The Conor McGregor show meets the Nate Diaz experience Saturday as the UFC featherweight champion takes on one of Stockton, Calif.’s favourite sons in a five-round non-title fight that’s an interesting clash of styles and personalities.
Here is a head-to-toe breakdown of the UFC 196 headliners:
TALE OF THE TAPE
Nickname: The Notorious
Fighting out of: Dublin, Ireland
Arm reach: 74 inches
Leg reach: 40 inches
Team: SBG Ireland
MMA record: 19-2
UFC record: 7-0
Notable accomplishments: UFC featherweight champion, No. 3-ranked pound-for-pound fighter, fastest title finish in UFC history (13 seconds)
Fighting out of: Stockton, California
Arm reach: 76 inches
Leg reach: 38 inches
Background: Boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu
Team: Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu
MMA record: 18-10
UFC record: 13-8
Notable accomplishments: The Ultimate Fighter 5 winner, No. 5-ranked lightweight, tied with Anderson Silva for second-most post-fight bonus awards (12)
This is both McGregor’s and Diaz’s bread and butter. McGregor has all the tools you need in a striker: range, power, speed and footwork. He is difficult to prepare for due to his unpredictability and versatility. On one hand, he can come in very aggressive and throw spinning kicks like he did against Chad Mendes while on the other he can sit back and wait to counter-strike like against Jose Aldo. McGregor can attack and counter with power and precision but his moneymaker is his left hand, which is quickly approaching Dan Henderson’s “H-Bomb” level of power. McGregor has won 17 of his 19 career victories by knockout or TKO and his lone decision win came when he had a torn ACL against an iron-chinned Max Holloway. In terms of his footwork, McGregor works with renowned movement guru Ido Portal and combined with his uncanny serenity and strong fight IQ has found ways to keep confounding his opponents by striking at them from different angles, cutting off the cage and eventually keeping them at a distance he wants them to be.
Diaz is a high-volume boxer and one of the UFC’s best. He once landed a UFC-record 238 significant strikes against Donald Cerrone and most recently tagged Michael Johnson with 153, both of them in three-round fights. With his ultra-durable chin and knack for worming his way into his opponent’s heads (much like McGregor does), Diaz applies constant pressure by moving forward sometimes with his hands down. Diaz utilizes his long arms well with a strong jab and rapid combinations. However, he seldom throws kicks and can be prone to absorbing leg damage by not checking kicks. He doesn’t have the one-punch knockout power McGregor possesses but he’ll still have a reach advantage.
Neither fighter is particularly renowned for their wrestling but there is an outside chance this comes into play. McGregor hasn’t had many chances to show his wrestling offence except against Holloway whom he took down at will. Against Mendes, however, his takedown defence was somewhat exposed as Mendes took him down four times on seven attempts and he couldn’t get back on his feet.
Diaz rarely uses wrestling offensively averaging only 1.21 takedowns per 15 minutes and only succeeding on 30 per cent of his attempts. This is also his biggest weakness as his tall lanky frame makes it harder for him to keep his balance against stockier fighters.
GRAPPLING & SUBMISSIONS
This may be the biggest x-factor in this fight. McGregor’s only two losses have come via submission within the first 70 seconds of the fight but keep in mind those losses took place in 2008 and 2010. He hasn’t really gotten the chance to show how well he’d fare against a submission artist like Diaz but Mendes passed his guard twice when he took him down.
Diaz is one of the slickest Brazilian jiu-jitsu players in the promotion. The majority of his finishes have come via submission. In fact, he’s tied for second (with Kenny Florian and Frank Mir) in all-time UFC submission wins with eight. Diaz is most dangerous when fighting is off his back as he has shown some nasty guillotines and triangle chokes. If the fight should ever hit the mat, Diaz has the definite advantage as he is also quick in scrambles and very aggressive in looking for submissions. His long limbs also make him very adept at keeping his opponents in his guard. This is the one area of the fight where Diaz has a significant advantage over McGregor.
CARDIO & CONDITIONING
This is another area that favours Diaz. You’ll be hard-pressed to find fighters with better cardio than the Diaz brothers as both even enjoy running triathlons just for the fun of it. The fight being at 170 pounds also allows Diaz the benefit of not cutting too much weight to drain himself and when fights get past the second round the Stockton bad boy tends to get stronger as his opponents fade.
McGregor’s cardio is a bit of a question mark at this point. He trains like an animal and is great at conserving his energy but he has only been into the third round once in his career. He shouldn’t have major issues, however, especially since he won’t be fighting a wrestler who will really try to sap his energy.
SIZE AND ATHLETICISM
McGregor fights a bigger fighter in Diaz for the first time in his UFC career. The Irishman usually enjoys a sizeable height and reach advantage over the featherweights he fights but in Diaz he faces a man with a two-inch reach advantage on top of being taller and heavier. But he will be the quicker, more agile and explosive fighter here. While Diaz has phenomenal conditioning, he isn’t necessarily the better athlete. He has the size advantage but will be slower and will have less muscle mass. McGregor has a point when he says Diaz will be “soft in the middle.”
“Mystic Mac” is an expert at psychological warfare and gets under his opponent’s skin. He is able to plant seeds of doubt in fighters and emotionally manipulate them to fighting his style, which has worked masterfully. Diaz, though, doesn’t seem like the guy who cares so much about what McGregor says or does. He’s a different kind of a fighter, psychologically from McGregor’s past and is a bit of a troll himself. During the press events for this bout Diaz gave off an apathetic vibe as if he doesn’t care much about the fight and this is a first for a McGregor opponent, so it will be interesting to see how a non-irritated fighter fares against the Irish superstar.
Odds are getting out of hand for McGregor. He opened as a -300 favourite but has shot up to as high as -500. The comeback on Diaz is as high as +410 and money has come in for both fighters but a lot more on McGregor. He is also heavily favoured to knock out Diaz at -320 and in conjunction, Vegas also predicts an early finish to this fight as the under 2 1/2 rounds prop bet is as high as -196.