Fight Club: Choices for McGregor after Diaz victory

Alex Rea 21/08/2016
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Hands up for round three: McGregor and Diaz (l).

Conor McGregor has a myriad of options for his next trip to the Octagon after earning a majority-decision victory over Nate Diaz at UFC 202 – but the Irishman is unsure where he will go next.

The 28-year-old was able to avenge the only defeat of his UFC career after five barbarous with Diaz, the man who submitted him in the second round at UFC 196 in March. It was a back and forth war, built on the hostilities between the pair, and with the two tied at one a piece, fans have been left thirsty for the trilogy.

However, with McGregor holding the belt at 145lbs – he’s fought Diaz twice at the welterweight limit of 170lbs – after he knocked out Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds in December, UFC president Dana White has insisted he return to featherweight to defend the strap.

Aldo is the interim champ after defeating Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 but the divisive Irishman poured cold water on a potential rematch.

“How long was I going back and forth with Jose?” asked McGregor in the post-fight press conference. “That was a two-year build up. He pulled out last minute and I continued to fight someone else. Then we rescheduled. A two year build up, around the world for that boy, and then I stepped in to beat him in thirteen seconds.

‘”I mean, it’s hard for me to get excited about that, especially after his last performance. He didn’t go out and get it like I wanted him to.

“I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m the 145lbs champion. The interim champion is a man that I KO’d in 13 seconds. I’ve got to figure out what’s next, but right now, I don’t know what’s next. There are many things in the pipeline. So, sit tight.”

The big fight stats

Indeed, McGregor has decisions to make but his star draw has never been brighter. Many had predicted a repeat feat for Diaz in the headliner of UFC 202 in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.

But having achieved victory in a weight class two above where he resides as a UFC champion, McGregor professed that silencing his doubters was a significant motivation for him.

“This was a hell of an important fight for me,” he added. “Everyone, from the media to the fighters, wrote me off for this one. They tried to say if I lose this one, I’m done. They tried to discredit the fact that I’m going up in weight. He was 25 to 30 pounds heavier than me, I don’t care what anyone says.

“He was a big boy in there. He was easily 190lbs. I was 167lbs leaving for the fight and I was saying to myself, I need to eat, try and get up at least over 170lbs.

“But it was a hell of a fight and he’s a hell of a competitor. The whole lot of it brought out the best in me. It forced me to look at myself truly. I’m just grateful.”

In the Octagon after his victory was announced, McGregor called for a trilogy fight to be contested at the lightweight limit of 155lbs.

When asked if he’d be happy to drop back down to his more natural weight, Diaz said: “Whenever. Whenever they’re ready to rock. I’m not doing s*** until round three. You’re not going to see me until then. If they want to set it up as soon as possible, let’s do it. We’ll see what happens. It’s not that I’m waiting but I don’t need to do nothing.”

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Four things we learned from UFC 202

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McGregor won on points.

At the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz met in the main event of UFC 202 in what turned out to be one of the cards of the year.

Only three bouts during the entire event went to a decision and the showpiece is already being discussed as a contender for Fight of the Year.

There is plenty to chew on after an action-packed morning and here are four of the things we learned.

MCGREGOR SHOWS A DIFFERENT SIDE

Win or learn. That’s the mantra of Conor McGregor’s head coach John Kavanagh and it’s one the Irish superstar clearly heeds.

In the pursuit of redemption, there was no head hunting this time around. When he first faced Nate Diaz, he unloaded left after left until, well, he had nothing left. Not this time, though.

There was a clear tactical, methodical plan right from the first bell, the only question was whether McGregor had the cardio to execute it.

He attacked the legs of the longer Diaz and struck in calculated bursts, dropping his adversary three times. He didn’t rush and stayed patient, even in those moments when he could smell blood.

Crucially, though, he showed a side we’ve never seen from him before.

McGregor, it is said, does not possess the style which can last five rounds, especially against a fighter like Diaz who has a gas tank that can last for days.

In the third round, McGregor having taken the first two, that assumption seemed correct. Diaz was dominant and McGregor was clinging on. But he dug deep, deeper than the pockets which this rivalry has lined.

In the championship rounds, the divisive Irishman fought like a champion. He got the job done, finding a second wind to put the pressure on when it mattered most.

Quite simply, he learned. Now, it’s time for the trilogy, after all it’s only one apiece.

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

Anthony Johnson is frightening. There is no one in the entire promotion who hits harder. And here he proved it by becoming the only fighter in UFC history to earn five KO victories in less than one minute each.

Glover Teixeira has not been finished by strikes in 14 years, yet his lights were shut out after just 12 seconds, Johnson landing a formidable uppercut which practically lifted the Brazilian off his feet.

And the thing is, Teixeira asked for this fight, calling out the fearsome No1 ranked Johnson after finishing Rashad Evans earlier this year.

No one calls out ‘Rumble’ and Teixeira found out why the hard way.

The 205lbs division is in a state of flux due to the enigma that is Jon Jones, but no doubt Johnson has earned a second shot at champion Daniel Cormier, the man he dropped in the first round of their title fight at UFC 187 only to later gas and suffer a submission defeat.

COWBOY RIDING THROUH THE WELTERWEIGHTS

Since moving up to 170lbs, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone has looked imperious, none more so than his stunning second-round finish of Rick Story.

He’s now 3-0 at welterweight since making the move up after a soul-sucking lightweight defeat to former champion Rafael dos Anjos, and he’s looked fresh, quick and confident at the weight.

Why then does he follow up an excellent performance – Cerrone landed a cerebral combination which included a stone-like right hand and a whipped head kick to force the stoppage – by calling out current 155lbs king Eddie Alvarez?

