#360view: Diaz bout must-win for McGregor

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Major tests ahead: McGregor.

Las Vegas is a city notorious for its endless entertainment options, hosting the biggest stars and some of the most ostentatious shows. Few, though, are comparable to the theatre of a Conor McGregor spectacle.

The Irishman rolls into Sin City tomorrow for UFC 202, hunting redemption for a personal nadir with the same ferociousness as the tiger adorning his stomach.

Nate Diaz is the man on the menu, the first fighter to inflict defeat on McGregor’s transcendent UFC record after he sunk in a second-round rear-naked choke on just 10 days notice in March.

‘The McGregor Show’ has taken on numerous forms, from record-breaking championship knockouts to blood and guts glory. But this one has a different complexion.

His now famed crisp and cold trash-talking has thawed the mental fortitude of previous adversaries. Jose Aldo crumbled in 13 seconds to see his featherweight crown and 10-year unbeaten record snatched away while Chad Mendes was peppered with verbal jabs before the inevitable knockout blow landed.

Even the imperturbable Rafael dos Anjos – the former lightweight champ, who McGregor was initially slated to fight on March’s UFC 196 card – showed little imperviousness when faced with the Irishman’s psychological warfare.

Not Diaz, though. In fact, the American has stolen the show so far with Thursday’s pre-fight press conference justification of that.

In the past, McGregor’s most dangerous weapon has been his mouth. But Diaz artfully pulled his opponent’s trusted tool – the mic – away from his lips and in the same breath amplified a rivalry which had quietened significantly in recent weeks.

‘The Notorious’ is, well, notorious for arriving to press conferences fashionably late. He storms in to vociferous acclaim from his devoted Irish supporters and fires rapid verbal combinations to leave his rivals dazed. This time, his tardiness worked against him as after just five minutes of oration, Diaz walked out, igniting a melee by throwing a water bottle at a crucially irritated McGregor.

He pleaded to go back on stage shouting “let me talk, just let me talk,” with desperation displacing the usual lexical command.

In a key pre-fight conflict, McGregor lost. The calm and calculated McGregor, has instead cut an edgy figure in ensuing interviews and the question is, will it affect his gameplan?

In March, he pursued Diaz with ruthless intent, head hunting and searching for the knockout blow. When he failed, there was no ‘Plan B’ and little energy to even execute one, eventually leading to his downfall. This time around, McGregor must show a degree of patience, utilise his kicks to the body and legs and try to outclass an opponent with excellent boxing fundamentals and who has been stopped just once in his UFC career.

With the vexation he’s displayed in the aftermath of the press conference, there’s a concern his composure may have been eroded. If that’s the case, defeat is on the horizon against the longer framed Diaz in what is the biggest fight of his career.

Make no mistake, this clash is indeed McGregor’s most pivotal and defeat would be catastrophic for his star billing. Yes, a title is not on the line but for a fighter who operates in the realms of the money fights, his ability to attract the dollars will be severely impacted.

The ramifications run deep for the promotion, too. MMA is celebrated for its unpredictability, yet, the UFC has fallen victim to that same principle in 2016.

An unprecedented seven championship belts have changed hands in the last seven months with upset victories aplenty. Another one tomorrow could force a rewrite of ‘The McGregor Show’.

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