The next chapter of the McGregor era will be written this Saturday night, live once again from the MGM Grand Garden arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Conor McGregor will now face UFC veteran and fan favourite Nate Diaz, at welterweight. The eyes of the combat sports world are firmly set on UFC 196.
Nate Diaz has competed in the UFC since 2007, he is 18-10 overall in MMA. He’s gone 2-3 in his last five fights and is currently ranked number 5 in the Lightweight division after an impressive win against Michael Johnson in December. Nate possesses high level technical boxing and an advanced, often underutilised jiu-jitsu game. He prefers judo takedowns from the clinch over the traditional wrestling approach but is usually content with a back and forth stand up war. Diaz is tough, durable and always comes to fight, however that toughness could be his undoing against McGregor.
Nate isn’t going to revolutionise the MMA striking game, he stands tall, walks his opposition down and uses technically perfect boxing fundamentals to wear his opponents out. Standing southpaw, he repeatedly throws a jab/straight-left combination from range that has deceiving power, he isn’t looking to knock you out, but they all count, and they all add up. He like to push opponents up against the cage and rip the body, here is where Diaz unleashes his full arsenal of combinations and looks to finish the fight. If he gets into a clinch, judo hip throws are his go to takedowns, when he hits the mat, his real abilities become apparent. Diaz has excellent positioning on the ground, fast arm bar transitions and a deadly triangle from the bottom. The ground is his domain, and may be his best bet to break McGregor’s lustre.
Conor McGregor has decimated the Featherweight division with six knockouts in seven fights. His wide southpaw stance, coupled with unorthodox attacks from all angles and unmatched speed and precision have bested the top talent at 145, and then there’s his Thor’s hammer of a left hand. McGregor’s fight IQ is also off the charts, he commands the octagon, his battlefield. Fighting at 170 pounds will only increase McGregor’s power, but standing six feet tall, Diaz presents a different type of target for the featherweight king. Nate’s boxing can trouble anyone, and he knows how to utilise his reach advantage, he’ll look to land from the outside keeping McGregor at range. We haven’t seen Conor face this kind of challenger yet in the UFC, but his speed advantage could nullify Nate’s length. Given that Diaz doesn’t possess traditional one punch KO power, he would have to survive all five rounds to win a fight contested on the feet. If this one doesn’t go to the ground early and often, McGregor should disappoint the 209 with another KO.
Jose Aldo’s game plan against McGregor was to look for takedowns, he just never had the chance. It’s safe to say that Dos Anjos might have employed a similar strategy. Chad Mendes showed that McGregor can be bullied on the ground, perhaps it was due in part to McGregor’s injured knee but for now, that remains an unknown. Diaz wont shoot in from across the cage, he will have to close the distance to McGregor in order to attempt a takedown, and that’s playing a dangerous game. If he can take this bout to the ground, we’ll finally see what McGregor’s jiu-jitsu is made of, his submission defence will probably surprise a lot of people. Just because we haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
However this is where Nate’s attitude could become his undoing. He might be happy to trade insults and hands on the feet, all the way to being knocked out cold. He has an old school fighters mindset and will undoubtedly believe in his chances in the stand up game. I don’t expect we’ll see many, if any, takedown attempts from either man.
That leaves us with a tantalising proposition, a stand up war of words and limbs. Nate Diaz can tough it out on the feet, use his range intelligently and take this one to the later rounds. One more aspect to consider however is that Diaz took this fight on less than two weeks notice, McGregor gains another edge here having had a full camp. The first exchange will tell us a lot about how this fight will go, can McGregor get inside? Can Diaz land from range and will he look for an early takedown? But it all comes back to that almightily left hand. Conor is in him prime, he’s healthier than ever and he looks like a dangerous match up for anyone near his weight right now. Look for McGregor to immediately take the centre of the cage after a heated pre-flight stare-down. A trademark straight left or his stiff uppercut will likely find a home early, and signal the arrival of The Notorious at 170 pounds.
Conor McGregor is making history every time he steps inside the famed octagon. A win at welterweight will be one more record for the Irishman. It could also set up a title fight with Robbie Lawler at UFC 200. Or perhaps the Stockton native Diaz will rise to his potential, shock the world and flip the double birds all the way to the bank. It’s a glorious time to be a fan of MMA, we’re set for fireworks come Saturday night.
Prediction: Conor McGregor by KO in round 1
Main card picks:
Holly Holm VS Miesha Tate: Holm.
Gian Villante VS. Ilir Latifi: Latifi.
Corey Anderson VS. Tom Lawlor: Lawlor.
Amanda Nunes VS. Valentina Shevchenko: Nunes.
Brandon Thatch VS. Siyar Bahadurzada: Bahadurzada.
Erick Silva VS. Nordine Taleb: Silva.
Vitor Miranda VS. Marcelo Guimaraes: Miranda.
Darren Elkins VS. Chas Skelly: Elkins.
Fightpass prelim picks:
Diego Sanchez VS. Jim Miller: Sanchez.
Justin Salas VS. Jason Saggo: Salas.
Julian Erosa VS. Teruto Ishihara: Erosa.
UFC 196 takes place Saturday the 5th of March, live from Las Vegas on BT sport 2 in Ireland and the UK. The early prelims begin at 23:30 on UFC Fightpass. The televised prelims start at 1am, the main card at 3am and McGregor VS Diaz is expected to take place between 5 and 6 am.
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