When expectation is met with reality, the result is ordinarily a feeling akin to the air escaping a balloon – flat. Sometimes what is hoped for just doesn’t play out the way it was anticipated and so often this has been a narrative which has manifested itself in the UFC.
Indeed, you only have to look back to last month when the promotion celebrated their bicentennial pay-per-view card with, what on paper at least, appeared to be the most stacked event in its history.
But all the fervent build-up and hyperbolic hype was washed away by a series of doping violations – initial headliner Jon Jones failed a test just days before the event began and superstar draw Brock Lesnar left behind a dark cloud of his own after also falling foul – and prosaic performances inside the Octagon.
Up until this point, it’s been a rough 2016 for the UFC with titles changing hands on seven occasions and the merry-go-round coinciding with the waning star power of the company’s biggest success stories of the previous year: Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor.
With the UFC feeling a bit of a deficit in terms of mainstream stars, the last thing they could afford was for their leading man to suffer defeat again. Yet, were UFC 200 proved a letdown, UFC 202 inflated.
In a sense, the promotion’s fortunes are married to McGregor’s. Without him in July they suffered but with him yesterday, everyone prospered. And the Irishman’s blood and guts majority decision win over Nate Diaz had quite the ripple effect.
From the personal nadir of defeat to Diaz in March, he recovered to accentuate his position as the sport’s peak player. Not only that, the nature of the five-round war also saw the genesis of another star name.
Diaz has long been viewed as the UFC’s antihero, but his resilience and heart to weather the green storm through a mist of red, further enhanced his mainstream capacity.
With both McGregor and Diaz thriving, it all created the perfect outcome for the UFC with fans yearning for the trilogy, providing the antidote to the troubles of previous weeks. Now, the next level is on the horizon.
Having been bought out for $4 billion in July the sport’s premier promotion is in a strong position. But make no mistake, the man to carry them is McGregor. The landscape of the game has changed thanks to his audacious trash-talking talents and transcendent abilities inside the Octagon.
And if you’re looking for justification of the new heights he has taken the UFC to, then just look at the numbers for yesterday’s highly-anticipated rematch. The event drew the fifth highest gate ever with $7,692,010.
UFC 202 will likely go on to break more records when the PPV numbers emerge but the one it has already snapped is the biggest disclosed MMA purse in the sport’s history.
McGregor earned $3million while Diaz pocketed $2m, combining for the largest payday for a single bout. Historically, seven-figure payouts have seldom been seen but deep purses are becoming a more regular sight with ‘The McGregor Show’ and if the athletes are finally to be paid what they merit, the 28-year-old will have played a significant role in that.
“I don’t care what anyone says, I helped bring this game to another level,” he said post-fight. “They can deny that, but I did. Look at Nate’s purse. Look at Nate’s purse after the first fight. Look at everyone’s. Everyone’s game has gone up money-wise, and I helped do that.”
While the divisive Irishman has often cut a controversial figure, his role in evolving the sport has been under-appreciated. In beating Diaz in the way that he did, though, McGregor’s victory was not only for himself, but in the end for Diaz, the UFC and for all of MMA.
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.”
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.”
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.
There it is. It all came down to whether they dished out a 10-8 for that third round. Only one judge did. https://t.co/IS8OEja8Xe— Alex Rea (@AlexReaSport) August 21, 2016
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.
A shot the 135lbs champ Dominick Cruz likely up for grabs for Garbrandt here #UFC202— Alex Rea (@AlexReaSport) August 21, 2016
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.