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"I'm not surprised, mother fuckers!"
If Nate Diaz wasn't surprised with his second round submission win over Conor McGregor at UFC 196, then he was one of the only people.
But why was the world so shocked that Diaz; the bigger, heavier, more experienced, high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt submitted someone who is, essentially, just a standup fighter?
Perhaps it was because Diaz took the fight on ten day's notice, replacing then UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos. Perhaps it was because previous to the fight, Diaz had only won two of his last five outings in the octagon, including experiencing his first ever career knockout loss to Josh Thomson, a fighter who eventually got cut from the UFC after Diaz was the only opponent he could beat in his four fights with the promotion. Perhaps it was because McGregor had not only defeated every one of his UFC opponents candidly but he'd even gone as far as predicting what minute of the fight he was going to finish them in. MMA-Maths doesn't work, but if it did; it was all pointing towards a bad night for Nathan Donald Diaz in Las Vegas on March 5th... and for the first seven minutes of the fight, it was bad.
UFC Commentator and analysts Jon Anik must have been breathing easy as he watched McGregor tagging and bloodying Diaz in those first few exchanges. Anik had been so sure of a McGregor victory, that he'd promised on social media that if Diaz somehow, miraculously won, he would get '209' - the area code of Diaz's hometown of Stockton, California - tattooed on him... Hahahahahaha! Google it. It's great.
The thing is; the fight shouldn't have even come about. McGregor shouldn't have been given the UFC Lightweight title shot - of which Champion dos Anjos pulled out of due to injury - in the first place. I mean, McGregor hadn't even defended his Featherweight belt before announcing that he'd take dos Anjos' Lightweight title and eventually Robbie Lawler's Welterweight strap. More dominant champions - with actual title defences - haven't been granted the opportunity to become the first ever dual-weight champion in UFC history, but McGregor simply told UFC brass that that was what he was going to do, and they agreed. Both McGregor and the UFC are all about the money. I mean; why else would the promotion sign former Professional Wrestler CM Punk, when he's had as many MMA fights as I have.
The argument for all of this is that 'It's a business'. It is all about making money, which is why McGregor and the UFC are the perfect marriage. He's a massive draw; he talks like Chael Sonnen, fights like Bruce Lee and dresses like Biggie Smalls in his Junior M.A.F.I.A phase, circa '95, and as a result, he's made a lot of dosh. He likes to remind the world just how much money he has through all the photographs he takes of himself in, on and around fancy cars, whilst wearing expensive suits. I wonder if, when he was tapping-out to Diaz on that fateful night in March, he was wishing he'd taken a few less selfies of himself wearing sunglasses and spent a few more hours learning how not to get rear-naked-choked in a fight. To quote UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes "Who gets rear-naked-choked in a fight?". Conor McGregor, the guy in the expensive suits, that's who.
Following the loss, McGregor informed everyone that he was humble. That's incredibly good of him. Although I'd argue that telling everyone you're humble and actually being humble are two very different things. But no, let's give him the benefit of the doubt; maybe now that he's been beaten he'll talk less trash, maybe he'll be less conceited, maybe - just maybe - he'll stop taking photographs of himself with piles of cash... oh.
So, here comes the rematch. Firstly, should there even be a rematch? No. McGregor tried to go up in weight and failed, now the proper thing to happen should be that he defend his belt for the first time, not have the two top Featherweight contenders fight for an interim-belt while the champion is tied up rematching a guy two weight classes above his own. It's madness and wouldn't happen in any other circumstances to any other fighter. But this isn't just any other fighter, this is "The Notorious" Conor McGregor. What McGregor wants, McGregor gets, and the Diaz rematch suits him - and the UFC - down to the ground. If McGregor wins, he can wipe the slate clean. He'll say that this time he was prepared, this is the fight that counts and once again he's the greatest fighter in the world for moving up two weight classes and beating a much bigger, rangier, more experienced foe. He'll then no doubt go back down to Featherweight and run through a few contenders again, before getting the title shots that he originally wanted, with the added achievement of beating Diaz at Welterweight to boost his contendership claim to both belts.
