Back in February 2013, UFC President Dana White was in Ireland to receive an award for his accomplishments in the sport of MMA. What he also got was the next UFC superstar in a brash and tough-talking Conor McGregor.
A powerful striker who loves to be the aggressor in his fights, McGregor became a household name in the Irish MMA circuit by winning all 12 of his 14 bouts through knockouts.
He entered the famous Octagon in April 2013 and only took 67 seconds to win his first UFC bout against Marcus Brimage. He continued his impressive start by strolling past Max Holloway, Diego Brandao, Dustin Poirier, and Dennis Siver.
In such a short time, McGregor had made a name for himself. He had his eyes set on Jose Aldo, the UFC Featherweight champion.
As McGregor continued to hound Aldo for his belt, Nate Diaz suffered another humbling loss against Rafael dos Anjos in a welterweight bout in 2014.
A black belt holder in Brazilin jiu-jitsu, Nate also learned how to utilize his incredible reach to great effect. He played through the crowd and had the audacity to talk trash to his opponents during fights even when he was losing.
But 7 years have passed since Diaz won the Ultimate Fighter and he still found himself in the middle of the pack. He just didn’t have the record to justify a title shot with anyone anytime soon.
After suffering his 10th loss in 27 bouts, he decided that it was best to sit out the next year in the hopes of finding something to jumpstart his career once again in the UFC.
The idea of having the new guy McGregor getting a title shot against Aldo in such a short time didn’t sit well with fighters from every weight division. Yes, Conor has proven himself. But they had too. And yet Dana White was giving every available opportunity to him.
If talking trash was a sport itself, then Conor would be considered one of its all-time greats. In the GO BIG press conference held before UFC 194, he didn’t let up at anyone. From racial slurs to unnecessary theatrics, McGregor was getting on everyone’s nerves. It was the mental aspect of the game for him. It was a publicity stunt for Dana White. But it was too much for everyone else.
As long as he kept winning, no one could do anything about it.
In the process, Conor would beat Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo, become the UFC Featherweight champion and the most wanted man in MMA. On the other hand, the UFC would go on to have north of 2,000,000 PPV buys for both UFC 189 and 194, proving that McGregor was becoming a big draw.
F*ck that, Conor McGregor, you’re taking everything I worked for, mother f*cker. I’m gonna fight your f*cking ass. You know what’s the real fight, what’s the real money fight — me. Not these clowns that you already punked at the press conference. Ain’t nobody wants to see that. You know you can beat them already. It’s an easy fight. You want the real sh*t. Right here.
Diaz clearly wasn’t afraid to voice out his frustrations against McGregor and the UFC. Nate knew then that if there was any chance to make something out of his career, it would have to involve McGregor.
McGregor would later sign to headline the UFC 196 event that would pit him and dos Anjos, who was the reigning Lightweight champion (Imagine the frustration from the rest of the lightweight field as they saw someone from the featherweight given a free pass once again).
Everything was going according to planned for UFC 196 until dos Anjos suffered a broken foot in training that would setback McGregor’s dream of being the reigning champion of two different weight levels.
With 11 days before the main event, only Nate Diaz was crazy enough to accept the fight on such short notice.
UFC 196 went underway with Conor firing the first shots against Diaz in the opening press conference. McGregor would insinuate Diaz’s soft spot for kids by saying that he “makes gun signs with his right hand and animal balloons in his left hand.” Diaz could only muster a “f*ck you.” He clearly wasn’t going into any psychological warfare with Conor.
As fight night came, Conor came out blazing. Even in the 170-lb, McGregor still moved like a featherweight. Diaz was on the defensive for most of the fight until McGregor slowed down due to fatigue brought by his heavier built. Nate toyed with him with straight jabs and hooks and a panic induced takedown from the champion opened an opportunity for Diaz. He got the neck and the rear naked choke trap to submit McGregor to his first loss in the UFC.
Ever since Nate Diaz won against McGregor, UFC fans around the world have been waiting for their rematch. UFC got themselves a very unique and lucrative opportunity as UFC 196’s PPV buys of 1.5M were the second most just behind UFC 100.
They have two fighters, neither from the same weight class and with no belt at stake, heading down on what could be a trilogy. A Diaz-McGregor 2 was set to headline UFC 200 and could possibly break PPV views and gate attendance. Everything was in place for the highly anticipated sequel.
Tired from doing media obligations in which he blamed for losing his first UFC fight, Conor didn’t show up at the introductory press conference for UFC 200. He thought he earned the right after making $400 million for UFC.
Dana White knew he needed Conor but he reminded everyone that no fighter was above the UFC as he removed the Diaz-McGregor 2 from the loaded UFC 200 fight card. Rules are rules, and no special rules would ever be given out to anyone.
With Conor out of UFC 200, Diaz made it a well-known fact that he wasn’t going to face anyone aside from him; he was out too. UFC 200 still had Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier and Meisha Tate-Amanda Nunes title bouts but there was a gaping hole that was as big as a Diaz-McGregor fight.
Conor then caught everyone by surprise when he tweeted that he has decided to retire young. It was the most-retweeted message in sports for 2016 (more than Kobe’s retirement tweet). In old Diaz fashion, he tweeted that his work was done and retired too.
A few days later, McGregor was trying to force Dana White’s hand by tweeting that he was back in UFC 200. Dana had to continue refuting McGregor’s wild claims and it was hurting UFC 200.
McGregor was becoming UFC’s poster child and yet here he was, toying with the UFC. He would go on to challenge Floyd Mayweather and diss the whole WWE roster, with reasons I have yet to understand.
After weeks of contract negotiations, Dana White, Conor, and Nate finally agreed on a rematch to headline UFC 202. But Dana knew it was time for McGregor to be pulled back down before becoming an egomaniac who could have all the leverage against the UFC. Nate Diaz just became the unlikely hero to do such a thing.
UFC 202 is less than a day away and it’s clear that as much as Conor was trying to get into Nate’s head, it was Diaz who got into McGregor’s. He’s the only guy to beat him in the UFC when everyone thought that Conor was invincible.
Tensions have reached its boiling point in the final press conference just days before fight night. Conor arrived late to the party, much to Dana White’s dismay and Diaz’s frustration. In defiance, Nate walked out of the press conference. Bottles were thrown and lawsuits were filed.
In the open training session yesterday, Conor had this to say:
F*ck team Diaz! And if you’re down with team Diaz, then f*ck you too!
A win for McGregor tomorrow will prove that Diaz was just lucky to catch the champion on a bad day. He will regain his status as the best pound for pound fighter that can dominate any weight. He will continue to call his own shots and his psychological warfare with anyone he wishes to destroy. And it will put Nate back to where Conor found him — in the middle of the pack.
For UFC and its fighters, a Diaz win tomorrow will restore the competitive balance. It will prove that Conor has no business in fighting any division other than featherweight. It will finally remove any notion that Conor can be above the UFC. It will remove every card that Conor holds against the $4 billion-dollar UFC. And it will put Conor to where Diaz thinks he belongs — in the middle of the pack.
– David Gamboa
(image from: http://bit.ly/2bphF0u)