UFC 202 is starting to feel very close. The closer we get to event the more talent stacked this card becomes. In anticipation of this event LWOS will breakdown a number of breakdowns of fights on the card. We start with a two part series on the men of the hour. The first part shall look at the styles of both men. The second part shall be an accompaniment on how those factors may play in to the rematch.
UFC 202 McGregor Vs Diaz Part 1: A Clash Of Styles
Nate Diaz rocketed out of the hardcore favorites section of the MMA community and right in to the public eye with his upset win over brash superstar and self proclaimed ‘king of the game’, Conor McGregor back in March. The fans have been split down the middle ever since over whether McGregor lost the fight due to his taking it lightly, or whether Diaz is just that much better than him.
Both sides have valid points. However, due to a couple of commonly misunderstood facts being thrown around (cue cries that he went up ‘two whole weight classes’) people seem to be missing the crux of the argument on both why McGregor lost, and how Diaz won. With the rematch looming large over our heads, what shall be telling in this fight is the degree to which Conor McGregor adapts for Nate Diaz, who time has shown changes for no man.
Conor McGregor: One Note, Or Specialist?
Conor McGregor has often fought as the taller man in his career, but more importantly he has almost always fought as the longer man. With a gangly 74″ reach on a 5 9″ frame, McGregor has length on most of the men he fights. This reach advantage is compounded at featherweight by the fact that he towers above most men in his division.
The essence of McGregor’s success in his career has been his ability to use his length and height coupled with something even more uncommon in MMA: a southpaw who knows how to be a southpaw. MMA has far more southpaws than boxing.
What is important about Southpaw/ Orthodox engagements is that because Southpaws have their right hand and right leg in front, the lead hands clash and the jab. The jab, normally the safest weapon a fighter can use, becomes a move that can be blocked easily. It can be turned away with the lead shoulder with ease. Because of this in boxing Southpaws generally eschew a jab in favor of the hand fight. They pull and slapping at their opponents lead hand to draw it out of position before firing a left straight down the path. This would be occupied by an Orthodox fighters jab, while taking his head away from his opponents right hand.
McGregor does this very well, but he also excels at landing the left straight as a counter, either by leaning away from a shot and coming over the top, or his back stepping counter that he famously used to flatten José Aldo with.
McGregor has built his entire game around landing his left straight. Literally everything else he does serves as a set up or as a means of manufacturing a situation in which McGregor can drop his money punch on an opponent. His kicks are notably lighter and faster than other kickers you typically see in MMA, but this serves to bring him back to his stance as quickly as possible in order to be in a position to counter straight away.
His spinning attacks also serve as a means of injecting a sense of urgency to close the distance in his opponents, more so than them being an attempt to actually land a meaningful blow, and this usually means his opponent will get countered on the way in by McGregor’s ready and waiting left hand.
So in McGregor you have a man who looks at a cursory glance to be fantastically diverse on the feet. However, upon closer inspection he is very much a specialist. There may not be another southpaw in MMA today who is as committed to the left straight as McGregor is. There also may not be another who is so good at using it. However, he will use it every single time he sees an opportunity to land it, to the exclusion of all other techniques that he possesses. His entire game also revolves around maintaining range, whether with his kicks or by retreating as his opponent steps in, and maintaining range only benefits you when you happen to be either the longer party or the better outfighter.
Nate Diaz: The Perfect Foil.
Speaking of long outfighters, you don’t get a much better description of Nate Diaz than that. Standing at 6 ft tall and with an intimidating 76″ reach, Diaz is one of the larger fighters in the Lightweight division. Yes, I said Lightweight, which is exactly one division above McGregor’s playground at 145 pounds. While Diaz has competed at Welterweight before, just as McGregor has competed at Lightweight, he saw mixed results, as he bested the 5 ft 10″ Rory Markham and the 5 ft 8″ Marcus Davis, before being thoroughly out-muscled by fellow 6 footers Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald.
The fact is that much like McGregor at 145, Diaz is simply an unusually large Lightweight, but one who is thoroughly out sized at Welterweight, so to call him a true Welterweight because he fought there before one must also call McGregor a Lightweight by that same logic, rendering the argument that McGregor went up two weightclasses for this fight moot.
Nate Diaz shares two very important qualities with his older brother Nick Diaz. They both have great cardio and Brazilian jujitsu credentials. Both men are black belts under Cesar Gracie and both men do triathlons for fun. A lot of people get up on ‘levels’ of fitness or athleticism in MMA. For the most part it’s all nonsense excuses for why one fighter who is perceived to be worse than another wins (read: Ronda Rousey vs Holly Holm). In the Diaz brothers’ case; it is safe to say that they are two of the best conditioned athletes in the sport. They can keep a high pace from the first round through to the fifth with ease.
Nick Diaz vs Nate Diaz Styles
While he is lumped in with his brother Nick as two of MMA’s ‘greatest boxers’, the truth is Nick and Nate fight very differently. Nick looks to get inside and work long strings of body blows together. Nate does his best work from range. What makes Nate unusual in this regard is that he is a very well trained boxer. He has good fundamentals and the ability to box on a straight line, but he too is a Southpaw. As mentioned above, Southpaw boxers tend to forgo their jabs in favor of learning to hand fight and fire their left off the bat. Diaz instead builds off his jab, looking sometimes to double or even triple up on it as he closes the distance.
This removes some of the natural advantages Diaz has as a Southpaw when fighting Orthodox fighters. It also gives him a huge advantage when fighting other Southpaws. In a Southpaw/ Southpaw engagement, the rules are the same as in a conventional Orthodox/ Orthodox engagement. The path of the jab is open and the man who has the better, more educated jab normally dictates the range. The man who leads with his rear hand is attacking with a slower more obvious attack. This punch has to pass the lead right shoulder in order to find its mark. If one man is constantly looking to fire off his rear hand, while the other jabs, the jab will land first 9 times out of 10.
It is possible that Nate uses this style in place of conventional Southpaw technique because his main sparring partner, his brother Nick, is also a Southpaw. Southpaw/ Southpaw engagements are nothing new to Mr Diaz.
Nate Diaz also has one very special and recognizable punch, a signature move. This is the infamous Stockton Slap. This is far from being simply a gimmick. The open palmed strike allows Diaz to maximize his reach in a way he never could in boxing. It is an almost straight armed hook that serves as an excellent lean away counter.
So there you have Nate Diaz. He is longer than McGregor and taller than McGregor. Diaz is world class in Brazilian Jujitsu. He has excellent conditioning and also happens to be a Southpaw boxer. His style excels against other Southpaw boxers. If you were to dream up a guy to beat McGregor (other than the boring ‘Chad Mendes with 5 rounds of cardio’ option) you couldn’t do a much better job on paper than Nathan Diaz.
That brings an end to the first half of this breakdown. The second half shall look at what this all means. It will look at where each man had success and struggled in the first fight. We examine how current circumstances inside and outside of the cage may play a factor in the fight. LWOS goes in-depth on the Diaz vs McGregor. This is quickly becoming the most anticipated rematch the world of MMA has had in a very long time.
You can check out part two here.
LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 4: Conor McGregor steps on the scale during the UFC 196 Weigh-in in the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 4, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)