bring McGregor down. You can’t keep moving up forever. As it turned out, the ascension got stopped quicker than most people predicted. Now he has an interesting task ahead of him.
David: Conor is still kind of "unproven" in the grand scheme of things. Nothing will ever take away from his KO over Aldo, but quick finishes do take away slices of narrative: how does Conor react through three rounds against an opponent in his face, and with equal amounts of talent? This isn’t a criticism of Conor’s validity. That’s sherdog.net shit. It’s a question of degree. I’m still a little traditional and would like to see him either defend the featherweight belt, or get rid of it, but then the UFC wouldn’t be able to market their favorite star as a certified golden boy.
What are the stakes?
Phil: About as big as they get. No belt on the line, but whether Conor goes 0-2 to Diaz is more important than any belt, from the perspective of the UFC at least. It’s sounded like the Irish contingent that followed him out to UFC 202 might have diminished, and that’s not surprising. A lot of the mainstream attention came from the impression of invincibility; how he called his shots and then made them happen.
He’s less of the cultural zeitgeist than, say, Rousey, whose rise coincided with third wave feminism coming of age as a marketable commodity. More of a traditional sports star, and in these cases a Mystic Mac sells much more readily than a Conventional Conor. And that’s if he stays in the sport.
David: Conor is probably one loss away from entering some sort of weird Brock Lesnar territory. Now before Conor’s fans lose their lucky charms, keep in mind this isn’t a direct comparison. Not only that but I’ve always held a healthy respect for how unique Brock is in the sport. Nor does his steroid bust taint my image of him. That the two potentially represent short-lived Zuffa zeitgeists is my point. It wouldn’t surprise me if Conor had his own Ronda "moment".
Where do they want it?
Phil: Nate is not his brother. He’s tried to be, but marching forward and baiting phonebooth brawls is not really his MO. Both of the Diazes are driven by insecurity, but Nick is all about trying to force the opponent to bring up what’s deep down, slinging hooks to the gut and making the other guy face up to the fact that he’s not on Nick’s level.
Diaz the younger is more finely tuned towards humiliation. He likes to sit on the outside and sting and mock, with a dabbing jab, the slapping hook and the long one-two. He leans in to bait strikes, and then leans away and hides behind his shoulder on the return. He’s still footslow, and this means is that his legs and lower body are there to be hit when his head is not. Body shots and leg kicks are therefore something of a necessity for Conor, and baiting the lean and then punishing. It also leaves Diaz’s hips out there, meaning that punching into takedowns has also been a decent anti-Nate strategy.
In general, as the winning fighter Nate just has to replicate what he did last time. If he can avoid taking the big left hand, he can rack up points and attritional damage while maintaining a pace which Conor (at least in the iteration we saw last) simply cannot keep. Nate appears to be stronger in the clinch and is vastly better on the ground. These are icing on the cake, and simply confirm that Conor absolutely must win a kickboxing match.
David: One of the things I emphasized in my sober play by play is how little Conor was either landing, or not connecting all the way. This is because Nate was using some serious peripheral vision, stepping away from Conor’s right foot when he’d get too close to Nate’s body. It allowed him to control the fight at midrange, switching between outside brawling and outside counters.
Nate is able to read body language intuitively, making him a much smarter fighter than he’s often given credit for. Like Lawler, the micro innovations have made him a leaner, more efficient fighter to support his existing skills. His boxing still looks awkward and sloppy but it’s perfect for the unique Diaz brother brand of uncoordinated execution.
Phil: Conor’s side of the matchup is tricky. While I’ve heard a few people saying that there’s "no way" he can knock Diaz out, this is obviously untrue. However, it’s just as clearly not a good idea to rely on it- getting zeroed in on the big left had him exhausted last time out.
Similarly, I’ve also heard counterpunching as the way to win, and again: I’m not sure. The Diaz brothers are not easy to effectively counterpunch against, because they put so little into their opening shots. The first punch that comes from Nate is almost always that idle, long jab without much weight behind it, so Nate is rarely off-balanced. It’s possible to counter it, but very difficult, and if Conor mistimes the counter, he leaves himself open. So, if McGregor wants to counter he has to get a bit deeper into the exchanges, but without getting deep enough to get drowned.