But what if Diaz wins again? McGregor really would be knocked down several pegs... for good. Especially if he was submitted again, or - even worse for him - knocked out! From a betting point of view, Diaz is the underdog, which could be construed as crazy when you think that he won the first fight on ten day's notice and this time he'll have a full training camp. But, at the same time, McGregor is also training specifically for Diaz. He now knows he's fighting a lanky southpaw with world class BJJ and is preparing accordingly. It's McGregor's ability to focus on, and train specifically for, Diaz that make him the bookies favourite.
Who do I think will win? I was going to start this paragraph with 'I don't have anything against Conor McGregor...', but decided that statement wasn't technically true. I was happier than a necrophiliac in a morgue when Diaz won the first fight, and it was because McGregor was taught a lesson after all his cockiness and showing off. I bloody love stuff like that. I will sit for hours and watch videos of bullies getting beaten up by nerds on YouTube; it's one of my favourite things. Maybe that makes me a nerd? Well if it does; don't try to bully me, because you'll probably realise you've messed with the wrong damn guy and get your comeuppance. Or maybe not. Either way, watching McGregor tap the canvas and admit that he was no longer willing to fight Nate Diaz, after all his talk, all his bravado; was a beautiful, glorious thing. Granted, McGregor isn't really a bully and Diaz certainly isn't a nerd, but the end of the fight definitely felt like one of those moments.
I don't think I've ever wanted a fighter to win more than I want Diaz to prevail at UFC 202. I felt a similar way, but to a slightly lesser degree, when Anderson Silva rematched Chael Sonnen at UFC 148. Again, it was a similar scenario; in the first bout Silva had pulled off a miraculous, come-from-behind win, but it hadn't shut Sonnen's mouth (please note, both the phrases "pulled off" and "come-from-behind" were used without any kind of homoerotic euphemism following them. Who's the nerd now?... Still me). Sonnen kept repeatedly referring to himself as 'undefeated', before the rematch with Silva, even though at that time he had an MMA record boasting eleven losses, eight of which by way of submission. Anderson Silva knocked Sonnen out in the rematch and I felt complete. Justice had been served. Silva had shut up the doubters and - more importantly - Chael Sonnen. Unfortunately, I don't think the Diaz/McGregor saga will have a similar happy ending.
On paper, Diaz really should win. As I've said; he submitted McGregor on ten day's notice, he should destroy him after a full training camp, right? Left. I really don't see it happening. McGregor will be equally, if not more prepared than Diaz. He'll be obsessing about the loss. Both men have admitted to fighting predominantly for the money, but the difference between them is that Diaz doesn't have the focus, drive and hunger to be the greatest fighter of all time like McGregor does. I can see Diaz in the post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, covered in blood having suffered a second round knockout loss, feigning indifference and saying that he doesn't care that he lost as he's become a millionaire off the back of his rivalry with McGregor, before suggesting that they make some more money by having the rubber-match at Madison Square Garden in November at UFC 205.
A McGregor loss is harder to invision. If it happened, he too could say that he took the fight for the money and boast that he's made more than any other fighter and sold more PPV units than anyone else (in an incredibly humble way, of course), as well as claiming that he's the real hero for insisting on fighting a much bigger guy at a weightclass two above his own. As much as I'd love to see this, if someone held a gun to my testicles right now and asked me to pick the outcome of the fight, I'd say that McGregor finishes Diaz with strikes in the first couple of rounds. The Notorious One bashed the Stockton native up pretty bad in the first few minutes of the initial fight, and that was without spending months perfecting the techniques needed to fight a rangy southpaw. McGregor will put hands on Diaz and force the referee to stop the fight. He's been training BJJ extensively and he'll be a lot more prepared if the fight goes to the ground, but he will have learnt not to try and initiate it like he did in the first fight.
I am afraid to say that McGregor will win the fight at the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas on August 20th, and a win for McGregor is a win for the UFC. The cash cow is back - not that he ever went away - and on August 21st, when we're all looking at the latest Conor McGregor nice-car/bad-suit selfies, it'll be as if the first fight with Nate Diaz simply never happened.
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