When news broke of Rafael Dos Anjos’ injury, a queue of hungry fighters lined up on social media for a chance at MMA’s biggest attraction and the payday that goes with it.
For this writer, the first name that came to mind was one Nathan Donald Diaz.
Granted, Donald Cerrone was probably the more logical choice in terms of ranking and recent performances (8 consecutive victories with his only blemish coming in December against Dos Anjos himself), but the reality of the fight game is that the biggest fights are not always the most logical. There tends to be a large differential between the most talented fighters and the fighters the fans will pay more to see. Nate Diaz, for all his faults, has an x-factor that few other potential opponents possess.
Furthermore, with only two weeks to hype a replacement fighter you can understand the UFC’s decision to go with the more marketable option. The only surprise with this fight is the weight that it will be contested at.
What many skeptics are forgetting is that when Conor McGregor first burst onto the scene, the Diaz brothers were the fighters that most fans instantly compared him to.
He was brash, confrontational, animated in and out of the cage, and carried himself with a self-belief and attitude that both Diaz’s possess in spades. In the run up to his systematic destruction of Ivan Buchinger at ‘Cage Warriors 51’, a thread appeared on popular MMA fan-site mixedmartialarts.com that was titled ‘Mick Diaz’.
This was a complimentary if slightly xenophobic title for an appreciation thread regarding Conor McGregor’s recent fights and perceived similarities to the brothers from Stockton, California. At the time, considering McGregor was yet to make his UFC debut, this was quite the compliment.
U.S MMA fans tend to be very cynical of any overly-hyped fighters from across the Atlantic and in particular those with no competitive wrestling background.
Over the next few years McGregor would prove that such comparisons, whilst slightly warranted, were probably doing him a disservice. Where the Diaz’s were confrontational and aggressive, McGregor proved to be articulate and amusing. When it came to fighting, where the Diaz’s have been entertaining and inconsistent, Conor has been ruthless and devastating.
As for translating their respective abilities and attitudes into financial gain, there is simply no comparison. Both Nick and Nate Diaz have continually had run-ins with the promotional hierarchy whereas, for all McGregor’s bluster, he does an exceptional job of towing the company line.
Nate Diaz earned US$40,000 in disclosed pay for his most recent fight against Michael Johnson. This was a fact not lost on McGregor who reminded Diaz – during an award acceptance speech – that he regularly tips more than that!
The recent UFC 196 press conference kicked off the promotional aspect of the fight in the best way possible: having the two of them speak. It was an exceptionally interesting and amusing 30 minutes in which Conor McGregor’s WWE style bombast was met with Diaz’s slightly hesitant, blunt and profanity laced rebuttals.
In truth, there will only be one winner when it comes to these two pitting wits at a conversational level. Diaz did however offer up some entertaining responses when compared with some of the others who have wilted in the face of McGregor’s overbearing approach.
As for the fight itself, the first intangible is the weight disparity.
Much has been made of this, and there is no doubt that McGregor must be commended for taking this fight both on short notice and 25lbs heavier than at his title winning weight. Make no mistake though; he is already walking around at between 172-177lbs and with esteemed nutritionist George Lockhart in his camp, McGregor should have a very simplistic cut to the welterweight limit of 170lbs.
For the first time in the UFC, we should see a fit and healthy McGregor tipping the scales as opposed to the skeletal 145lb figure that normally ignites social media concerns and even Vegas betting lines. Diaz will be close to 185lbs come fight night, but has always been typically lean and a lot of that weight is due to his 6ft frame.
Assuming the weight will not be a huge issue, this is a very winnable fight for Conor McGregor.
Diaz constantly moves forward and gets hit too easy and far too often. His boxing is dangerous, but he is predominantly a volume based striker as opposed to a power hitter. His soft midriff also makes an inviting target for the plethora of different kicks that will no doubt be thrown his way.
McGregor is a master of managing distance and avoiding his opponent’s strikes, so Diaz will have his hands full implementing that high output style. Even at welterweight, I would envisage McGregor’s power travelling with him and his potent left hand could again prove the deciding factor.
McGregor’s coach is of the same opinion and tweeted so after Diaz’s colorful call-out following his last victory:
Absorbing that many shots would make it a very very short night if he was to meet a real hitter #BeCarefulWhatYouWishFor
— Coach Kavanagh (@John_Kavanagh) December 20, 2015
Overall, I can see why the UFC made this fight as opposed to any other.
It’s incredibly easy to sell – arguably more so than the original fight against Dos Anjos – and their most bankable revenue generating asset will be heavily favored to come out on top. From a fan’s perspective, we can expect nothing less than fireworks both in and out of the Octagon and for this writer, March 5th can’t come quick enough.