Even though Nate Diaz was partying in Mexico not long before he got the call to fill in for Rafael dos Anjos against Conor McGregor at UFC 196, Jake Shields was more than confident enough to invest in his longtime training partner.
“I absolutely thought Nate was going to win. I went and bet money on him,” Shields said during a recent appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “There were things I was worried about. Like the fact that Nate was in Cabo right before the fight. Him and [Gilbert Melendez] were out in Cabo, drinking, eating, you know, having fun and partying, not training, so that was in the back of my head.
“Nate’s a cardio freak, so I was like, ‘Well hopefully that doesn’t hurt him.’ I definitely thought Nate was gonna win. I think Conor’s a great fighter, but I think he got a little overhyped.”
Fighting at 170 pounds for the first time in his career, McGregor came up short against Diaz -- and made Shields a little bit of cash in the process. After the Irishman appeared to win round one, the Stockton, Calif., native picked up the pace in the second stanza, wobbling McGregor in an exchange before ultimately sinking in a rear-naked choke at the 4:12 mark.
According to Shields, the slow start was all part of the plan.
“I think that’s why Nate kind of cruised through round one because he was a little worried about blowing himself out...so he didn’t really put any pressure on until the second. That’s why he kind of let Conor beat him up a little bit,” Shields said. “Obviously Conor landed some better shots than he wanted, but Nate’s game plan was not to do much in round one, let Conor go crazy and then come back and start beating him up in rounds two and three. We were thinking it was going to take until round three, but Conor just didn’t have the heart Nate had. Conor’s a great fighter, but he hasn’t been in the wars Nate has. Nate’s experienced; he knows how to dig deep when it’s time.”
While it ranks as the biggest triumph of Diaz’s lengthy UFC tenure, it also was somewhat personal for Shields. McGregor taunted the ex-Strikeforce champion in the days leading up to bout, first accusing Shields of using steroids at a one press conference and later telling the jiu-jitsu black belt, ”I'd strangle you in a heartbeat” at another pre-fight media event. Shields understands the need to build interest in a fight, but he feels that McGregor went a little bit overboard.
“Conor started talking crap about Nate, which I guess is understandable because you’re selling the fight, but he also started talking crap about people like me, his training partners, his boxing coach, calling him an old man,” Shields said. “And he’s mouthing off to me. He’s got to realize, I’m a 170-pounder; he’s a 145-pounder. He starts telling me he’ll strangle me. I’ll pick him up and I’ll choke him out no problem. He’s mouthing off like he thinks if he talks crap to people like us there’s no repercussions. I was glad Nate went and beat him up and got it settled.”
Shields says there is no lingering animosity toward McGregor now that UFC 196 has concluded. However, should “The Notorious” one direct his verbal barbs at Shields again somewhere down the road, it could lead to a confrontation of the unsanctioned variety.
“At this point Nate beat him, so I’m not going to go and bash him. I’ll leave it at that,” Shields said. “If Conor tries running his mouth about me again though and I see him, there’s gonna be consequences. He has to realize in the real world you can’t just talk s—t about people and expect them to not come at you. We’re fighters. It’s not like I’m a journalist where I sit there and write and talk s—t. I’m a fighter. If another fighter is talking s—t about me and we’re not in the same weight class, I’ll just fight you when I see you.”