Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 2 Pre-Fight Breakdown - UFC 202

UFC 202 will be taking place this Saturday afternoon, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Next to 200, this is the most stacked card I've seen this year. Seriously, there are so many reasons to be excited about it. Neil Magny, Rachel Pennington, Cody Garbrandt, and Donald Cerrone are participating. Plus, the co-main will feature an unconfirmed light heavyweight title eliminator as Anthony, Rumble, Johnson faces off against Glover Teixeira. Having said that, those incredible names are currently receiving next to no attention, as all eyes are focused on the headliner. In one of those rare MMA fights that turn into a cultural phenomenon, Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor will collide. Again.

The late Carl Sagan once stated that "You have to know the past to understand the present." So before we get into Saturday's matchup, let's briefly go back to March 5, 2016. UFC 196. Miesha Tate just won her women's Bantamweight title in spectacular fashion. The evening's main event was promoted as an iconic scrap between everybody's favorite Irish man and Stockton's golden boy. Let me tell you, that's exactly what we got. From the very beginning, both men got busy. In the first round, Conor went in for the early-kill. He wanted to demonstrate he could drop anyone within a round, and he certainly attempted to prove said theory. Without much set-up, he constantly threw these vicious left-hand haymakers trying to take Nate's head off. He absolutely delivered some brutal shots, but Diaz ate them like it was dinner.

By the second round, the '209 King' was good to go. However, Conor was exhausted. Attempting to land so many big strikes, alongside the poor weight-adjustment he had to deal with would have left anyone gasping for air. Regardless, The Notorious began to slow down as Nate's hands got loose. He successfully adjusted the reach and eventually connected with a beautiful straight to the chin. McGregor went into panic mode and shot for the takedown;Diaz used his Jiu-Jitsu abilities to masterfully transition and put him away with a rear naked choke. Just like that, it was all over.

Now, why did Conor lose the fight? Well, he didn't pace himself accordingly. The second the initial bell rang, it was all about pushing forward. Not enough lateral or head movement. As he got in Nate's face, his kickboxing variety was also lackluster. Left-hand missiles and a couple of Capoeira kicks to the dome; rarely did he go to the body or legs. After making history by knocking Jose Aldo out at UFC 194, the current featherweight champion stated that 'Precision beats power and timing beats speed.' That mentality wasn't there at 196, and that's the reason he didn't come out on top.

The funny thing is, some of the bombs he landed that night would have dropped most featherweights and lightweights. That's another aspect I love about this fight: the clash of styles. In many ways, Nate is Conor's perfect archenemy. The MMA Gods handed him the right set of tools to negate Mystic Mac's strongest assets. McGregor's game is highlighted by powerful hands, effective mental games, and a great understanding of distance. But Diaz has an iron chin, a complete 'no fucks given' attitude that keeps him from being broken, and an even more impressive utilization of range.

As I thought about the rematch, I realized this breakdown could be written in two perspectives. The first one is, 'Can Diaz do it again?' To be honest, I think this route is way too easy to develop upon. Of course he can. As a matter of fact, the majority of the MMA fan base is picking him to obtain the victory. He had a full camp (a commodity he couldn't enjoy last time), and he's the longer, taller, more tested fighter. Plus, he holds the psychological advantage. He already defeated this man. Therefore, I asked myself: What are the chances of McGregor getting the win back?

With that uncertainty in mind, I started researching instances in which a mixed martial artist got in the cage with an opponent they had previously succumbed to, ultimately getting their hand raised the second time they met. Going back to Sagan, your future is somebody else's past. After reliving rivalries such as Cruz vs. Faber, GSP vs. Hughes, and Bisping vs. Rockhold, one thing stood out like a sore thumb. In all those cases, there were years in-between the first and second encounter. The fighters were able to substantially develop, expand and grow, to the point in which their styles came together differently. It's been 5 months since the first fight. For all intents and purposes, this is the same Conor we saw at UFC 196. His cardio will be better, and he seems to have prepared for a specific type of opponent (lengthy southpaw). But will that be enough?

Finally, we're left with the keys to victory. Nate must turn the bout into a brawl. The Diaz brothers thrive in crazy barn burners. Their chin, durability, and boxing technique allows them to typically get the better of the exchanges. As he applies pressure, the high striking output and infinite gas tank could give The Notorious a ton of trouble (especially in the later rounds), potentially ending the bout in similar fashion to the dramatic finish we witnessed last time.

When it comes to Conor, he has to learn from his previous mistakes. Nate is not the toughest puzzle to crack. If you're a strong wrestler or a hard kicker, the blueprint to triumph has been laid out by Rafael Dos Anjos and Benson Henderson. While the wrestling is out of the picture, leg kicks are there. McGregor can't rely on power this time. A real strategy is needed. He must stay moving, using footwork and leg kicks to bait Nate. When Diaz is chasing after him, the opening to remind us that precision and timing are vital will present itself.

Regardless of the outcome, this is bound to be among the most memorable evenings of the year.

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