By: S. Davis
We all know what the main event is going to be this Saturday so we’ll ignore all the bluster that happened at the UFC 202 press conference. (There are other sites to visit for that stellar analysis. I heard that Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor had their arms in top form for spring training next year.) I’m concentrating on the panoramic view of the two men facing off at the top of the marquee – and the significance of championship belts in the UFC.
Will I make a prediction of a victor? I’m not too sure. In the UFC 200 piece I picked only the fights that mattered to me. Going forward I’ll probably use that same format (regardless of whether it’s a fight on the preliminary or main card) but my primary focus will land on the main card — whenever it is I decide to feature a prediction portion.
Diaz vs. McGregor 1 was an amalgamation of events that led to a complete whirlwind that surprised most of the MMA world. I’m not solely discussing the outcome; I’m referencing the entire carnival. McGregor was booked to battle (then) lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in an attempt to claim two titles simultaneously but that fell off to the side when dos Anjos suffered a foot fracture with less than two weeks until UFC 196. Then the world heard the names thrown around as replacements to keep the main event intact: Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar and Donald Cerrone were mentioned by Dana White on ESPN, who quickly changed course and dropped the mic by saying Diaz would take the fight…at welterweight. Ok. Intelligent fans quickly sniffed what the UFC was up to. It was so obvious.
They would bring in Diaz – who’s always a game competitor – to push McGregor, but ultimately fall, so their chosen star would keep his gleam. (I will never be convinced otherwise. Of course in a fight anything can happen – and it usually does – but I would bet my arm the executives didn’t think Diaz would win.) Diaz, himself, brought his own following so the event was sure to have fireworks and even though the historic aspect of the scheduled main event was lost, the hastily scrambled nature of the new headliner had a spark to it that made it a bigger fight than it usually would be.
Introductions over, the fight began…and the MMA world took a strange detour.
Time to pick fights? Why not? Oh wait, I left you hanging above, relax, we’ll get back to that. I’m on the fence on who will prevail but I’m leaning one way.
Diaz wins if his timing is sharper than it was in their initial meeting. McGregor was NOT dominating the first round of UFC 196. He won the round, yes, but at no point was Diaz staggered, wobbly or in danger of being finished. (The fight is now up on Youtube; give it a real look and let your emotions go.) I’m guessing that a full camp improves his defense, in terms of head movement, and defensive footwork. He utilized the jab to help establish range but McGregor was able to pinpoint him whenever he closed the distance. While doing a great job slipping and rolling with punches, Diaz was hit flush on more than a few occasions. Great thing for him that his chin held up as well as his endurance – and he never panicked (something McGregor cannot claim) although he found himself in on the wrong end of hard shots.
His boxing became more effective in the latter half of the opening round and he did sneak in some jabs and check-right hooks, along with some token leg kicks that I feel were added just to get his opponent thinking of another threat. If those jabs land and he begins to dictate terms by walking McGregor down and his movement is crisp…we all know the playbook. He’ll throw volume, with most of the punches intended to frustrate and then he’ll sneak in the ones with zip on them to test McGregor’s chin, who for some reason continues to believe that holding his head high and biting on his mouth guard equals elite defense and head movement. Once Diaz has those factors clicking it will simply be a matter of what round he wants to end the fight, not if he will. At that point Diaz’s confidence will skyrocket, a few Stockton slaps will be thrown, and McGregor will either be swarmed on the feet or find himself drowning in quicksand due to Diaz’s vast options in jiu-jitsu.
McGregor wins if he understands that his bullying technique will fail him like it did the first time around. It’s highly unlikely that Diaz is going to be knocked out with one punch so loading up for night-ending blows should be deleted from the playbook. He was quick and accurate with the straight left but proceeded to stunt his own progress by using telegraphed spinning kicks and loading up because his ego demanded it. He must employ a steady diet of leg kicks as Diaz plants heavy on his lead leg. He must kick that leg as if his fighting future depended on it – and it just might, at least in the short-term. By attacking the legs he saps the sting from Diaz’s power punches while also compromising his ability to escape the left hand.
