Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight titleholder Conor McGregor will have to wait for his shot at history.
Originally booked in a champion-versus-champion super fight opposite lightweight boss Rafael dos Anjos, McGregor will instead settle for a battle with Nate Diaz in the UFC 196 main event on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The non-title match will be contested at 170 pounds, the result of dos Anjos withdrawing due to a foot injury.
In the co-headliner, undefeated UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm puts her title on the line against Miesha Tate in her first appearance since upsetting Ronda Rousey in November. The rest of the main card features a pair of light heavyweight scraps, Gian Villante-Ilir Latifi and Corey Anderson-Tom Lawlor, along with a showdown between fast-rising women’s bantamweight contenders, as Amanda Nunes meets Valentina Shevchenko.
Let us take a closer look at each matchup at UFC 196 “McGregor vs. Diaz,” with analysis and picks:
WellterweightsConor McGregor (19-2) vs Nate Diaz (18-10)
THE MATCHUP: No one is happy about the loss of dos Anjos, but we have to commend the folks at Zuffa for putting together this replacement. Though not perhaps as challenging a stylistic matchup as dos Anjos would have been, Diaz is one of the few men in all of MMA who can match McGregor in terms of personality; and if nothing else, McGregor himself is proof of the power of personality in this sport.
That is not to say that Diaz is completely lost in the physical contest. He will, in fact, be the first man McGregor has faced since his UFC debut with height and reach advantages over the Irishman. Diaz knows how to use those advantages, as well. Far from the swarming style of his older brother, his approach is that of the technical, defensively minded out-fighter. From his southpaw stance, Diaz fights behind a snapping jab and a ramrod straight left. He moves his upper body well and gives his opponents openings, only to pull back and leave them lunging at air, often smacking them with a right hook as they fall forward.
Diaz also has significant experience facing other southpaws, having bested fellow lefties Michael Johnson, Jim Miller and Takanori Gomi. The two exceptions are dos Anjos and Benson Henderson, both lightweight champions and both of whom relied on thudding kicks and wrestling. McGregor is more likely to box with Diaz at his preferred range.
Then again, McGregor is a striker unlike any Diaz has faced. For one, he is immensely powerful, owning a knockout rate of 81 percent in his career and 86 percent in the UFC. McGregor applies this power with expert timing, lancing his opponents with straight left hands that seem to come out of nowhere. Most of McGregor’s UFC run has been characterized by ferocious pressure, but the counterpunching that used to be his calling card is still a factor, as McGregor demonstrated with his 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo at UFC 194.
McGregor will kick with Diaz, but he does not kick like Henderson and dos Anjos. Instead of blasting away with Thai-style round kicks to body and legs, McGregor prefers a flashier approach. His spinning kicks are dangerous enough to force most opponents onto the back foot, and his lightning quick left high kick pairs beautifully with his straight left. Despite the crushing power in his hands, McGregor is more sniper than bruiser at range.
Most will assume that Diaz’s greatest advantage lies on the ground, but his chances of taking down McGregor are not good. McGregor has shown solid takedown defense in most of his UFC bouts. The fight with Chad Mendes at UFC 189 was a clear exception, but there are several caveats. For one, McGregor’s usual movement was hampered by an ACL injury, limiting both his takedown defense and ground game. In addition, Diaz’s wrestling hardly compares to that of Mendes. The Stockton, California, scrapper’s takedown game is entirely reliant on the clinch, where McGregor is unlikely to wind up. In the end, McGregor is not likely to find himself in Diaz’s guard unless he scores a knockdown; and his top game is quite solid.
THE ODDS: McGregor (-465), Diaz (+370)
THE PICK: We are almost certainly in for a competitive striking match, unless McGregor chooses to blitz Diaz early. That would prove a risky endeavor, as nothing would enhance Diaz’s notoriously ineffective punches so much as running right into them. What we end up with then is a tactical battle between McGregor’s footwork and speed and Diaz’s crafty manipulation of distance. Though I doubt he finds it easy, McGregor’s timing will eventually allow him to bypass Diaz’s long jab and plant a straight left -- or a left kick -- on his chin. “The Notorious” one notches another knockout win in the third round.
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