UFC 196’s main event received a last-minute change on the count of Rafael dos Anjos’ broken foot, and only 11 days out from the day of the fight there was one scrappy, brash fighter out of Stockton California that the majority of the MMA community wanted to see step into fight McGregor, Nate Diaz. A contest between Diaz and McGregor has been rumored since UFC 189, when Diaz offered to step in and fight McGregor after Jose Aldo pulled out of their scheduled fight for the Featherweight championship. Diaz reignited rumblings of a McGregor vs. Diaz matchup when he called McGregor out in a profanity-laced speech after his win over Michael Johnson at UFC Orlando. Diaz was contacted by the UFC the morning that news broke of Dos Anjos’ broken foot, and the fight was officially announced that same night. Maybe the most interesting aspect of this matchup is that it will take place at 170lb. Being that McGregor and Diaz don’t have to cut much weight, they will both enter the contest better conditioned for the fight.
Stylistically, this matchup has the makings of a standup battle, with neither having great wrestling. Diaz absolutely has superior jiu-jitsu, but the issue is that he is most effective when he gets taken down and ends up on the bottom and with his opponent in his guard. From there, he hunts for submissions and has a high success rate. The issue with this is that McGregor isn’t much of an offensive wrestler, and even if Diaz gets a takedown, his top control/top pressure isn’t his strongest attribute.
Most of the fight will be held on the feet and with the southpaw vs. southpaw matchup, Diaz will gain some benefits as he has sparred numerous rounds with his larger, older brother Nick Diaz who is primarily a southpaw. Also, McGregor’s vaunted counter-left hand will be less of an issue to Diaz because with the southpaw vs. southpaw matchup, there is more distance for the left-hand to travel compared to an “open stance” matchup between a southpaw and an orthodox fighter. Another advantage for Diaz is that this will be the 1st time in McGregor’s UFC career that he has not had the size/reach advantage. This could create some problems for McGregor as he usually likes to fight on the outside and stay out of range from his opponent’s attacks. While Diaz also likes to fight on the outside, he does so using high pressure, high volume boxing, rather than McGregor’s style of using taekwondo kicks to bait his opponents to attack first, only to be countered (usually with the left straight). McGregor won’t outbox Diaz, but he will out-strike him overall. He uses kicks very well to keep the range where he wants, and he mixes up his punches with his kicks much better than Diaz does. Even though McGregor’s technique seems near-perfect at times, he has one glaring tendency that can be exploited if caught. When he throws his left straight, instead of returning his left-hand close to his face for protection, he usually brings it back toward the stomach. This would result in being susceptible to right-hand counters, which Diaz possesses in a fantastic lead right hook. While Diaz most likely can’t knock McGregor out with that one punch (due to McGregor’s iron chin and Diaz’s lack of great power), he can catch McGregor and keep McGregor on his toes. Diaz’s most glaring flaw is his lack of footwork combined with the fact that he is so one-dimensional with his striking (99% boxing, 1% kicks, knees, elbows).
One aspect of the fight that nobody seems to be talking about is who will have the mental edge. In McGregor’s last few high-profile fights, he has absolutely had the mental edge over his opponents due to his trash-talking and antics. He will not be able to get inside Diaz’s head, as Diaz has had the mental edge over all of his opponents thus far and his in-the-cage antics aren’t rivaled. His most-used antics include flashing the middle-finger at opponents, calling them b*tch, pointing at them after hitting them, and most famously, the “Stockton Slap”, where he slaps his opponent in the face to frustrate and embarrass them. McGregor hasn’t faced anybody so far that has put up a fight in the trash-talking department. The key difference between these fighters is that with Diaz, you know what you are getting into and you can have a pretty strong idea of what he is going to do coming into the fight. While with McGregor, he is unpredictable in his approach and he is extremely difficult to gameplan for.
The MGM Grand Garden Arena will be packed to the brim with wild Irish fans and there should be plenty of Diaz supporters from Stockton as well. When the cage door closes and it is just Diaz and McGregor locked inside, 16,000 plus fans cheering for their respective fighter, it will be controlled chaos.