Conor McGregor’s defeat to Nate Diaz may have been a shock, but it serves as something of a reality check for thoughts of a cross-division champion…
Each time Conor McGregor won a fight, and each time his stock got larger and larger, so did his fans, and his haters. But by the time he knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds, even the most ardent haters had to give it a rest. He was, and still is after UFC 196, the real deal. But with that said, he is just a man. And jumping up two weight classes tonight from featherweight to welterweight now seems less ‘fearless’ and more ‘slightly idiotic’.
Even the greatest fighters of all time are slaves to their body type- however good George St.Pierre was at his peak as welterweight champion, for example, you wouldn’t have wanted him to bulk up to heavyweight to take on a monster like Brock Lesnar. It’d be a mauling. Even the most ferocious wolf will be crushed by the most timid bear.
OK. So that’s a bit over the top, as Conor’s opponent, Nate Diaz, was himself moving up a weight class as he had taken the fight on such short notice. McGregor even used it as bait in his pre-fight trash talking, letting Diaz know that he was the ‘skinniest fat guy’ he had ever seen. So there were certainly elements in Conor’s favour. His opponent was potentially not in ‘championship’ shape (IE. ready to go all 5 rounds). His opponent is known for not minding taking a shot, and indeed, his opponent was guaranteed to allow Conor a pure striking war, something that McGregor (thought he) wanted.
But the negatives outweighed the positives, and it seemed the only man that knew this before the fight was Nate. He didn’t see himself as an underdog, and wasn’t phased at all by McGregor’s war of words. It’s almost pointless trying to ‘psyche out’ a Diaz brother, they just legitimately don’t care. After the fight, Nate simply said: “I’m not surprised, motherf***ers.”
The other key negatives for McGregor were the following- First: he was outsized. He gave up reach, height, and weight to Nate Diaz. Second: I mentioned that Nate Diaz doesn’t mind taking shots, but the reason for that is that he has an iron chin. Conor busted Nate’s face up in the first round, and Nate just looked happy to be bleeding, like it meant the fight had now started.
The key part of this problem for McGregor was that he is used to men falling when he lands his big shots, particularly his straight left. Mendes, Aldo and other featherweights couldn’t handle it. But Nate is no featherweight. Furthermore, Diaz’s ability to take a punch means that he was able to box freely. He wasn’t scared of the takedown. Four of Nate’s last five losses have involved being out-grappled in the wrestling department, but McGregor simply didn’t have the mass to be a threat in that department. At featherweight, McGregor was able to dominate Max Holloway with wrestling, for example, but here it was no option.
Finally, the biggest difficulty McGregor faced was his own ego. Although he was humble and utterly honourable in his defeat, he was foolish during the fight. He kept his hands low for long periods of time, and having won the first round, clearly started to assume that Diaz would not be able to touch him cleanly. But Diaz has fast hand speed, and great boxing technique. When he did land on Conor in the 2nd round, McGregor was either too hurt, or his ego had turned against him, because he did not raise his hands in defence. I was shocked, and it wasn’t long before McGregor’s only hope was a rather pathetic takedown attempt. As soon as the fight was in the realm of jiu-jitsu, with one combatant critically injured, it’s ending was only a matter of time.
In previous fights, McGregor has game planned excellently with his coach, John Kavanagh, and I have praised his fight IQ, but, this time, he was far too gung-ho. There was definitely a potential victory to be had for Conor in this fight- you only have to look at Nate’s beat up face after the first round to know that. McGregor should have been more patient, moved laterally more, thrown less, and kept his damn hands up! He could have outpointed Nate for a few rounds, and maybe looked to finish late in the fight. But he was determined to meet Nate in the middle and test each other’s chins, and that was very poor decision making.
So what does the future hold for these two polarising figures?
Conor McGregor is of course still the 145lb champion, and says he’ll defend his belt next. It’ll likely either be a rematch with Aldo, or a showdown with New Jersey boy Frankie Edgar. Even with this loss, it seems to be an enviable position when falling back on your lower-weight class championship belt is your ‘back-up plan’. After tonight, Conor is probably angrier than ever at Dos Anjos for pulling out of the fight. Conor can probably do well at lightweight, but welterweight is obviously a step too far. If Nate’s punches weren’t fun for him, Robbie Lawler could probably end his career.
The cross-division champion has always been appealing to fans. The idea of a champ so great he will go anywhere for a great test. The reality, though, is that the best champs are the best in part due to their intelligence, and the same intelligence stops them from risking too much. GSP and Anderson Silva never fought each other because it was obvious that both men were too dangerous for one another. Silva only fought lesser opponents when he moved up to light-heavyweight. Jon Jones has so far stayed away from the Heavyweights. McGregor could learn a lot from these champions.
As for Nate Diaz, he will also likely drop down from welterweight, back to his lightweight home. Will he get a title shot? Unfortunately, he already has a bad loss to current champ Rafael Dos Anjos. He came in terrible physical shape for that one though. Now he looks like he’s taking his job very seriously, and if anyone can trash-talk his way into another chance at the belt, I think it’s Nate Diaz.