When the boxing match between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. first popped up as a rumor, many never believed it would happen simply due to the lack of experience McGregor has in the sweet science. Despite being a two-division UFC champion, he had never stepped into the boxing ring for a competitive fight. How would any commission license a guy making his pro debut while taking on one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time in Mayweather?
Well, it appears that the reputation of Nate Diaz had a lot to do with it.
Nevada State Athletic Commission head Bob Bennett explained his thought process on licensing McGregor to Sky Sports - and apparently, McGregor has his UFC 202 win over Diaz to thank for being a key piece of evidence to license him:
"I reviewed UFC 202 which was a perfect indicator of Conor's boxing abilities. Then I gave renowned trainer Virgil Hunter a call. I said: 'I heard Diaz was a sparring partner for Andre Ward?’ Virgil confirmed that Diaz has sparred with Ward at least 12 times. As we know, Ward was a world super-middleweight champion and now a light-heavyweight champion.
He also mentioned that Diaz had sparred with fellow pros Brandon Gonzalez and Andrzej Fonfara before continuing.
"Virgil believes that Diaz could have been a world class boxer if he hadn't become an MMA fighter. Virgil holds Diaz's boxing ability in high regard. But then look at UFC 202 when McGregor fought Diaz, predominantly striking. McGregor knocked down Diaz in the first and second rounds. McGregor took some hellacious shots to his jaw from Diaz, and they didn't move him. McGregor fired a number of shots that hurt Diaz.
"Watching McGregor in that fight did contribute to me finding [the Mayweather fight] approvable."
In addition to Diaz’s boxing potential and McGregor’s ability to overcome it (the second time at least - Diaz submitted Conor in their first fight), it was watching footage of McGregor’s sparring that also helped to convince him:
"I met with McGregor's manager on three occasions and viewed video that he provided from McGregor's sparring sessions in Ireland," Bennett said.
"I did my own research in addition to watching him spar. This is an approvable bout - he's the taller, longer, stronger, younger fighter. He has a 21-3 record in MMA with 18 TKO or KO wins."
Of course, he has a 0-0 record in boxing. Mayweather is 49-0.
The two men will meet in a 12-round fight at 154 pounds on August 26th in Las Vegas.