The fight world got flipped on its head Saturday night. Conor McGregor and Holly Holm, two of the biggest stars in MMA, got choked out in shocking fashion at UFC 196.
McGregor (19-3 MMA, 7-1 UFC), the UFC Featherweight Champion who jumped two weight classes to fight Nate Diaz (19-10, 14-8) in the Welterweight headliner, had his hype train and 15-fight unbeaten streak come to a screeching halt in Las Vegas. Diaz walked through everything McGregor had to offer and finished the fight with a second-round submission.
“I’m not surprised, motherfuckers,” Diaz said following his thrilling victory.
After absorbing some of McGregor’s best strikes in the first round, Diaz, who accepted the fight on just 11 days notice after original headliner Rafael dos Anjos pulled out with injury, entered the second frame covered in blood but still ready to scrap. He continued to pursue McGregor and tagged his opponent with multiple hard shots until the brash Irishman was wobbled.
Hurt and forced into a desperate situation, McGregor attempted an ill-advised takedown that put him right into Diaz’s world. The Stockton-born bad boy put his crafty grappling to use and advanced into position for a rear-naked choke. He locked in the tight submission and delivered McGregor his first loss since November 2010.
Diaz has been in the UFC since 2007 and even fought for the title. This was his signature win, however, and it earned him a record-breaking 14th fight-night bonus. Victory was of course all part of the plan, Diaz told reporters after the fight, but with a full training camp, he thinks his performance would have been even better.
“I knew I was the superior boxer, the superior martial artist, the superior jiu-jitsu. Like I said from the beginning, I have the best training partners in the world in every aspect,” Diaz said. “Nothing surprised me except that I got hit at all. I think with a full camp I would have been flawless, but it’s whatever. I’m not surprised.”
Although fans and fellow fighters relentlessly ripped McGregor for the loss after he was so outspoken about his success, “The Notorious” took the stunning defeat as well as any fighter could and will look to return to 145 pounds to defend his belt next.
“This is the game, we win some we lose some, I will never shy away from a challenge, I will never shy away from defeat,” McGregor said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but we can either run from adversity or we can face our adversity head-on and conquer it. That’s what I plan to do. It wasn’t ideal, I got caught, it is what it is, I’ll face it, I’ll take it on the chin and I’ll carry on, I’ll learn from it. That’s it.”
Diaz’s victory was spectacular, but it didn’t completely overshadow what took place shortly before when Miesha Tate (18-5, 5-2) upset Holm (10-1, 3-1) in one of the most dramatic championship fight endings in recent memory.
UFC President Dana White said prior to Holm’s Bantamweight title defense against Tate that he “hated” the business side of the matchup because “Cupcake” could ruin a very lucrative rematch between Holm and former champ Ronda Rousey.
White fears were recognized, because Tate spoiled all plans with one of the most remarkable come-from-behind performances to occur inside the Octagon when she rallied from a late-fight deficit to choke Holm out cold in the fifth round and capture the women’s 135-pound title.
Holm, a former boxing champion, predictably attempted to keep the fight on the feet and pick her shots. That mostly worked in the first round, but in the second frame Tate foreshadowed the end of the bout when she got Holm to the ground and locked in a rear-naked choke.
Although Holm could have easily given up and relinquished her title, she showed tremendous spirit by escaping the position and surviving until the bell.
From there, Holm went back to her game plan and puzzled Tate with her striking combinations. “The Preacher’s Daughter” was cruising until the midway point of the final frame, when things went horribly wrong. Tate pounced on an opening and once again got back in position for the choke. This time she made sure to finish the job.
Tate locked in the submission and squeezed with all her might until Holm went completely unconscious and the referee pulled Tate off for the unbelievable finish.
“The thing about me is, it does not matter how down I get at any point in a fight,” Tate said afterward. “I’ve been literally knocked down and almost out of it and I get back up and I win fights. It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, it matters how many times you get back up. And that’s what a champion does.”
Holm, meanwhile, went from being on the top of the world after beating Rousey in November to trying to cope with the emotion of her first MMA loss. Similar to McGregor, though, Holm displayed strong mental fortitude after a devastating moment.
“It isn’t easy, but it’s a growing experience,” she said. “There’s always these odds on paper, but for me it’s always 50-50 when you get in there. There’s a winner and a loser and that’s all there is to it. I want to fight Miesha [in a rematch] tomorrow. She would want the same thing.”
While company boss White said UFC 196 is tracking to be an all-time blockbuster event for the organization, the results at the top of the card damaged some potential mega-fights for the future. McGregor’s quest to become a two-division champion hit a setback and a planned Holm-Rousey rematch will be delayed while “Rowdy” apparently goes for Tate’s newly won UFC belt.