McGregor tastes first defeat in UFC
It appears that Conor 'The Notorious' McGregor is human after all, suffering his first UFC defeat to a stronger, tougher, Nate Diaz at UFC 196 on Saturday night. A palpable disappointment permeated the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, as fan-favourite McGregor, who made the huge leap from 145 pounds to 170 to face Diaz, was submitted late into the second of five scheduled rounds. Showing a formidable work ethic and exceptional durability, which allowed him to survive and overcome early onslaughts from McGregor, Diaz, who earlier in the week was reluctant to reveal any strategy behind how he might defeat the Irishman, showed that you don't necessarily have to talk the talk, to walk the walk.
Gutsy Diaz survives early power shots
The first round showed promise for McGregor. He landed the harder shots on Diaz and overcame the height and reach advantage, and Irish hopes reached fever pitch as a powerful left-hand opened up a cut over the right eye of Diaz.
Diaz landed some shots of his own but McGregor looked comfortable as Diaz struggled to keep the blood from obscuring his vision. McGregor was throwing everything behind his punches, knowing that to take out an opponent of Diaz' size and strength, would take his best shot landing flush on the jaw of the American. So, in true McGregor fashion, he committed wholeheartedly to that singular goal; hit him hard, hit him early, and retire for a celebratory whisky with the UFC brass – just another day at the office for 'The Notorious'.
The majority of previous opponents have succumbed to the pressure and the power that McGregor exerted in the first round, but Diaz is a different beast. Renowned for unequaled stamina when he's at his best, he was all too aware that surviving the early onslaught and taking the fight past round one would play to his advantage.
Strong left hand opens door for Diaz
In round two it looked like business as usual for McGregor. Despite appearing slightly wary and flustered that he was unable to inflict more damage on Diaz, he was in cruise control. That was until Diaz finally landed a vicious left hand to the jaw of McGregor, wobbling the Irishman temporarily. As critics delighted and fans despaired, this was the beginning of the end for McGregor, who tried to hide the damage of the shot. If he was fooling anyone it wasn't Diaz, who tauntingly smiled at McGregor and proceeded to land punches at will, as McGregor struggled to regain composure.
The American put on a masterclass from here until McGregor's demise, his accurate boxing penetrating the Irishman's defenses repeatedly, sending McGregor into what he later described as 'panic mode'. Trying to buy himself some time to recover he looked to take the fight to the ground. In last week's preview we mentioned that if the fight did go to the canvas, McGregor could be opening the door to an upset, and this is ultimately how it played out.
A combination of heavy strikes from full mount before McGregor surrendered his back, and the arena fell silent, knowing that when Nate Diaz finds himself in a position like this, he doesn't relinquish it; dominating from this position is the bread and butter of any Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt. Diaz reigned more unanswered strikes to the already wounded Irishman, before sinking in a deep rear-naked choke, forcing McGregor to tap out. As the Diaz party began, McGregor lay sprawled on the canvas, looking at the bright lights of the MGM as his kingdom crumbled around him.
What's next for McGregor?
It takes a certain kind of personality to exude the confidence and the self-belief that McGregor has shown since he joined the UFC, and in the aftermath of this defeat, critics of the Irishman and his seemingly cocky attitude were quick to relish in his downfall, none more so than Jose Aldo, who McGregor defeated in devastating fashion back in December.Aldo immediately called for a rematch via twitter, and although McGregor's next opponent won't be decided until the dust settles after UFC 196, it's likely that he will get his wish, McGregor appearing in the post fight press conference eager to get back down and re-stamp his authority on the division in which he remains champion.
A humbled McGregor admitted that losing to Diaz was 'a bitter pill to swallow', but showed a commendable graciousness and maturity in defeat, praising Diaz's efficient striking and energy. As he begins his long descent down from 170 pounds after this prospective venture to welterweight, the so-called McGregor hype train may have been battered and bruised in the Diaz storm, but it still drives unflinchingly forward toward UFC 200 in July this year where 'The Notorious' will look to get back to his winning ways.