UFC 196, on paper, was scheduled to be one of the biggest MMA events of all time. The women’s bantamweight champion, Holly Holm, who is of course best known for viciously stopping former champ Ronda Rousey to win the belt, was booked to defend her title against the skilled Miesha Tate in the co-main event slot.
As if that wasn’t enough, the main event featured an outstanding clash of champions—featherweight king Conor McGregor, fresh off of his thirteen-second KO of Jose Aldo—and Rafael dos Anjos, who defeated Donald Cerrone in just over one minute a few months prior. The lightweight crown was on the line, and to reiterate, this was one of the most heavily anticipated bouts of all time.
Then on February 23rd, with about a week and a half remaining until the contest, the worst possible news was delivered: Rafael dos Anjos suffered a broken foot in training, and would be forced to withdraw from the contest. Fans were undoubtedly disappointed by this development, but not too long after the story broke, this disappointment turned to intrigue: who would McGregor compete against now?
After the news of the injury broke, a mass of high-level fighters offered to battle the talented and popular Irishman, including Donald Cerrone, Manny Gamburyan, Evan Dunham, and Nate Diaz. Ultimately, the UFC made the decision—based upon their perception of the fans’ opinions— to book Stockton’s own Nate Diaz in the fight. He will now battle Conor McGregor in the main event of UFC 196, at welterweight (170 lb).
The weight class in which the contest will be fought likely jumps off the page as strange to some readers, as it should. McGregor is of course the current featherweight (145 lb) champion, and to move up two weight classes for a fight—an astonishing twenty-five pounds—is quite the jump! Diaz’s camp has placed the decision to hold the fight at welterweight with McGregor’s team, and the Irishman’s camp has done the same. In the midst of all of the finger pointing, there are probably a few clear-cut reasons as to why the fight will be contested at welterweight, which relate to several different points.
First, Nate Diaz may not have been able to comfortably make lightweight (155 lb). Granted, the fight could have then been booked at a catch weight contest, where the weight requirements would have been set outside the standard weight classes. But this wouldn’t have made sense when the next point is considered.
McGregor and his head coach, John Kavanagh, speculated that the featherweight champion may be interested in moving up to welterweight with a win over dos Anjos, to challenge Robbie Lawler for his belt! These comments accordingly drew a bit of skepticism, especially given the caliber of dos Anjos, but nevertheless, this outcome is possible. If there’s one thing that McGregor’s rise to fame has taught MMA fans, it’s that the man may talk, but he also reinforces this talk with action; it’s unlikely that he would have mentioned the welterweight move without being at least semi-serious about it.
And what better way is there to set the stage—or assist in the promotion of—this potential title shot than allowing McGregor to compete at welterweight beforehand? Granted, Nate Diaz hasn’t competed at 170 since 2011. Moreover, he doesn’t have a particularly muscular and bulky frame, and won’t be swelling up with additional size and strength in the time before the fight.
In short, there’s an excellent chance that the weight class of the fight serves several purposes, relating to accommodation of Diaz, and more importantly, the promotion of McGregor’s future fights (should he emerge victorious here and against dos Anjos, of course).
As for the fight itself: whatever happens is anyone’s best guess. Fans can expect Diaz to box from the outside, while avoiding the power of McGregor from range, and integrating the takedown as needed. The Stockton native isn’t known for his takedown skills, but does possess an outstanding BJJ game (McGregor’s only two career losses have come via submission). Furthermore, the attempt of takedowns, regardless of whether or not they are successful, will help to disrupt the timing of the Irishman. As if things weren’t interesting enough, Diaz is well-known to have outstanding cardio and an iron chin.
For McGregor, this fight is all about movement. For as much as the champion has accomplished, the reality is that he has never fought someone as physically large as Diaz, and he shouldn’t rush inwards in an attempt to land strikes, as he may very well be surprised by the strength of his opponent.
Still, his countless wins over top-level competition have demonstrated the skill in his hands, and he will accordingly want to keep the fight standing. To win, however, it’s important that McGregor pick his shots carefully, without rushing inwards without purpose. Given his incredible skill, the odds of an error related to over aggressiveness being made are unlikely. But Nate Diaz cannot be overlooked.
The only guaranteed winner after this incredible contest is you: the fan. It may not be the highly touted superfight that was initially booked, but on such short notice, a better replacement would have been hard to find.
Be sure to catch all of the UFC 196 action as it goes down live on pay-per-view on Saturday, March 5th. Enjoy the fights!