Nate Diaz knew he would fight Conor McGregor someday. He just didn't know "someday" would come so quickly.
Last Tuesday, with just 11 days to prepare, Diaz (18-10 MMA, 13-8 UFC) was announced as McGregor's (19-2, 7-0) opponent at UFC 196, replacing the injured Rafael dos Anjos. Chances are, you knew the backstory behind that original fight – McGregor, the Featherweight Champion, was moving up to 155 pounds to challenge for dos Anjos' Lightweight title, as part of his plan for global domination. Unfortunately, a broken foot changed all that.
Instead, McGregor will move all the way up to Welterweight (170 pounds) to take on Diaz. But if you think Saturday's fight is lacking in storyline – or acrimony – please direct your attention to Diaz's post-fight interview from December, in which he rips McGregor for "taking everything I worked for," calls him a "motherfucker" and proclaims "I'm gonna fight your fucking ass."
Well, Diaz got his wish.
"I knew it was a big fight, and that's why I called for it after my last fight," he says. "This fight had to be done. When [UFC] called to negotiate, I knew it was a big fight, and they knew it was a big fight, but they wanted to play it down like it wasn't so they could hold out. I knew it was going to be the biggest fight, because we're the biggest names on the roster.
"Two million people watched our pre-fight press conference on YouTube as it happened," he continues. "It was the most-watched press conference ever. So we're already in the lead of everything."
Of late, anything McGregor touches turns to gold, so it's no surprise that UFC 196 still has a big-fight feel despite the late main event switch. There might not be any titles on the line, but McGregor feels the combat sports world stops every time he steps in the Octagon. To him, it doesn't matter who stands across the cage so long as the end result is a payday.
"It's always a super-fight when I'm in town," McGregor says. "It's the numbers and straps life. Take out the straps; it's still that numbers life. That's it. I'm here for a fight and a check, so fuck the belt.
"This is always history every time," he continues. "The gates keep rising, the pay-per-views keep rising, the attendance. Everything just keeps rising, so it's always history when I step in that Octagon."
But the fight that now has MMA fans on the edge of their seats almost didn't come to be. Diaz says negotiations nearly fell through due to issues with compensation and contracted weight, but even after the UFC explored other options, he knew which fight had to be made.
"Dana White said, 'Hey, I told you to stay ready because this guy just got hurt, dos Anjos.' I said, 'Yeah, well, what's up then? Let me get that fight against McGregor,'" Diaz recalls. "He was like, 'Well, I want you to take the fight but you just said you were 200 pounds.' I said, 'I lied, because every time I try to fight at 170, you say I'm too small for that weight class, so I lied. I'll make that weight. Let's do it.'
"Then they offered me shit for money," he continues, "so I said, 'Hold up, I know this is a money fight. And on short notice, if you guys want me to come do a fight it's going to cost you.'"
Diaz says he's pleased enough with his new contract and the financial rewards attached to the contest. A longer training camp would have been ideal, but one of the traits both fighters share is a willingness to take on anyone, anywhere. But to hear McGregor tell it, perhaps Diaz shouldn't have been so quick to sign up.
"I sense a different Nate, I think it's clear as day," he says. "He's not himself, he's timid, his voice is quivering, but I still have respect for him. But ring the bell and I'm coming out fast, I'm coming out spinning and his head is coming off. I think our speed difference is going to be really, really evident. You'll see for yourself what I mean when I say [other fighters are] stuck in the mud."
McGregor has never fought at Welterweight before while Diaz has multiple fights at the weight. A lot changes when a fighter jumps 25 pounds in weight, and for the first time in his UFC career McGregor will be at a height and reach disadvantage. Because of that, Diaz thinks his opponent is the one in store for a rude awakening.
"He's got a lot of first-round knockouts, and he comes forward in the fights, but he's also been fighting short dudes and little fat guys," Diaz says. "Now he's fighting someone different. I spar with better people and I'm not 5-foot-5. He fights like a real strong guy, but we'll see how things are looking at the end Round 2 or 3. We'll see if he's still in there doing all that shit. He better get that first-round knockout, because if not, then what?"
Not too shabby for 11 days, right? And if you think the pre-fight fireworks have been dazzling, McGregor says just wait until Saturday night.
"He starts calling me out doing this and that, now I came hunting for him," he snarls. "He's trying to say people are afraid to fight him – I hunted him down, stalked him, got him. Now I have him trapped on Saturday night."