Short and snippy combinations, hit the easier targets (legs and body) then get the hell out of Dodge. He needs to emphasize the lead hand more as well, because no matter how well conditioned, you can’t win volume decisions using rear hand power shots.
David: Conor is a marvel on the feet; angling for traditional strikes from unconventional positions. There’s a lot to learn from in his first bout with Nate. One is that he’s superb at chaining movements and turning them into unfiltered violence. The other is his ability to counter. Watching the fight again, Conor’s most significant offense against Nate occurs when he’s actually countering Nate’s pressure. However, he lost because Nate had a better understanding of distance, and managed it better. The other reason is that McGregor was far too nonchalant about missing punches. He made little effort to adjust with something other than punches.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: What is there to say about their last fight which hasn’t been said? I’ll take Diaz-Maynard. It’s an older fight and Nate was far less skilled, but it was one which demonstrates that his volume is a bit more "reactive" than his brothers, i.e. in a slow paced fencing match with no real opportunity to pounce, Nate was happy to indulge Gray. There were also a couple of moments where Gray was able to land by lunging in but not throwing, waiting for Nate to move his head, then throwing. I think this will be much more effective for Conor than simply trying to crush the distance.
David: Conor still has a completely exploitable ground game. It’s an overstated flaw though. He nearly carved Max Holloway’s guard up, and kept him neutralized on the ground. He also legitimately swept Diaz, and I don’t see a reason to think "Nate let him up" as some misguided fans say. Conor’s ground game issues stem more from just a dash of Melvin Guillard syndrome. It’s impossible to talk about Conor’s ground game with any true insight, but my impression is that he has a deep understanding but not necessarily a deep application of that understanding.
Phil: Nate’s paper skin and Conor’s mentality are two notables, but I think I’ll actually take Nate’s headspace. He is just not a consistent fighter, and I’ve been burned by Nate picks more than once. For example, I thought he might have fixed some of his issues with power wrestlers when he beat Jim Miller, but then he looked unimaginably dire against Bendo.
I worry that he’s someone who doesn’t perform well under the bright lights; the classic younger brother who just likes to put it on people, but can’t quite envision himself as the best. That kind of fighter might be great in a short notice fight where no-one expects him to win, but as the "defending" fighter in the biggest bout of the year? It’s a different question.
David: It’s quite possible these same principles go the other way too. Conor has a lot to protect and is acutely aware of his limitations. If he loses, Conor doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who can live with himself spouting platitudes about "getting back on the horse" or saying "I can’t fight at moneyweight anymore". And he’s probably still pissed off at UFC marketing that they gave Nate the best line in the promo by recording Nate simply laughing at him. Which I personally thought was a great choice by Zuffa.
Phil: Conor can win, but to do it in any reliable way he needs to change how he fights; he needs to throw away his pride and give literally everything for the win. He needs to be willing to hit meaningless strikes as bait, and abandon exchanges while Nate is calling him a pussy to his face; accept the potential loss of a round without losing his cool or diverting from a gameplan. Can he do that? If he can, it will be such a diversion that I think that it will be in an odd way more impressive than any of the KOs in his career. Nate Diaz by submission, round 4
David: I would not be remotely surprised if Conor wins. He was landing enough in the first round that with adjustments made toward activity (a little less) and cardio (a little more) he might be in fantastic shape on the basis of those themes alone. Factor in Nate potentially wearing down, and who knows? I go back to Nate because as is, I still don’t see how he can fight a Diaz that way successfully. Conor could theoretically pull off something like what Carlos Condit did to Nick, but McGregor doesn’t have near the same temperament (granted, isn’t this what we said before Condit vs. Diaz?). I like Nate by submission not because I think Conor’s ground game sucks but because Nate is just that good. Plus he’s better than Nick at leveraging for takedowns IMO. Nate Diaz by Submission, round 3.