Why is Conor McGregor set to face Nate Diaz at UFC 200?
Three weeks removed from UFC 196 in Las Vegas, the event that played host to charismatic Dubliner Conor McGregor’s first loss as a member of the UFC roster, and the dust has well and truly settled. It was an anti-climatic ending to what many believed would be a routine victory for ‘The Notorious One.’
Though the step-up in two weight classes was downplayed by McGregor, the twenty-five pounds climb to welterweight from featherweight was telling as the fight played out. McGregor was successful in landing his signature left hand (which infamously brought Jose Aldo’s ten-year unbeaten run to a close last December) several times on Nate Diaz. McGregor was the indisputable victor of the first round, and commentator Joe Rogan who sat cageside believed that the end was inevitable for Diaz. However, as McGregor continued to land, Diaz grew into the fight. This was unprecedented for a McGregor opponent in the UFC. Holloway, Brandao, Siver, Poirier, Mendes and Aldo had all fallen to McGregor’s supreme striking. McGregor developed a reputation for his ability to withstand blows himself, notably at UFC 189 where he defeated Chad Mendes - but this was not the case against Nate Diaz. When Diaz landed, McGregor was shaken. He was plunged into an unfamiliar situation for the first time in his MMA career. He had landed his best shot - multiple times - but his opponent absorbed the strikes and continued to move forward. Furthermore, McGregor’s ’strong chin’ had seemingly disappeared. At the first sign of Diaz landing significant strikes, McGregor looked incredibly vulnerable. It was Diaz’s shots that forced McGregor to attempt a desperate takedown on the Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt, which Diaz comfortably countered to lock in a rear-naked choke and submit McGregor, likely derailing McGregor’s plan to challenge original opponent, Rafael Dos Anjos, for the lightweight crown. McGregor said after the fight that he was ‘devastated,’ diligently stating that Diaz was the better man on the night, and more efficient with his energy. While journalists and analysts of mixed martial arts dissected the fight, the primary reason for McGregor’s loss was simple: weight. His power simply did not produce the same results against a larger athlete, and similarly, the power of a larger athlete was overwhelmingly more damaging to McGregor.
With just over three and a half months until the highly-anticipated UFC 200 event, it must lead us to ask the question: why is Conor McGregor set to face Nate Diaz in a welterweight bout for the second time? Although not officially announced by the UFC at the time of writing, the news was broken last week by respected MMA journalist Ariel Helwani that the fight had been agreed by both the promotion and the fighters, with the official announcement an imminent formality. There are two simple, one-word answers as to why this fight will take place again. For the UFC and Nate Diaz? Money. The UFC have not released final figures for the UFC 196 event, but all signs point to this being their highest-grossing event in the promotion’s history. Nate Diaz earned more for his fight versus McGregor than he did in his previous twenty-eight professional bouts combined. But what is the motivation behind this rematch for Conor McGregor? He is guaranteed seven-figure paydays regardless of his opponent, such is the box office draw that he has established himself as. The simple answer? Pride.
The loss to Nate Diaz that now blights the formerly-immaculate UFC record of Conor McGregor simply does not sit well with the Crumlin-native and he wishes to avenge the loss. McGregor is widely-regarded as the most powerful fighter on the UFC roster when it comes to matchmaking and it appears that he will get his wish to avenge the defeat to Diaz, under the same circumstances. While it is admirable that McGregor is keen to compete against the man that just handed him his first UFC loss and his first in the sport for over five years, one must feel that it is a monumental gamble. We must not forget that prior to McGregor’s fight against Diaz, he had never competed at welterweight. He was, however, a champion at featherweight and lightweight, and the reigning UFC featherweight champion. McGregor has soared to heights that were previously unseen in mixed martial arts. His apparent ability to precisely predict the outcomes of his fights fascinated spectators of the sport. While many fans felt that McGregor had nothing to lose by facing Diaz the first time, this was not the case. Diaz, who currently competes in the lightweight division, will likely overtake McGregor in the queue to face Dos Anjos for the lightweight title. However, facing Diaz for a second time places McGregor in a precarious position. Should he lose a second consecutive fight, to the same opponent, McGregor’s stock will surely decrease. Of course he will still be a phenomenal athlete and fighter, but much of the mystique that he has created around himself will evaporate.
In the wake of McGregor’s defeat to Diaz, Jose Aldo initiated a social media campaign for a rematch against McGregor, designed to attract the attention of McGregor himself and UFC President Dana White. Frankie Edgar, widely regarded as the clear number one contender of the featherweight division and usually reserved, has also become vocal about his frustration at the UFC’s continued decision to overlook him. Both Aldo and Edgar represent big-money fights that will garner the public’s attention, and also provide McGregor with the opportunity to return to his more-familiar competition weight of 145 pounds. MMA fans will retain their interest in seeing McGregor making the step up to 155 pounds as he has held titles at lightweight for other promotions in the past. This means that a fight against Rafael Dos Anjos (or whoever the champion at the weight is at the time) remains available to the UFC and an opportunity to compete at a familiar competition weight for McGregor. It is difficult to argue that re-matching Nate Diaz at 170 pounds is the best career-move for ‘The Notorious One’ but his competitive drive and sense of pride has driven him to seek this rematch. Either way, both devoted and casual fans of MMA will tune-in in their millions to discover the fate of the most captivating and polarising figure in the history of this sport.