UFC featherweight champion and enigmatic Dubliner, Conor McGregor, had to jettison any hopes of clinching another belt on March 5 at UFC 196, where he aimed to move up a weight-class and fight the now injured lightweight champion, Rafael Dos Anjos.
In his place steps Nate Diaz, one of the most popular fighters on the UFC roster known for tidy boxing, slick jiujitsu and a brash attitude not entirely dissimilar to the Notorious one.
Dos Anjos was forced to pull out due to a broken bone in his foot, although McGregor, never one to bite his tongue, contends that it’s merely a bruise and that ‘ice works wonders’.
Brushing aside the disappointment of having to wait to add to his collection of gold, the Irishman has once again displayed an undeniable eagerness to step back into the cage, agreeing to meet Diaz at 170-pounds, effectively leapfrogging the 155-pound lightweight division altogether.
McGREGOR v DIAZ
MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas
The main event – McGregor v Diaz – is expected around 5am GMT
Where can I watch it?
BT Sport are broadcasting the fight in the UK
Irish bookmakers Paddy Power make McGregor 2/9 favourite, with Diaz a 3/1 underdog
McGregor has always stressed that he likes to keep active and he is as keen as ever to keep the ball rolling in what is a fairly rapid turnaround after his last fight, a 13 second scorching of long time featherweight champion Jose Aldo back in December.
Despite desperately calling for a chance to avenge the loss, that without doubt marks the lowest point in the Brazilian’s otherwise stellar career, Aldo refused to step in at short notice against McGregor, his trainer reporting that he isn’t fit – an excuse that holds no weight with the Irishman. ‘They’re all running’ he said, and he’s right.
One thing has never been in doubt, however, is that come Saturday night the Irishman will once again make that walk to the octagon with The Foggy Dew echoing loudly throughout the MGM Grand Garden arena in Las Vegas.
No walk in the park
After what seemed a real struggle to tempt a top ranking fighter to step in as a last minute replacement for Dos Anjos, one man did step up to the plate. Wily UFC veteran, Nate Diaz, who in recent post-fight interviews demanded the opportunity to face off against the ‘Notorious’ one has finally had his request granted.
Fresh off a dominant striking performance over a tough opponent, Michael Johnson, in which he earned a unanimous decision victory over the wrestler, Diaz is confident he can finally put a halt to what critics have dubbed, the ‘McGregor hype train’.
Renowned as one of the most dangerous ground fighters in MMA, he is incredibly effective from positions where other fighters struggle. Over half of his career wins have come by submission, meaning that if the fight does go to ground, it would be prudent for McGregor to work to get the fight back on the feet as quickly as possible.
The more time spent on the ground, the more time Diaz has to turn it into a matchup that plays to his strengths.
McGregor has always asserted that he is more than comfortable on the ground, but nevertheless, grappling with Diaz would be effectively opening the door to an upset.
A change in opponent doesn’t equate to a change in the McGregor game-plan. A heavy favourite, he will look to close the distance, take the centre of the octagon and keep Diaz on his heels with precise punching and unorthodox movement patterns, manufacturing opportunities and imposing his will over Diaz from the opening bell.
Spinning back kicks to the solar plexus which were instrumental in his victory over Chad Mendes, could play a crucial role. A laser guided jab will be used to keep Diaz at bay but, make no mistake about it, despite all of McGregor’s strikes having a part to play in his previous victories, they all have one overarching common aim – they open up opportunities for McGregor to unleash the left hand power shots that have left a trail of destruction in the featherweight division.
Will mystic Mac strike again?
In a recent press conference, when asked about how the fight will play out, McGregor, who has never been shy and rarely been wrong when it comes to predicting outcomes, believes he will end the fight in the first round via knockout.
Diaz, in a response that shows why he is one of the most popular characters in the organization, was reluctant to predict an outcome, but did outline his strategy – ‘kill or be killed’.
On hearing this, McGregor respectfully nodded in approval, appearing to relish the thought. MMA fans may not get to see McGregor fight for another title just yet, but they will be eager to see how he manages the significant step up in weight against a hugely experienced and dangerous fighter in Nate Diaz.