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UFC 202: Why McGregor Beats Diaz

The collective jaws of MMA fans everywhere dropped when Nate Diaz pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year — the fifth-biggest, to be exact — when he submitted Conor McGregor in the second round at UFC 196. The McGregor loss flipped the UFC upside down, creating a chain reaction in other divisions that has finally brought us to the rematch at UFC 202.  

McGregor has his fair share of detractors who can’t see through the theatrics that makes him the sport’s most captivating personality, but I’m not one of them. Despite the setback, McGregor remains one of the UFC’s most talented fighters and I see a few legit reasons why he wins this fight.

Here’s why I think McGregor rights the wrongs from his upset loss to Diaz and has his hand raised on Saturday night:

Proper preparation

The anywhere, anyone, any weight mentality doesn’t always work to a fighter’s advantage in the UFC as Conor McGregor found out at UFC 196. Us fans love it, but it’s not always a smart approach at the highest level of the sport — just ask Luke Rockhold how his last short notice fight worked out. Being thrown into a fight against a style of opponent he had never fought before — one with absolutely nothing to lose — requires much more than just 11 days’ notice no matter how good you are.

Many point to the size advantage as the reason Diaz has the edge, and although it’s helpful, it’s not the reason the Irishman lost the first fight — it was because of conditioning and that’s something that can be rectified when you center an entire training camp around it. If you’ve been following McGregor on social media or watching the UFC promotional videos leading up to the fight, it’s clear that cardio has been a major emphasis in McGregor’s preparation which will enable him to hang around and fight at a peak level into the late rounds.

The Blueprint is already there

There are lots of silver linings from that first fight for team McGregor, with winning the majority of striking exchanges in the first round being the most positive takeaway. But his game plan, or lack thereof, became unhinged in the second round and the rest of history.

Watching a little bit of tape can give McGregor the ingredients to defeat Diaz, as Nate suffered perhaps to worst beatdown of his career when Rafael dos Anjos unloaded on his lead leg with vicious kicks back at UFC on Fox 13. Diaz had little defense for RDA’s game plan that night and in turn, it paralyzed his own offensive attack.

Yes, I thought it appeared as though that strategy was about to unfold at around the half round mark of Round 1 in the first fight when McGregor landed a crisp kick to Diaz’s front leg, prompting Joe Rogan to mention that it’s one of Nate’s greatest weaknesses. Conor swiftly moved away from leg kicks, instead opting for the power punches that zapped his energy. This time around, by combining the RDA strategy with a little bit of patience — not exactly McGregor’s strong suit — he’ll be able to chip away at Diaz and set up those power punches at strategic points later in the fight.

He learned his lesson

McGregor is the most confident fighter in MMA. He’s also the most arrogant and it bit him in the ass in the first Diaz fight when he horribly underestimated his opponent. Beating Jose Aldo — maybe the best lighter weight fighter ever — in 13 seconds fed his ego beyond belief and he entered the Diaz fight with a very loose approach that left him gassed and overwhelmed halfway through the second round.

Ultimately, McGregor learned the lesson that so many before him have been victim to — no fighter in the UFC can be taken lightly. That’s why the term ‘puncher’s chance’ exists. Not to insinuate that Diaz is a scrub, because he’s far from it, but Conor treated him like one in that fight and paid the price.

This time around the outlook is different. There’s respect and planning for a man with 22 fights in the UFC and a record 14 post-fight bonuses. A loss can often be the best thing in some fighters' careers as some can bounce back better than they were before. We saw it with GSP in his prime and we saw it with Aldo at UFC 200. I think McGregor is next in the line of great fighters who answer the adversity of the greatest loss of their career with a big win.

Justin Hartling doesn’t agree with the logic of my pick and is siding with Diaz. Read his article to find out why.

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