The UFC returns to its spiritual home of Las Vegas on Saturday (March 5) as featherweight champion Conor McGregor jumps up two weight divisions to face Nate Diaz in a battle of trash talking punchers.
Irish sensation McGregor, arguably the biggest draw in MMA right now, was originally attempting to make history with this fight; it was scheduled to be against lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos and a McGregor win would have seen him become the first man in history to hold two UFC belts simultaneously. A foot injury to Dos Anjos has meant the ambitions of ‘The Notorious’ will have to be put on hold, but the Diaz fight is an intriguing alternative.
One thing guaranteed with Conor McGregor is that he will talk. The Irishman uses constant verbal narrative to fuel his own self belief and energy and diminish that of his opponents prior to fights. In his biggest win against Jose Aldo this ploy worked to perfection, he got into Aldo’s head and pulled off a devastating victory. I don’t think this will work with Nate Diaz. Diaz is a hard, uncompromising fighter from a tough background and, like brother Nick, is also not short of the ability to deliver a verbal barb.
Once the war of words has ceased and McGregor and Diaz stand toe to toe in the octagon, picking a winner is not quite as obvious as it first appears. On form, momentum and reputation, another Conor McGregor victory is the logical conclusion but there are other factors to consider in this fight.
Conor McGregor is jumping up to welterweight and, unlike at featherweight, will not be the bigger, stronger man. Diaz has fought his whole career at either lightweight or welterweight and is used to taking shots from fighters bigger than McGregor; he also has a decent chin. I can’t see McGregor blasting out Diaz in the way he has with his last few opponents.
The fighters that Diaz has struggled with in his career have primarily been high level wrestlers – he won’t have to worry about this with Conor McGregor and may well have superior take down skills. If they do go to the ground, although McGregor is competent, he does not posses the same level of submission ability that Gracie Jiu Jitsu black belt Diaz has. The truth is though that this will be a stand up war…
Both men like to keep the action on the feet, both are very good boxers and both are southpaw. Conor McGregor appears to have the greater knock out power, although it is unknown if his punches will have the same numbing effect at the higher weight. Diaz perhaps moves a bit more, uses his jab, throwing punches in volume and applying constant pressure. McGregor uses decent karate kicks, mixed in with thai kicks, to keep opponents off balance and will not be afraid to throw his feet more in a fight with a non wrestler like Diaz. Diaz’s sole knockout defeat came via head kick.
A lot will depend on how well Conor McGregor’s power carries and how he reacts if Nate Diaz is able to withstand his best shots. If both men were naturally the same size then McGregor, in my opinion, wins a stand up brawl fairly comfortably, despite the technical boxing ability of Diaz. Yet they are not the same size; McGregor has gone up further faster than originally intended and against an opponent he was not supposed to face.
What was originally supposed to be further affirmation of Conor McGregor’s greatness and standing in the UFC hierarchy could actually turn out to be a very tough assignment. Ronda Rousey, Cain Velasquez and Jose Aldo have all recently lost fights decisively that they were favourite to win. I’m still siding with McGregor but it’ll be a tough, hard fought points victory rather than a 13 second blowout.