The lightweight division is stacked with a murderous row of talent waiting in the wings to face the new champ.

Cerrone is some way down the pecking order but where he is close to UFC gold is at welterweight. The division is not the deepest and assuming Stephen Thompson gets his chance to take on Tyron Woodley, there’s no one else really crying out for a shot.

Cerrone is on the cusp of title contendership at 170lbs and really should continue to focus his attentions on that.

After all, Cowboy’s riding through the division as it is.

NO LOVE FOR THE DIVISION

Cody Garbrandt is a legitimate contender for Dominick Cruz’s 135lbs crown. It’s a fact now.

‘No Love’ steamrolled steely veteran Takeya Mizugaki in the first round to continue his hurtling hype train and extend his MMA record to 10-0. He did it quicker than the champion, too.

Cruz sensationally stopped the Japanese star in 2014 with a 61-second KO. Garbrandt? 48 seconds. He landed a big straight right and finished viciously on the ground to extend his UFC record to 4-0.

The Team Alpha Male standout now has two money fights at his feet. One, of course, is Cruz, a fight with many angles – the pair have already trash talked and the champ has history with TAM.

As one of the hardest hitters in the division, could he connect against the best defensive fighter in the UFC, though?

It remains to be seen, and we may have to wait a little longer because Cruz is rumoured to be eyeing a move up to featherweight to take on Jose Aldo in a superfight.

If that’s the case, the second option for Garbrandt is former team-mate T.J Dillashaw.

The No1 ranked Dillashaw had a very public spat with TAM after he left the camp last year and the simmerring bad blood between the former champ and Garbrandt’s team would make for a fascinating match-up.

Regardless, Garbrandt has options and stirring ones at that.

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UFC 202: Preparing for a war

Alex Rea 20/08/2016
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Plenty of bottle: McGregor

The bottled up rivalry between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor burst back into life at the UFC 202 pre-fight press conference, igniting a fire in the previously composed Irishman.

The UFC featherweight champion has largely cut a cool figure in the lead up to his highly-anticipated welterweight rematch with Diaz in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena tomorrow (UAE 07:00).

That, though, was replaced by vexation after the press conference exploded when Diaz walked out before triggering a melee by throwing his water bottle in McGregor’s direction.

Chaos ensued, with obscenities filling the air alongside empty cans, bottles and even coffee cups. According to UFC president Dana White, there’s even a lawsuit in motion after someone was apparently injured during the incident.

The clash has fired up McGregor and the Dublin native cut an edgy figure at the open workouts yesterday.

“It’s a big fight. We came here ready for war, not ready to throw little bottles and go running. We are ready to fight so let’s go,” the 28-year-old said.

“That fairytale he’s been having is coming to an end. So all the fans have been giving him this invincible feeling that he can’t be knocked out. He can be knocked out and he will be knocked out.”

In what is the biggest fight of his life, McGregor is seeking redemption after suffering the first loss of his UFC career having been choked in the second round of their UFC 196 clash in March.

With so much riding on the rematch, the promotion’s biggest star has poured $300,000 from his deep pockets into his training camp to ensure he captures revenge.

Although McGregor refuses to entertain the thought of defeat, the divisive Irishman was adamant that consecutive defeats for the first time in his MMA career would not affect his star power.

“My legacy’s set in stone,” McGregor said. “My legacy was set in stone when Jose (Aldo) crumbled in 13 seconds. This is just something else outside of this. This is just a straight fight. So I’m happy with that cause that’s what I came here for. I came in here for a straight fight.”

McGregor has obsessively hunted the rematch with Diaz after the Californian stepped in on 20 days notice to shake up the perceived natural order.

And he believes the promotion is worried lightning may strike twice tomorrow.

“Look at what’s happening. I get paid finally after I’ve been stuck in a contract for years and they sell the UFC,” Diaz told UFC Tonight.

“It’s changing because of what’s going on here and if people don’t recognize that, they’re tripping,” Diaz told “UFC Tonight” on Wednesday. “That’s why they threw me back in there, they want to weed me out and try to get me out of here until it gets too big.”

UFC 202 main card

JOHNSON IS READY TO RUMBLE

Anthony Johnson’s light-heavyweight clash with Glover Teixeira in the co-main event of UFC 202 has title implications and the inevitability of a knockout finish.

The No1 ranked Johnson takes on No2 Teixeira with the victor likely positioning themselves into a shot at 205lbs champion Daniel Cormier.

Arguably two of the heaviest hitters in MMA, Teixeira is riding a three-fight win streak, which includes a first-round KO of Rashad Evans in April, after back-to-back losses following a title defeat to Jon Jones.

‘Rumble’, meanwhile, has two straight wins under his belt after losing out on the title himself when Cormier submitted him last year.

Jones dismantled the Brazilian over five rounds on the way to a unanimous decision at UFC 172 but Johnson is anticipating a different style match up.

“I watched that fight a long time ago, but I haven’t looked at it again,” Johnson said. “I know what I need to do and what I can do. It’s about being efficient and understanding what you need to do.

“We all know that Glover hits hard and is dangerous on his feet. And what makes him so good is that he’s also dangerous on the ground. He’s the real thing. But I feel I can stand with anybody. I’m just going to go out there and do me.”

Before Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz step into the Octagon, their respective team-mates, Artem Lobov and Chris Avila, will meet on the preliminary card to further stoke the rivalry between the two camps. Avila will be making his Octagon debut while Lobov is fighting for his UFC career after two straight defeats.

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