Here are the keys to victory for Conor McGregor heading into his UFC 202 main-event bout with Nate Diaz.
Nate Diaz shocked the MMA world outside of Stockton at UFC 196, where he defeated Conor McGregor in the second round of their main-event bout. Diaz connected and wobbled McGregor for the first time in his UFC career, and took advantage of an ill-advised takedown attempt to get the submission hold. In the immediate aftermath, McGregor was reportedly possessed with getting a rematch, insisting the second bout happen under the same parameters as the first, at welterweight.
McGregor got his wish, and the fight was slated to main event UFC 200, but McGregor's protest of media obligations resulted in the fight being canceled, and now rescheduled.
Getting a win over Diaz isn't an easy task for McGregor as he looks to avenge his lone loss in the UFC, but it is doable. Here are the keys to victory for McGregor.
5. Avoid the Ground Game
McGregor's bread and butter has been the stand up game. He is a knockout artist. Diaz, meanwhile, is a jiu jistu technician and master who can dominate fights on the mat, a position that cost McGregor the UFC 196 bout.
McGregor needs to keep the fighters on their feet, where his strong suits are. That doesn't mean he is a lock to win the stand-up battle. Diaz is a talented striker as well and considerably durable, but McGregor will do better on his feet than on the mat against Diaz.
4. Rely on the Counter
McGregor is a counter puncher by nature. It is how he got the quick and decisive win over long-time featherweight champion Jose Aldo, baiting him and escaping quickly and landing a left-hand as he retreated. The Diaz brothers will push forward, it's their nature, and McGregor needs to take advantage.
McGregor has made it a point to emphasize that he was the aggressor at UFC 196, walking down Nate Diaz and backing him up against the cage. McGregor needs to let Diaz come to him by setting up traps like the Aldo situation.
3. Conserve Energy
Immediately after UFC 196, McGregor attributed his loss to energy management, essentially saying he burned through his tank quickly while Diaz efficiently managed his energy. There is some truth here. McGregor saw an opponent coming off of roughly 10 days notice and he spent the first round swinging for the fence with an upper cut, hunting for the knockout.
Much like a batter at the Home Run Derby, McGregor swung all the energy out of his system. McGregor needs to be tactical and selective with his shots to conserve energy, especially against an opponent who has gone the distance and been in some wars and has a deep gas tank.
McGregor said it himself, precision beats power and timing beats speed. He has to remember those words instead of looking for the knockout.
2. Stay Calm
The argument could be made that Nate Diaz is winning this battle of mental warfare leading into the match. When Diaz tossed a water bottle at the UFC 202 press conference, McGregor went ballistic, frantically searching for anything to throw back at Diaz, who stood in place yelling expletives. In the Embedded series on YouTube, you could see an irate McGregor back stage at the David Copperfield Theater trying to comprehend why Diaz would walk off the stage like that, inciting the fracas.
The next day at open workouts, McGregor could see Diaz fans growing in numbers and spent the majority of his time on the microphone berating Diaz and his supporters. Clearly still irate.
At UFC 202 weigh-ins on Friday, McGregor and Diaz had another tense staredown, with police officers on hand to assist UFC president Dana White in keeping the fighters apart. When Joe Rogan went to interview McGregor, he looked at Diaz and delivered a threat directly to his opponent before turning and walking off after thrusting Rogan's hand, grasping the microphone away.
McGregor has clearly allowed his emotions to enter the mix leading into this fight and he can't fight emotionally or Diaz will seize the opportunity again, closing the book on this rivalry. McGregor needs to calm himself down and let all those feelings not factor into the fight, and that might include not watching teammate Artem Lobov fight earlier in the evening.
1. Stick to the Game Plan
McGregor had a game plan against Jose Aldo, and it worked to the letter en route to a 13-second knockout. Heading into this rematch with Diaz, McGregor invested heavily in game-planning for his opponent, to the tune of a reported $300,000. McGregor brought into training camp, tall, lanky, southpaw boxers that are heavier than he is. He brought in a jiu jitsu black belt to train with so as to learn how to defend himself on the ground against Diaz. He brought in a nutritionist to have a healthier diet plan ahead of UFC 202 instead of the steak diet he feasted on before UFC 196.
This investment can't go out the window because of emotions. This plan is McGregor's clearest path to victory and he needs to stick to it. Any deviations from the game plan put him in jeopardy of a second-consecutive loss.
Look back at the UFC 193 title bout between Holly Holm and Ronda Rousey. Holm had a game plan and stuck to it, while an emotional Rousey allowed herself to get riled up at the weigh-ins the day before. Rousey pushed forward, eating shots because she wanted to get her hands on Holm. That worked right into Holm's plans of countering and moving.
Likewise, McGregor needs to remove emotions and stick to the game plan.