You can hate UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor all you want, but at this point his fighting spirit is undeniable.
In a repeat of what happened prior to last summer’s bout with Jose Aldo, McGregor lost another opponent less than two weeks before fight night, when UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos pulled out of his planned title defense against McGregor at UFC 196 due to a broken foot.
Fortunately for the UFC – as well as fans – McGregor (19-2 MMA, 7-0 UFC) has proven time and time again that he embodies the “anyone, anytime, anywhere” mentality. On Tuesday night, he accepted a fight with Nate Diaz (18-10 MMA, 13-8 UFC) at Welterweight, two weight classes above where he holds UFC gold, in the newly made UFC 196 main event.
Last-minute switches have become commonplace for “The Notorious” during his UFC career. UFC 196 will mark his eighth Octagon appearance, and four of those fights have featured an opponent switch. Moreover, six of his past 12 fights overall have not seen him fight his originally announced opponent. The carousel of foes would rattle some athletes, but not McGregor. He’s remained all business throughout.
But Diaz won’t be a pushover. Even though he opened as a significant betting underdog, the 21-fight UFC veteran will own a three-inch height and two-inch reach advantage over McGregor. A well-known commodity to most viewers of the sport, the Stockton Slugger is the younger brother of UFC rebel Nick Diaz, and like McGregor, is a polarizing figure with no equal. Whether he’s flipping the middle finger during fights or spouting an endless stream of trash talk, Diaz is unique. He’s also a pretty damn good fighter to boot, as evidenced by his 13 career UFC victories.
McGregor’s fight with dos Anjos could have cemented his legacy as an all-time great. He already holds the UFC’s 145-pound belt but wanted to move up for a career-defining showdown with dos Anjos that, if he won, would have made him the first to ever hold two UFC belts simultaneously.
The brash Irishman could have easily opted to push the fight back and wait for dos Anjos to recover, especially considering UFC 196 has a solid undercard, including the women’s Bantamweight title fight between Holly Holm and Miesha Tate. But at this point everyone should know that’s not how he rolls.
McGregor already put in a full training camp and flew stateside to Los Angeles in order to complete preparation and pre-fight media. He won’t let that go to waste, especially when a significant payday is attached each time he steps in the cage. It’s no secret McGregor loves making money (that’s putting it mildly), and he’s willing to fight anyone, at any weight, so long as it means cashing a paycheck at the end of the day.
A fight between McGregor and Diaz has felt inevitable for some time. Diaz was rumored to step in for Aldo when he pulled out of UFC 189 in July with a rib injury, but ultimately the contest never came to fruition.
Following Diaz’s unanimous decision win over Michael Johnson in December, though, he made it very clear what he wanted the fight. He delivered a memorable profanity-laced rant directed at McGregor during a post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.
“Conor McGregor, you’re taking everything I worked for, motherfucker. I’m gonna fight your fucking ass,” Diaz said. “You know what’s the real fight, what’s the real money fight is me…you want the real shit? [I’m] right here.”
Although McGregor has essentially steamrolled his way through the UFC so far, it’s possible Diaz has the style to give him fits. He’s tall, lengthy and dangerous on the ground with excellent boxing skills that, once he gets going, force most opponents out of their rhythm and element. McGregor has been a tough puzzle to solve thus far, though, and it remains to be seen if Diaz is the man who can put the pieces together. He is unique in one aspect: Diaz may be the first opponent McGregor actually respects. Kind of.
“I like the way Nate came in his last fight,” McGregor said of Diaz at a January media event. “The previous fight before that he came in sloppy and out of shape. In this game you step up and fight. Who brings it? Nate brings it, the Diaz brothers bring it. They show up to fight.”
There might only be a little more than a week to promote the fight, but that’s all UFC needs because McGregor vs. Diaz is a can’t-miss affair. History won’t be on the line like it was with dos Anjos, but the matchup is a fight fan’s delight and has the great potential to thrill viewers – if only because there’s likely to be just as many expletives exchanged as there are punches thrown.