Tomorrow we will see “The Notorious One,” Conor McGregor, battle Nate Diaz, a fight announced on two weeks notice after lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos withdrew from his scheduled match with McGregor due to a training injury. There was a big scramble to find a replacement for Dos Anjos and, according to Dana White, Diaz requested a weight limit of 165. Conor reportedly told White, “Tell him he can come in at 170.” Thus, one of the most intriguing factors for McGregor vs Diaz is the aspect of weight, as McGregor’s last fight was contested at the featherweight limit of 145; he is moving up two weight classes to face Diaz who is a naturally bigger man.
Some have questioned the UFC’s decision to make Nate Diaz the replacement for Dos Anjos and many fans thought Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone should have been given the fight instead. There certainly isn’t any love lost between ‘Cowboy’ and ‘Mystic Mac’ and I for one would definitely love to see that fight. However, we also know that the beef between Conor and Nate is just as heavy. So let’s take a detailed look at this heated match-up.
Whether we admit it or not, this matchup is actually a good business move. Both fighters have been at each other’s throat for some time, which built some hype around a match no one saw coming. Conor and Nate have been bantering and calling each other out on Twitter since Conor first made noise about moving up to lightweight. And let’s not forget that Diaz called out McGregor immediately following his win over Michael Johnson in December, arguing that himself vs Conor was the “real money fight.” Last week’s press conference did not disappoint with plenty of trash-talk, cursing, steroid accusations and red panty remarks. Expect more of the same come the weigh-in and Saturday night. Bottom line: no matter the outcome, we’re expecting some top-shelf entertainment.
1. Stand-Up The Diaz peppering style and the ‘Stockton Slap’ have proven effective against the likes of Michael Johnson, Gray Maynard and even Donald Cerrone, whereas McGregor times his strikes more carefully and appears to have the edge in power. “Mystic Mac” will increase the volume of his strikes only when he smells blood. Thus, this is a clash between a “punches-in-bunches” guy vs a striking opportunist. Will Nate Diaz be able to overwhelm Conor McGregor with volume? Or will The Notorious One’s timely blows and dangerous left hand, aka “The Celtic Cross,” find its mark and do some serious damage?
Who has the edge? In my opinion, while Diaz may have the size and reach advantage, he can be flat-footed against fighters with good footwork. Check out the Benson Henderson match to see what I mean. Whether you think “movement coaching” is a thing or not, Conor really does move extremely well. He has fluid footwork, which sets up both his strikes and his ground game extremely well. He is also more versatile, much quicker, has more weapons, and hits harder. Edge: McGregor
2. Ground Game We have yet to see Conor McGregor show if he’s evolved his ground game, as he tends to finish his opponents early and it is worth noting that Conor’s only two losses have been by submission. Moreover, Conor’s win over Chad Mendes did in fact show how vulnerable he can be when on his back. Thus, Conor’s ground-game strategy is focused on him getting back up to fight where he fights best – on his feet.
By contrast, Nate Diaz, has an incredible ground-game. He’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu under his trainer Cesar Gracie, and eleven of his 18 wins have come by submission. This is a no-brainer; Nate has a clear advantage if the fight goes to the ground. Edge: Diaz
3. Conditioning This is an interesting aspect of the match-up as both fighters have a unique style of conditioning. Conor uses a holistic approach to training, combining strength and conditioning with explosiveness while incorporating fluidity in his movement coaching sessions. However, we’ve never really seen Conor tested in deep waters, again due to the fact he knocks out his opponents early. He’s never been past the third round. And the fact he is fighting two weight divisions higher than he’s used to makes it difficult to predict where he will be at physically. I must say, he looked massive at last week’s press conference.
Nate Diaz, unlike most fighters, trains in marathons and triathlons, conditioning his endurance and cardio. He, much like his brother Nick, can maintain a steady constant pace over several rounds without slowing down. But I see Conor having a clear edge here for one reason: he won’t have to cut weight, while Diaz will. Edge: McGregor
4. ResiliencyWe know how tough Nate is. Out of all his losses, he’s only been stopped twice. Diaz also has much more experience than Conor, having engaged in a number of real wars. Meanwhile, Conor hasn’t really been tested when it comes to resiliency or his chin, at least not in the UFC. Chad Mendes did land a few good shots against Conor but we haven’t seen him fight against someone so effective in volume punching so it will be interesting to see if Conor’s chin gets truly tested this time around. Edge: Diaz
Judging from their styles, unless Nate Diaz manages to dictate the exchanges and land a high volume of strikes, I see Conor being too quick and taking advantage of Nate’s flat footwork. Conor has better lateral and angular movement as well as a talent for making his opponents fight his fight. Even if Nate Diaz has a gameplan to get Conor on the ground where the veteran should have the advantage, I see him falling into Conor’s traps. Ultimately, this match will be about who is able to impose his will and make the other man fight his fight. I just do not see Diaz winning that battle.
The main reason I like McGregor vs Diaz is that it allows us to see how Conor competes against someone in a heavier division before getting his title shot at 155 lbs. As much as I was looking forward to the original fight between Conor and lightweight champino Dos Anjos, I can’t help but feel the decision to give Conor that title shot was premature. Come Saturday night, we get to see if Conor can continue to back up all his brash talk against a capable, experienced and naturally bigger opponent. And even though I think “Mystic Mac” has the edge, Nate Diaz remains a truly dangerous adversary. — Wes Derequito