After throwing insults (and water bottles) at each other for months, Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz will finally have to start throwing punches.
The UFC fighters will once again step into the Octagon on Saturday night for their highly anticipated rematch at UFC 202: Diaz vs. McGregor 2 in Las Vegas. And unlike their first fight at UFC 196 on March 5, which seems shoddy and ramshackle by comparison, the rematch promises to be a pressure-cooker of a fight.
There’s no title belt at stake. No, this is about pride. McGregor must prove his status as a true bankable UFC star. Diaz must prove his triumph over that bankable UFC star was no fluke.
McGregor and Diaz have had five months to gain slabs of muscle, hurl curses at each other, and, in McGregor’s case, start at least one high-profile spat with UFC brass over promotional responsibilities.
Now, the playing field is level. The stage at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas is set for the welterweight showdown of the year. Here are five factors that will determine whether McGregor makes good on his threat of revenge—or if Diaz shuts him up again.
Maneuvering All That Muscle
By the second round at UFC 196, Diaz realized he could neutralize McGregor’s speed with sheer power. (“I am facing a taller, longer and heavier man,” McGregor admitted in April.”) Will the Irishman’s quicksilver intensity translate at a heavier weight? Will all that extra muscle slow him down? Or will Diaz simply overpower him again?
The garrulous Dubliner finds himself in an unfamiliar situation: For the first time in his career, he’ll be facing an opponent who has previously defeated him. The fight clearly holds high personal stakes for McGregor, who was “obsessed” with rebooking it, according to Dana White.
So if all McGregor’s pre-fight jabber really has been for show, then he should manage fine against Diaz. But if Diaz manages to get McGregor out of his comfort zone—as he did in March—then he could goad McGregor into making a match-ending mistake.
The Boxing Match
McGregor—who was a boxing specialist before he learned MMA—seemed to win the first round of their previous fight by quickly landing a flurry of punches and drawing first blood against Diaz. But the iron-jawed American ultimately got the upper hand (fist?), negating McGregor’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training and essentially ending the fight before it ever turned into a grappling match. In other words: Diaz is naturally stronger and more powerful. Will McGregor find a way around it?
The Long Game
McGregor is probably loath to admit it, but ever since crushing José Aldo within 13 seconds at UFC 194, he has clearly embraced his a style that is more blitzkrieg than bombardment. The only problem: Diaz is a counterpunching siege engine who is perfectly content to go blow-for-blow with McGregor—especially since it clearly worked at UFC 196. As the fight grinds on and the sweat and blood start to flow, McGregor will need to leverage his superior mobility and wide stance to tire Diaz out, or he’ll likely just get pulverized again. Will his cardio conditioning be up for the challenge?
The Southpaw Question
McGregor has racked up wins throughout his career against orthodox righty featherweights. He seems to confound them with his relatively long reach (for a 145-lb fighter), elegant footwork, and ability to back them into the fence and land brutal punches across the planes of his opponents’ stances. But that all changes against Diaz, a longer, more patient fighter—and a southpaw himself—who can masterfully deny McGregor those easy shots and force McGregor to charge into riskier positions. If McGregor can adapt his style to Diaz’s strengths, he stands a chance—and Diaz, of course, knows this. If McGregor tries to follow his familiar formula, or if Diaz can easily anticipate McGregor’s new strategy, McGregor will likely hear the finishing bell from the canvas.