McGregor v Diaz II
UFC 100, in the early hours of July 12th 2009, will always be the pivotal event in my MMA fandom. Prior to that evening, all that I knew of mixed martial arts was the extent to which it crossed over with pro wrestling, most prominently the likes of Ken Shamrock and Brock Lesnar. Prior to that evening, I had never seen a live MMA event, nor even a live fight.
On this evening, the UFC managed to pique my interest by putting on the heavyweight title rematch between the aforementioned Lesnar and challenger Frank Mir, his hated rival who had scored a kneebar submission in their prior encounter a year prior. Crucially, due to a contractual snafu with Setanta Sports, the UFC was scrambling at the last minute for a TV deal and ended up showing the event on free-to-air television.
I remember staying up that evening, which was no easy thing as I had a shift in the local garage which began at 6am the following morning. I was there exclusively to see Lesnar right the wrong of the first fight with the trash-talking Mir, and in that respect I wasn’t disappointed as “The Beast Incarnate” pounded him out in the second round then proceeded to cut one of the best post-match promos of all time, in which he insulted the sponsors and the fans, and concluded by insinuating that he planned on “laying on top of [my] wife tonight.”
However, in the process of staying up for Lesnar, I was exposed to the magnificent Georges St Pierre, who spent five rounds completely nullifying the offensive capabilities of Thiago Alves in spite of a mid-fight groin tear. I saw the grudge match between the UK’s Michael Bisping and the legendary Dan Henderson, which ended with a brutal H-Bomb knockout. I remember seeing the hype packages for the next event, which was going to feature lightweight kingpin BJ Penn as well as a superfight between Forrest Griffin and a certain Brazilian by the name of Anderson Silva. Suffice it to say, after that night I was hooked.
This July, seven years on from that enchanted evening, we will see the UFC put on their two hundredth big event, featuring a rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz as the main event. It’s obvious why this is the case; McGregor is undisputedly the UFC’s biggest star in a post-Rousey landscape, and this is what he demanded. However, as a fight enthusiast, I feel very underwhelmed.
There was zero element of doubt in the first contest last month. Diaz came in without a training camp, absorbed McGregor’s best shots until the Irishman got tired, and then dominated him on the mat en route to a second round submission victory. If this were anyone else, there would be no immediate rematch, and as such it will only add to the growing narrative of the UFC giving McGregor preferential treatment.
Let’s examine the facts. McGregor ascended to championship contender status with a victory over Dennis Siver, a veteran journeyman who has been in the UFC since 2007 without troubling the elite. His route to that point had yet to see him matched against a strong wrestler, which was the major question mark around his game. With Siver comfortably beaten, the Irishman was promised a championship fight with Jose Aldo at UFC 189 in July 2015.
However, with only two weeks to go until fight night, Aldo was forced to withdraw with a rib injury. The UFC wished to keep McGregor on the card, which was understandable given the legions of Irish support flying in to see him, and so declared that he’d fight for an interim title. The obvious replacement fighter would have been Frankie Edgar, who had been promised the next title shot against the winner of Aldo/McGregor after his recent victory over Urijah Faber. However, the UFC opted for Chad Mendes, a man who had already lost twice to Aldo, most recently in October 2014. Furthermore, at the time the decision had to be made, Edgar is on record as saying he was in the gym actively training, whereas Mendes was otherwise engaged with a lengthy hunting trip. This lack of preparation played a crucial role in the fight, as while Mendes controlled McGregor with dominant wrestling for most of the first two rounds, eventually he fatigued badly and was knocked out.
This scenario would pretty much repeat itself for McGregor’s scheduled lightweight title fight against Rafael dos Anjos last month, and again when the champion pulled out at the last minute the UFC opted for the (hypothetically) safer option, favouring the completely unprepared Nate Diaz rather than Donald Cerrone who was coming in unscathed from a first round submission victory mere days prior. Obviously in the event this didn’t go as the UFC had planned, so they’ve hastily arranged a rematch as McGregor goes consecutive fights without defending his featherweight title. Even if he had won as expected, his next fight would have likely been either against a returning GSP, or a title shot at a higher weight class. Remember that this is a company who until recently went over 10 years without placing a non-title fight as the main event over a championship bout, and you’ll see the extent to which this treatment deviates from the norm.
The situation is made particularly ridiculous by the fact that on the undercard of UFC 200, Aldo and Edgar will fight for an interim featherweight title, with the winner (allegedly) fighting McGregor next regardless of the result of the main event. In the event, I’m very sceptical that this will actually take place; McGregor is massive for the featherweight division, and has to undergo a gruelling weight cut to make 145 pounds, which will only get harder as time progresses and he attempts to gain muscle and size to compete at a higher weight class.
In conclusion, realistically UFC 100 and 200 as a card won’t be too dis-similar; the headline act will be a grudge rematch between the biggest star in the promotion trying to avenge a prior defeat. The undercard will feature title fights with some of the best fighters in the sport. However, this is where the similarities end. The UFC has had massive stars in the past, namely the likes of Lesnar, Rousey and GSP, and while they brought in the monster buy rates and revenue they were generally happy to fight whoever was thrown in front of them. In McGregor, we have a new breed of superstar, a man who is happy to chase superfights and whimsical notions at the expense of sporting or divisional.
We’ll be finalizing our picks for UFC 200 in the coming weeks. Find our past and present picks at Bettin.gs