Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor at UFC 196 at Welterweight

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By now, most of you have probably heard that Rafael dos Anjos has pulled out of his title fight against “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, who aims to make history by becoming a two-division champion in both the featherweight and lightweight divisions in the UFC.

Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor at UFC 196 at Welterweight

The UFC reached out to both Frankie Edgar (who is coming off a spectacular KO victory over former two-time title challenger Chad Mendes) and Jose Aldo, who McGregor defeated to earn the featherweight belt back in December. Unfortunately, neither man was able to take the fight, with Frankie Edgar citing a torn groin and Jose Aldo not being in fighting shape. It would have been far-fetched to assume Aldo could come back so soon, especially against the man who knocked him dead in 13 seconds last year at UFC 194. Many pundits believe Aldo should take between six and twelve months off to heal both his mind and his body. A knockout loss like the one Aldo suffered requires a substantial recovery period, and an early return could be the death knell of one of the greatest fighters of all time. Fortunately, Dana White and the UFC matchmakers were successful in finding a replacement for the injured Rafael dos Anjos.

Eventually, after many negotiations between both camps, Nate Diaz and his manager Mike Kogan accepted the fight. Diaz, who is coming off a dominant victory over top-10 lightweight Michael “The Menace” Johnson in December 2015, came into the Johnson fight in phenomenal shape and handed the former TUF 14 runner-up a thorough beating, thanks to his pinpoint boxing skills and his renowned conditioning and cardio. Diaz has been itching to fight McGregor for quite some time, going after McGregor in his post-fight interview at UFC on Fox 17 saying (amongst a plethora of profanities) “you’re taking everything I’ve worked for motherf***er, I’ma fight YOUR f***ing a**.”

Nate Diaz is a fighter who, when he’s on point, is capable of beating anyone in the world up at both lightweight and welterweight. The problem for Diaz has been his apparent lack of consistency: he’s alternated wins and losses dating back to April 2013, where he suffered a TKO loss to Josh Thomson, courtesy of a well-timed head kick and follow-up ground-and-pound.

He rebounded in November of 2013 with a one-sided thrashing of Gray Maynard (who has declined considerably since his KO loss to Frankie Edgar in a rematch at UFC 136), scoring a devastating knockout win that left Maynard out on his feet. Next he fought the aforementioned dos Anjos, but was outclassed in both striking and grappling.

Of course, there’s no shame in losing to Rafael dos Anjos, a man who has improved perhaps more than anyone in the short two-year span that saw him rise the ranks of the lightweight division. We’re talking about a man who TKO’d Jason High, KO’d the former champion Benson Henderson, dominated both Diaz himself AND Anthony Pettis, then went on to TKO Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in just over a minute in his last fight. That’s a murderers row on the resumé of dos Anjos, who pundits have agreed would be McGregor’s toughest matchup to date.

In a strange way, this fight was the best possible outcome for everyone: Nate Diaz gets the big-money fight he’s been campaigning for, dos Anjos can heal up and return to action as his best self, McGregor has another chance to prove doubters wrong, and the UFC cashes in on a potentially blockbuster fight that would not have made sense had McGregor fought RDA at his first fight at lightweight.

Now, the stage is set for McGregor and Diaz to throw down in an absolute barnburner, giving fans what they want to see most and pitting two of the best strikers in the UFC against one another.

Fighters, pundits, and fans have long speculated about the “best” style of striking to fight the Diaz brothers. When Nick Diaz fought Carlos Condit for the interim welterweight title at UFC 143, we saw Condit employ a disciplined game-plan of “stick and move,” which allowed Condit to land scores of leg kicks and counter attacks that essentially nullified Diaz’s relentless forward pressure and trash talking. The problem with that strategy is that fans booed the fight and took to social media afterwards to blast both Condit and Greg Jackson for churning out “boring” decisions.

Now, we have a guy like Conor McGregor, who we rarely see moving backward, facing a guy like Nate Diaz and his patented style of pressure-fighting. Both men will likely keep the fight standing, and although Diaz stands several inches taller than his Irish foe, they will be equally matched in terms of boxing reach. They will indubitably meet in the middle of the octagon and exchange lightning-fast, accurate strikes with neither man backing down.

This fight is magnificent for so many reasons I can hardly enumerate, and it serves as a launchpad towards a title shot for either man, should he emerge victorious. A win over McGregor would set Diaz up nicely for a rematch with dos Anjos (this time for the lightweight title), and conversely, a win for McGregor would further cement his ability to move up a weight class and dominate top-tier competition before going on to face the incumbent champion. Not to mention, each fighter has a flashy, striking style with a penchant for the knockout, so everyone wins.

All we can do now is hope nobody else gets injured!

 

(Stay tuned for a technical breakdown and fight prediction, coming soon)

 

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