Additionally, it would be wise to mix in something, anything, other than a right uppercut with his off-hand. He has two of them but fought as if his right one wasn’t available. It’s odd to me that any striker so reliant on keeping the fight standing skews his offense so heavily to one hand. Furthermore, he has to remain in the fight, mentally, and not wilt if he can’t get the satisfaction of a quick knockout. He has to be prepared for five rounds. He cannot think any other way…unless he wants to burn the engine fighting a slightly, yet naturally, bigger opponent. (I say slightly because Diaz is not a natural welterweight, regardless of what McGregor apologists want to believe. This is a fight at welterweight for two athletes that are true MMA lightweights. Diaz does not weigh over 200 pounds and McGregor is not a featherweight…even though he holds the division’s top spot.)
Where is his cardio for the rematch? Much to his credit, he’s been to the third round just once over his 22 fight career (the win over Max Holloway) whereas Diaz has been in over 11 of them (and a single five round title fight with Benson Henderson). Is it possible for the human body to acclimate in five months to an environment it has never had to? The fight becomes infinitely more compelling if it makes it to the fourth round because Diaz’s chances of emerging victorious have to rise exponentially if the Irishman can’t find a quick finish. That has to be the case, right?
About that detour I mentioned…
The moneyweight fights are the most popular topic in the sport; all but eclipsing title defenses. It seems that the majority of MMA fans are fine that McGregor has been talking about fights in that area for years – before he even won the featherweight crown – yet there’s a large and undeniable groan now that Eddie Alvarez and Tyron Woodley are looking to do the exact same thing? What’s the difference here? I seem to be missing something and I’m a highly observant individual.
All fighters should be calling for fights that bring them the most money. Period. But followers of the sports pick and parcel every nugget and strategic move but only support one guy or that guy…or this guy. The outcry against Woodley has been fascinating. What I see almost everywhere is “What has he done?” or “Who is he to call his shot?” I don’t know, but I just watched him put Robbie Lawler to bed in one round. If someone does that against Lawler, then that man should be angling for Georges St. Pierre or Nick Diaz. “No!” Fans are pissed, even some fighters are, sorry Stephen Thompson.
Eddie Alvarez has been clear in saying he wants in on the “circus.” The circus being the third actor in the Diaz-McGregor production instead of defending his lightweight title against Khabib Nurmagomedov because he plainly stated that fight doesn’t make “sense” financially. He has a point though, yet he can’t do it. He’s wrong for some unexplained reason. He’s held to some standard of having to defend his belt that only McGregor, it seems, is above altogether. On resume alone, why isn’t Alvarez on the short-list of top-five fighters under 170? In history? He’s got quite the list of accomplishments: UFC champion, former Bellator champion (owning a piece of it if you’re into that kind of thing) and Strikeforce champion (if linear titles mean anything to you). He’s beaten some killers and his road to the UFC lightweight title is worthy of more respect that he’s received thus far.
McGregor’s a draw, no doubt, and I support him when he uses whatever leverage he has – which is considerable – but his UFC resume on his way to the belt was…favorable. He secured a title shot with a win over…Dennis Siver. Ok. Trust me I’m not anti-McGregor, I’m anti-MMA hypocrisy as it relates to him. I’m always pro-fighter, especially in a sport that doesn’t have protection of union backing for its athletes but what’s “allowed” and “accepted” changes like underwear. Alvarez and Woodley knock off the champions in their respective divisions – in dynamic finishes to boot – but scorn meets them when they want to cash in? McGregor’s exempt from a single title defense – this weekend being his second fight on his welterweight tour – but the sky rains fire when new champions attempt to map out their opponents in the same fashion? Thought provoking.
Should divisions be scrapped altogether and the UFC revert back to open weight challenges for the sake of bigger purses? That won’t be happening but I’m intrigued when trying to see where this trend is headed, ultimately. It’s hard to gain power in the UFC and holding one of the titles gives an athlete something obvious to gamble with. Wield the sword when it’s in your hands, correct?
Furthermore what’s the value in actually holding one of those gold straps? In what seems like a new – financially conscious – era, is the title of champion even important? Or is it merely a key that opens the door to the vault? Hmm…
Some picks? Unfortunately I won’t be able to watch the event live based on three prior engagements falling on the same summer evening. Ugh, I’ll actually choose from the bouts where I’m familiar with both parties entering the cage…Magny, Markos, Pennington, Lobov, Garbrandt, Means, Story, and Teixeira.
“I’m not surprised, motherf—–s!”