Not many people like to admit being wrong when it comes to sport, but the chorus of ‘I told you so’ from people claiming they knew Nate Diaz would upset Conor McGregor at UFC 196 was one of the most resounding we’ve had in years.
Of course, this was aided by the great gift of hindsight. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few people who called the fight for the Stockton native beforehand, but in Las Vegas back in March, there were not a lot of people that expected the Stockton native to step up on short notice to defeat the outspoken Irishman.
Even Dana White was contemplating throwing the featherweight champion into a championship clash with Robbie Lawler before he even met Diaz, something he surely wouldn’t suggest if he didn’t think ‘The Notorious’ was a likely winner.
Diaz came in and allowed himself to be McGregor’s verbal punching bag in the lead up to the fight. While his nonchalance in the back and forth endeared him to many people, McGregor’s intensity and confidence only fueled the prediction that he would take the victory.
Without the expectation of the victory, Diaz’s upset win via second round rear naked choke proved that he was capable of stifling McGregor’s surging UFC record. Yet, with a lot of people expecting him to do exactly the same thing to his foe when they meet in the main event of UFC 202 on Saturday night in the T-Mobile Arena, Diaz may find the pressure tough to overcome.
Rising to the Occasion
Throughout Diaz’s career with UFC, he has always managed to pull out victories when the odds were seemingly stacked against him.
Many felt that Diaz would not be able to reclaim his position amongst the lightweight elite in his first bout in a year against Michael Johnson back in December, but it was in that exact fight that he outlined himself as a potential scrap for McGregor.
He looked off the pace in the first round, but then Diaz rallied to put on a signature performance full of taunts and attitude. He showcased his ability to sell in his post-fight interview by calling out McGregor, and despite people thinking it was a very unlikely matchup, four months later he was standing nose to nose with the SBG fighter.
Donald Cerrone looked like he could be on his way to securing the UFC lightweight belt after claiming four back-to-back wins under the banner after he came into the promotion following their buyout of WEC. When ‘Cowboy’ met Diaz, he was completely overwhelmed mentally and physically by the Californian in one of his best showings to date.
On the other side of his ability to shock his prosperous opponents is Diaz’s frustrating habit of failing to the rise to the occasion just when he sees on the cusp of greatness.
After spending his whole life working towards a UFC title shot, Diaz’s finest moment in his title clash with former champ Ben Henderson came when he stuck his middle finger in his face while he tried to isolate his leg during a grappling exchange.
Similarly, he had a chance to steal future champion Rafael Dos Anjos’s momentum after the Brazilian toppled Henderson, but Diaz’s inability to defend leg kicks, a technique everybody knew Dos Anjos would use, completely destroyed any chance he had of winning the bout.
Although Diaz is one of the most difficult figures to mentally evaluate in the sport, his comments leading up to the rematch with McGregor would make you think that he believes the promotion have rushed to get the rematch made for the sake of the Irish superstar.
“(UFC) were like, ‘We want this’ and I'm like, ‘Why so quick? Whatever.’ Then the deals got done and I was like, ‘Wow. That payday and this payday in that short amount of time, can’t pass that up so let's do it,” Diaz told Megan Olivi.
“But I feel like these guys want to weed me right back out, hoping that I lose. Alright, they'd better hope I lose because if I win this one, I'm really taking over.”
Whether that has the infamous anti-star unmotivated for the rematch remains to be seen.
Another element that is a factor going into the rematch is Conor McGregor’s claims that he wants a trilogy fight with Diaz before he even restored parity in their rivalry. Given the payday that comes along with fighting McGregor, there is no doubt that Diaz would relish the opportunity of stepping in against the Irishman for the third time.
I’m not suggesting for a second that Diaz would throw the rematch. One of the gamest competitors on the UFC’s book, the Stockton native always goes out on his shield. That being said, knowing that the potential of a third fight is already on the horizon before their second clash may affect Diaz mentally ahead of Saturday night’s clash.
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