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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 13 August 2016
28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 13 AUGUST 2016 SPORT UFC 202: It’s redemption or bust for the ‘untouchable’ Conor McGregor DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 Conor McGregor being trade punched by Nate Diaz (top) during their UFC 196 welterweight mixed martial arts match. PHOTO: AAP VIA AP/ERIC JAMISON. GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS It says a lot about the marketing ‘glow’ and fly-off-the-rack calibre of Conor McGregor that, despite being soundly beaten by Nate Diaz at UFC 196, his stock remains as strong as ever. Still the man to beat, still the poster boy of the entire organisation, still perhaps the only fighter who can keenly and confidently call his own shots. Back in March, McGregor was supposed to match up against the then lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, in a bid to become a member of a select club, that is to say, a fighter that would drape not one, but two championship belts from two different weight divisions on his shoulder. Fresh from annihilating longtime featherweight champion Jose Aldo in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it one-punch knockout, the Irishman was his usual confident self when Dos Anjos withdrew from the bout through a foot injury and Nate Diaz stepped in his place. Anyone, anytime, anywhere, was and remains the McGregor mantra, so the Diaz fight went ahead, with McGregor climbing to welterweight to face the equally self-confident Stockton native. It proved to be a step too far for the Notorious One. Flying out of the blocks in round one, McGregor took the fight to the taller, heavier and lankier Diaz and while he battered and bloodied his opponent, at the end of round one, McGregor appeared gassed and perplexed as to why his powerful punching was not doing the job. Round two saw the Irishman struggling to make further headway and with Diaz establishing his own highly-competent striking, McGregor foolishly attempted to take the fight to the ground, where Diaz, a 1st degree BJJ black belt, rag-dolled him into submission, before finishing the bout via a rear naked choke. It was, understandably, a massive blow for the Irishman and the UFC itself, which had seen Ronda Rousey walk off into the MMA wilderness after her championship loss to Holly Holm and was now facing another one of its main, ‘untouchable’ assets being stripped of that highlysaleable air of invincibility. But McGregor was certainly not Rousey. Instead of backing off and licking his wounds, he demanded an instant rematch with Diaz, targeting a redeeming win that would erase the memory of his bloodied form standing next to a triumphant Nate. To be honest, and despite his brief falling-out-of-love session with the UFC around the time of UFC 200, it was never going to be a case of if, but surely a case of when. UFC 202 on 20 August will there- fore be that ‘when’. Conor McGregor will once again face Nate Diaz at welterweight, and the world of mixed martial arts and beyond will be watching. The question on everyone’s lips? What if Conor loses again? It’s a fascinating question for sure. Whether one likes or hates Conor McGregor, you can’t help but watch him, but interestingly, in Nate Diaz he may have found a dancing partner who could well outshine him. A fighter very much in the McGregor mould, Nate Diaz is, at just 31 years old, a veteran of the sport, with 29 MMA fights under his belt and with a similar style to his newfound rival. Confident, outspoken and hard-hitting in the octagon, Diaz is possibly one of the most underrated fighters on the UFC roster, possessing a finely-balanced game that includes a precise and crisp striking skill set, as well as some world class Brazilian jiu jitsu. Unbelievably, on paper, it’s hard to see where McGregor has the upper hand. His striking is his main calling card, but against Diaz in their first fight it did very little, with Nate weathering the storm in round one and playing out round two with admirable fighting clarity. This is, after all, a warrior who has only ever been knocked out once in his entire career. That’s one knockout. In 29 fights. Ground game? Well, that’s clearly Diaz territory. McGregor has been, according to his own admission, working heavily on improving his jiu jitsu, but he’s still years behind Diaz in terms of skill and experience. If he decided to take the fight to the ground, it wouldn’t end well for the Irishman. To top it all off, Diaz never seems affected by the now-infamous McGregor mind games. A trash-talker of the highest degree, the Notorious One has been able to get under the skin of every single opponent he has ever faced, taking them over the edge emotionally and clouding their judgment come fight night. It hasn’t really hit home with Nate, who has a weird, rather more verbally jumbled trash-talk technique of his own. So with little to separate them and if anything, Diaz being slightly ahead of McGregor in every aspect of their upcoming fight, we go back to the question on the lips of MMA fans around the world: what if Conor loses? Again? Clearly, McGregor realises there is a lot at stake this time. In the runup to UFC202, his trash-talking has been subdued by his own flamboyant standards, instead respectfully talking business, commenting on what he has done to solve the Diaz problem and how this fight is his road to redemption. While ‘redemption’ may be a tad dramatic, you can see his point. If McGregor wants to continue being the main man in this promotion, there is just no way he can afford two straight losses, especially if he gets outclassed by Diaz again as he was in UFC196. A new humbling could see his stock drop, his media magnetism weakened and the UFC itself switching its attention to someone who could take over his ‘untouchable’ crown. Recent comments by his coach John Kavanagh highlight the tension within the McGregor camp. “This is a very important fight for Conor, but I also feel that my own reputation as a coach is at stake. This contest can be a bit of a game-changer for us all. Some observers who are obsessed with weight classes and belts don’t see this as a very meaningful fight.” It speaks volumes that Kavanagh has chosen to say this in the runup to this fight. That anyone in the McGregor camp would have their reputation at stake was unthinkable prior to the Diaz fight. Conor was unbeatable, untouchable, unhittable. Reputations at stake? Pah. It was all about the paycheck. How things have changed in two rounds.
6 August 2016
20 August 2016