It was by all accounts a classic.
In a clear contender for “Fight of the Year,” Conor McGregor walked away from his UFC 202 rematch against Nate Diaz with a majority decision on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The SBG Ireland superstar was rewarded for his efforts by judges Jeff Mullen and Derek Cleary, both of whom struck 48-47 scorecards in his favor; Glenn Trowbridge ruled it a 47-47 draw.
It was also closely contested from a statistical standpoint. According to FightMetric data, Diaz connected with two more significant strikes, 166-164, than McGregor across five rounds of intense battle. However, the Irishman landed at a higher rate, 57 percent to 48 percent, and recorded the only three knockdowns of the fight, two of them in the decisive second round. As was evident to most observers, McGregor invested heavily in leg kicks: He found the mark with 40 of them, 27 in the first two rounds alone. Diaz made his most significant advances in rounds three and five, his sublime work in the middle stanza briefly but dramatically turning the tide in his favor.
While debate over the decision figures to continue for weeks, days and maybe months, McGregor nevertheless drew even with Diaz in their head-to-head rivalry, as he avenged his March 5 submission loss at UFC 196. Perhaps this was “The Empire Strikes Back” in their eventual trilogy.
In wake of UFC 202 “Diaz vs. McGregor 2,” here are five matches that ought to be considered:
Related » By the Numbers: UFC 202
Conor McGregor vs. Jose Aldo: McGregor can bask in the glory of another career-defining victory for a time, but he has tough decisions to make moving forward. The featherweight crown, undefended since he knocked out Aldo in 13 seconds on Dec. 12, cannot remain idle on his waist in perpetuity. McGregor now must choose to give the Brazilian his rematch or vacate the title and set up shop at 155 pounds, likely his ideal weight. Aldo last appeared at UFC 200 on July 9, as he cruised to a five-round decision over Frankie Edgar and claimed the interim featherweight championship. The Nova Uniao export has won 19 of his last 20 fights, his KO loss to McGregor the lone blemish.
Anthony Johnson vs. Daniel Cormier: Bad things happen to people when Johnson hits them. The 32-year-old Dublin, Georgia, native needed only 13 seconds to dispose of Glover Teixeira in the co-main event, a ringing right uppercut knocking the Brazilian unconscious before the first drop of sweat had fallen. Johnson has gone on a tear since submitting to a rear-naked choke from Cormier at UFC 187 a little more than a year ago, knocking out Teixeira, Ryan Bader and Jimi Manuwa in 7:07 combined. Cormier -- the undisputed light heavyweight champion in Jon Jones’ stead -- last competed in a non-title affair at UFC 200 in July, when he took a unanimous decision from Anderson Silva.
Donald Cerrone vs. Lorenz Larkin: Cerrone and Larkin were sensational in separate bouts at UFC 202. “Cowboy” shined yet again at 170 pounds, as he battered Rick Story before stopping him with a head kick and follow-up punches 2:02 into the second round. Cerrone, 33, has looked unstoppable since he threw out his anchor in the welterweight division, delivering consecutive finishes against Story, Patrick Cote and Alex Oliveira. Larkin, meanwhile, wrecked Neil Magny on the undercard, ultimately dismissing “The Ultimate Fighter 16” semifinalist with clinch elbows to the side of the head late in the first round. The Millennia MMA rep has won four of his five fights since downshifting to 170 pounds.
Cody Garbrandt vs. Bryan Caraway: At just 25 years of age, Garbrandt has skyrocketed to prominence in the bantamweight division. The Team Alpha Male prospect turned contender moved to 10-0 with a 48-second technical knockout against World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Takeya Mizugak. Garbrandt has won all five of his fights since arriving in the UFC in January 2015, his degree of difficulty increasing with each appearance. That trend figures to continue, with eyes on a battle against bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in the not-too-distant future. Caraway last competed at a UFC Fight Night event in May, when he left the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas with a split decision over Aljamain Sterling.
Raquel Pennington vs. Sara McMann: Pennington has quietly compiled a 5-2 record under the UFC banner, her only losses resulting in split decisions against Holly Holm and Jessica Andrade. The 27-year-old has made herself impossible to ignore at 135 pounds. Pennington continued her climb on the bantamweight ladder with a unanimous decision over Sikjitsu’s Elizabeth Phillips, as she leaned on timely takedowns, positional advancements and attritive ground-and-pound. McMann was a silver medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. She has gone 3-3 in the UFC, though all three of her defeats have come against current or former champions: Amanda Nunes, Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey.