The UFC returns to Las Vegas on Saturday for the second event ever at the new T-Mobile Arena. The main event of the UFC 202 card is a rematch at welterweight between lightweight contender Nate Diaz and featherweight champion Conor McGregor. They fought at UFC 196 in March, a fight in which McGregor was supposed to challenge then-lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos for his belt, but an injury removed Dos Anjos from the card and Diaz stepped in on just days notice.
McGregor swung heavy throughout most of the bout, but Diaz endured and eventually was able to get the rear naked choke to win, ending McGregor's undefeated streak in the UFC and rocketing himself towards cross-over stardom. Since then Diaz has been making the rounds on television shows such as Conan and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Instead of returning to 145 pounds to defend his belt, or angling for that 155-pound title shot that he never got, McGregor wants to right the loss. According to reports, McGregor was obsessed with getting this rematch.
And here we are.
Without a doubt, this fight is one of the most anticipated fights of the summer, year even. It originally was scheduled to main event the historic UFC 200 card that anchored fight week in July. A dispute over media obligations led to McGregor trying to leverage his way out of the press events and ultimately playing hardball by announcing his retirement on Twitter.
The UFC didn't fold, instead booking a rematch between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones in a light heavyweight title unification bout that never came to fruition as well. Eventually cooler heads prevailed and the fight was rebooked for UFC 202, and will once again be at welterweight. Many questioned the decision considering Diaz is a lightweight and McGregor arguably is natural lightweight as well, but The Notorious said a victory under different circumstances would be hollow and carry an asterisk he didn't want looming over a win.
Like previous fight camps for McGregor, he has spent weeks in Las Vegas getting ready, acclimating himself to the climate in the desert. McGregor says he has spent $300,000 getting ready for this camp, bringing in top fighters like jiu jitsu expert Dillon Danis and Irish middleweight boxer Conor Wallace to train with, fighters with similar size and skill sets to Diaz.
The difference for this fight for McGregor is the ability to prepare for a specific opponent, something he wasn't able to do leading up to UFC 196. The same holds true for Diaz, who had just days to prepare for a fight.
According to McGregor, this key difference will benefit him, being the beneficiary of game-planning, and Diaz will suffer because he is getting comfortable with the larger weight. McGregor said Diaz was walking around at 200 pounds, setting up a weight cut scenario to get to 170 pounds he otherwise wouldn't have had to deal with. Diaz confirmed as much, not necessarily making it true. McGregor has also spent time working on his conditioning and managing his energy, factors he said contributed to his loss at UFC 196.
Tale of the Tape
Both fighters sport 19 wins, with Diaz having lost 10 times and McGregor three. The measurables favor Diaz, who is three inches taller and sports a two-inch reach advantage. According to the UFC's website, McGregor sports a two-inch advantage in the leg reach.
The weigh-in is Friday, but since this is a non-title bout the fighters don't have hit 170 pounds exactly, getting an extra pound if needed. McGregor likely won't have to cut any weight. Also worth noting is that both came in at under 170 pounds for UFC 196.
In terms of UFC experience, few rival Diaz. This will be his 22nd UFC fight, while McGregor will be in ninth. Win or lose, McGregor has only gone the distance once—in a bout against Max Holloway in which he tore his ACL en route to victory. That was the only time McGregor has been past the second round. Diaz, on the other hand, has gone the distance in three-round fights nine times and went a full five rounds in a title fight against Benson Henderson.
In terms of finishing, McGregor is known for his left hand and knockouts while Diaz is known more for submissions. Of McGregor's 19 wins, 17 have been by KO or TKO. In the other corner, 12 of Diaz's 19 wins have come via submission and four via KO/TKO. Diaz loves to exchange and strike, so this is not a grappler versus striker matchup.
Three Things You Need To Know
1. Light Heavyweight title implications
The causal observer might tune into UFC 202 because of the appealing McGregor-Diaz rematch and notice there are no title fights on the card. That doesn't mean the event will be without title implications. In the co-main event, Glover Teixeira and Anthony Johnson meet in a light heavyweight title match that will determine the next contender for the title. Champion Daniel Cormier pegged the winner of this bout as his next opponent and UFC president Dana White confirmed it.
It is worth noting that Cormier beat Johnson a little over a year ago to win the vacated light heavyweight title after Jon Jones was stripped of it, so that would be a rematch.
2. McGregor and Diaz could both walk away with title fights after UFC 202
Dana White said McGregor will return to 145 pounds to defend his belt against Jose Aldo, which would be the first title defense of McGregor's UFC career since winning the belt in December 2015, when he knocked out the same man. Aldo won the interim title when he fought Frankie Edgar for the right to run back the 13-second knockout heard around the world. So if that holds true, win or lose McGregor will defend his featherweight belt next.
If Diaz wins, he could be looking at a lightweight title shot against Eddie Alvarez. The newly crowned lightweight champion has already made it clear he wants to fight the winner of the McGregor-Diaz fight in his first title defense, and Diaz could be the man. Shockingly, that would be just the second UFC title fight of Diaz's illustrious career. Don't count out McGregor putting off the fight against Aldo and pursuing this lightweight title shot either if he wins. McGregor has already stated he is not a fan of fighting Aldo again and thinks the Brazilian will "run" if the fight is booked, but he has also reiterated time and time again that his desire to win and hold two UFC belts simultaneously has not waned.
3. Payroll numbers could be crazy
At UFC 196, McGregor made history by being the first fighter to make $1 million in money just to show, not a combination of show and win bonus. At UFC 200, numbers shot through the roof with Brock Lesnar earning $2.5 million to show. McGregor likes records and money, so he might have negotiated terms that earn him a huge payday.
Across the cage, Diaz will get more than he earned in UFC 196, which he says was just a reimbursement for pay he was owed. He has been demanding more money, and the upcoming post-fight numbers could be fascinating when they're released.
Fighters to Watch
1. Cody Garbrandt
A true star in the making, Garbrandt is undefeated and coming off a win at UFC Fight Night 88—his first main event in the UFC—over previously undefeated Thomas Almeida. The Brazilian had racked up 20 wins without a loss before Garbrandt, who is 9-0, knocked him out in the first round and immediately thrust himself into the bantamweight title picture. His mentor, Urijah Faber, also tried to build up Garbrandt for a title shot after losing to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz at UFC 199.
2. Chris Avila
A fighter from the Cesar Gracie team (aka, where the Diaz brothers train) is making his UFC debut. And who better to be his first opponent in the UFC than a teammate of McGregor, Artem Lobov. Not only is it McGregor vs. Diaz at the top of the card, but also in the preliminary card. Avila comes to the UFC with a 5-2 record, while Lobov sports an 11-12-1 mark, including an 0-2 resume in the UFC.
3. Donald Cerrone
Not an unfamiliar name on the list, but always a must-watch fight. The slogan for UFC 202 is "Anytime. Any weight. Anywhere." No one embodies this mantra more than Cerrone, who routinely utters this after his fights and is always willing to take a fight on short notice, sometimes fighting a couple of weeks after he just fought, and winning while doing so.
The odds are very even according to Odds Shark. McGregor is the slight favorite with a money line of -125 and Diaz hardly an underdog at +105. For betting novices, that means to win $100 a person would have to bet $125 on McGregor. A $100 bet on Diaz would payout $105. In the co-main event, Anthony Johnson is the favorite at -200 and Glover Teixeira is the underdog at +170.
Cody Garbrandt is the biggest favorite, with odds of -500, and not so surprisingly, his opponent, Takeya Mizugaki, is the biggest underdog on the card, with odds at +385. Likewise, Tim Means is a heavy favorite at -400 and his opponent, Sabah Homasi, a big underdog at +330.