Conor McGregor is once again back on top of the MMA world.
After losing to Nate Diaz (19-11 MMA, 14-9 UFC) at UFC 196 in March in an outcome that surprised many, McGregor (20-3, 8-1) got the chance to run it back and redeem himself against his rival in Saturday’s UFC 202 main event, which took place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. He had to go through hell to come out on top, but after five competitive and highly entertaining rounds, “The Notorious” was awarded a majority decision victory to avenge his only UFC blemish.
The pair once again made magic inside the Octagon in the Welterweight headliner, combining for 330 significant strikes landed, the second greatest combined tally ever in a UFC fight, in one of the most exciting and memorable fights in recent memory. McGregor came out on fire, dropping Diaz three different times over the first two rounds. Most fighters would be down and out after taking the power of the Irishman to the chin, but Diaz showed an almost inhuman amount of toughness and durability before finding his groove as the fight progressed.
Diaz appeared to have McGregor on the ropes more than once, but the UFC Featherweight champion, who moved up two weight classes and 25 pounds from his normal weight class for the contest, managed to take every shot and deny all but one takedown attempt while consistently delivering offense. Diaz believed he had won the fight, but two of the judges scored it in McGregor’s favor while the other scored it a draw.
“I felt I won the fight,” McGregor told reporters following the fight. “I felt three [rounds to] two was a fair result. … Boy is he one tough motherfucker. He kept walking forward, he took every shot. I dropped him multiple times. He just keeps coming. His face was busted open and he’s still coming forward. It was a hell of a fight, he’s a hell of a competitor. The whole lot of it brought out the best in me and it forced me to look at myself truly. I’m just grateful.”
The rematch was arguably the biggest fight in UFC history, and McGregor came out on the winning end. He was compensated greatly for the performance, receiving the largest disclosed payout in UFC history at $3 million (Diaz earned $2 million). He’ll make additional money from pay-per-view revenue, as well.
What comes next for McGregor is up in the air, he said, and for a man that always has a plan, even he didn’t seem to know for sure what the future holds. He hurt his leg in the fight, but was taken to the hospital and cleared of any major injuries. The plan prior to UFC 202 seemed to be that win or lose McGregor would return to 145 pounds and rematch interim champ Jose Aldo – who he knocked out in 13 seconds at UFC 194 in December – in a title unification contest. UFC President Dana White has threatened to strip McGregor of his belt if he doesn’t oblige, but the always-confident fighter balked at that statement and thinks the gold will remain around his waist even if he decides to pursue other options outside of a title defense.
“I don’t think they’re going to do that – I mean how can they do that?” McGregor said. “If they want to do that and want to give my belt to the guy I KO’d in 13 seconds and bury that division on the prelims or the Fight Pass stuff, cause that’s what they’re going to do, I mean, we’ll see. How can they do that? What would that do to the division if the guy I KO’d in 13 seconds is the unified champion?”
Diaz, meanwhile, said he knows exactly what his plans are for the future, and they revolve exclusively around getting in another fight with McGregor as soon as possible. With one victory each he believes a trilogy fight is the only realistic option for him moving forward, especially since he claims to have been at less than 100 percent for the bout due to an injury suffered in training camp that prevented him preparing at an optimal level.
UFC boss White made it clear after the event that McGregor vs. Diaz 3 won’t be immediately booked. However, after earning the largest payday of his career for UFC 202, Diaz said he would gladly wait as long as it takes for McGregor to handle his other business so he can fight him again to settle the score once and for all.
“I’m not doing shit until we go for round three,” Diaz said. “You won’t be seeing me until then. If they want to set it up as soon as possible, let’s do it. But I don’t think it’s a very good business move for him to be taking any other fights. He’s a businessman, so let’s see what happens.’
Regardless of what happens, though, McGregor and Diaz lived up to the hype at UFC 202 and put on an all-time classic that lent further credence to the fact they have perhaps the best rivalry in MMA history.