OUR UFC expert David Walker (@WalkerDavid32) is buzzing about the Sunday night action with Conor McGregor back in action.
Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz | Sunday 05.00 | BT Sport 1
Drama, drama and more drama!
This is a fight that has had the fans salivating since Nate Diaz called out the Irish superstar after beating Michael Johnson in his most recent fight in December.
In fact, Diaz was a genuine consideration for McGregor at UFC 196 despite Rafael dos Anjos holding the 155lbs belt. However, the opportunity to be the first UFC fighter to hold two belts at the one time was simply too appealing and ‘The Notorious’ one was due to battle it out with RDA for the lightweight title on 5th March.
As we are now aware, however, dos Anjos pulled out with a broken foot and the bout with Diaz was agreed, albeit at 170lbs; a huge increase from McGregor's usual 145lbs division.
Conor McGregor has been in a full training camp for this fight and despite RDA being his original opponent and a much different styled fighter than Diaz, the Irishman will be fighting fit and ready to go to battle.
McGregor has talked at length in the past about preparing himself; improving his own skills and not being remotely focused on his opponent. As a result, he will not be phased by the late change of combatant.
Indeed, this will be the fourth time in Conor's eight-fight UFC career that he has had to face a different fighter than the one he originally signed up to battle with.
From listening to both McGregor and his long-time coach, John Kavanagh, great comfort and mental fortitude is taken from these steady changes as Conor is convinced his opponents are not mentally strong enough to face him, resulting in their physical disintegration.
For Nate Diaz, this is a rise to the occasion that he feels he has been unjustly denied until now. For all his skills as a fighter, Nate has too often been embroiled in financial wrangles with the UFC's top brass and been overly concerned with his perceived lack of respect shown to him.
Thankfully, that is not an issue for UFC 196 and even in Diaz's battle with Michael Johnson in December, the 209 native appears as though he is focused more on fighting than he is about receiving more money or respect.
Analysing both fighters' styles and previous fights has been an extremely interesting process. With Conor, there is much less to go on due to how he dispatches his opponents in often double-quick time.
To date, the Irish superstar has finished 18 of his 19 opponents in professional MMA including five consecutive KO/TKO finishes in his most recent fights within the UFC. McGregor's only victory by decision came against top-five ranked featherweight Max Holloway after the Irishman had torn his ACL in the second round of their 2013 fight – an aside being that Holloway has won eight straight fights since losing to McGregor.
McGregor has a largely unique fighting style, where he depends heavily upon unpredictable movement and striking to unsettle his opponents and to also keep their attacks at bay.
With a mix of tae kaon do, karate and capoeira, the Irish fighter uses a variety of kicks to not only inflict damage but to gauge the distance between he and his opponent and, as stated, to stifle their attacks. However, there is little doubt that Conor's greatest weapon is his left hand.
As a southpaw, McGregor will use his powerful and accurate right jab to feel his prey out and, much like his kicks, he uses this to calculate the distance between himself and his opponet.
Having used the jab to set his opponent up, ‘The Notorious’ then unleashes the hammer that lies in his left to inflict serious damage, as he demonstrated with aplomb against Dustin Poirier, Chad Mendes and, most famously, Jose Aldo.
The power and precision that McGregor generates through his entire body before releasing it via his left hand is unparalleled in MMA. The question is, will the power that served him so well at 145lbs translate to 170lbs against much bigger and more powerful foes?
From listening to McGregor, his power is not relevant. In his own words, ‘precision beats power and timing beats speed.' And it is Conor's belief that he is more precise a striker than anyone else on the entire UFC roster. With his results to date, it is difficult to disagree.
Across his seven UFC fights so far, McGregor has landed a very impressive 5.53 significant strikes per-minute with an accuracy of 44%. Furthermore, McGregor has used his combination of precision, timing and power to knock his seven UFC opponents down a total of six times with a distance knockdown rate of 6.1% – to put that last stat in perspective, Nate Diaz has a distance knockdown rate of 0.6%.
To combat McGregor's dangerous striking, Diaz will need to ensure that he improves upon his 3.29 significant strikes absorbed per-minute. Having analysed Diaz's recent fights, he gets hit frequently, particularly his lead leg which causes his movement to be greatly restricted as fights go into the later rounds.
Indeed, most recently against Johnson, Diaz struggled through the first round when his front leg took a battering. Go further back to Diaz's defeats to RDA and Josh Thompson and you will see Nate come straight forward and take considerable damage to his lead leg. This is something that McGregor will be very aware of and whilst the Irish fighter does not typically throw power kicks, I would expect him to target this area as a weakness.
Nate Diaz sees himself as a striker and he visibly enjoys engaging in stand up brawls as he often mocks his opponent mid-fight and plays to the crowd. In fairness to the man from Stockton, he lands 4.3 significant strikes per-minute across his MMA career with an accuracy of 43% rivalling that of his opponent at UFC 196.
The issue with Diaz's striking, however, is the predictability of it and this is something thatMcGregor has alluded to on a number of occasions in the lead up to the fight.
Nate tends to plod forward in straight lines. He does not disguise his attacks or strike from a variety of angles. This means that it is easier for McGregor to anticipate what is coming, thus avoiding taking damage and limiting the reach advantage of Diaz (76″ to McGregor's 74″).
Furthermore, having analysed Diaz's southpaw attacks against Johnson, RDA, Thompson, Henderson and Cerrone, the Stockton native often leads with his right jab before throwing a heavy left immediately behind it.
In doing so, Diaz propels his head too far forward leaving his chin unprotected. This will be an issue against a striker as quick and as accurate as McGregor. Diaz leaves himself exposed for a left high kick (as he did against Josh Thompson) or to a left uppercut, which McGregor specialises in.
Look back at Conor's first UFC fight against the diminutive Marcus Brimage or to his fights with Poirier or Siver (both smaller men than Diaz) and you will see the uppercut used to devastating effect. I believe that this will be McGregor's greatest weapon on the night.
As much as I have talked about Conor McGregor's striking, Nate Diaz has only been finished once by TKO and never by KO and this is despite taking some incredibly powerful hits from strikers such as RDA, Gray Maynard, Cowboy Cerrone and Benson Henderson.
Diaz is very, very tough and extremely stubborn. He simply will not want to become another notch on McGregor's proverbial bedpost. I expect Nate to be happy to trade on the feet, however, once he feels the power and relentless accuracy of ‘The Notorious’ one, I anticipate that he will try and wrestle McGregor to the ground and use his elite level Gracie jiu jitsu game to try and submit his way to victory.
Whilst there is no question than Diaz possesses the superior BJJ, I believe that he will struggle to get and keep Conor on his back. McGregor fought off multiple takedown attempts by Chad Mendes despite having a compromised knee at UFC 189 and with greater power at 170lbs minus the debilitating weight cut allied to fully functioning knees, I expect Nate to find it very difficult to take the Irish man down and instead, he will have to resort to dirty boxing against the fence.
McGregor will have the movement and strength to fight his way out of this position without taking too much damage, before returning to striking from distance.
From a betting perspective, I do not think this fight will be as straightforward as many people think. Conor McGregor is a very unappealing 3/10 (Bet365) to win by KO/TKO or DQ and, whilst I believe his striking will dictate this fight, I would not be completely confident that he can finish Nate Diaz, particularly not as this is his first foray into the 170lbs division.
McGregor himself, has stated that he would like the fight to go longer than the majority of his previous fights to allow him to showcase his growing talents. As a result, Over 1.5 Rounds is the standout bet for me at even-money with Ladbrokes – this means that should the fight go past the halfway point of the second round, we will have a winner.
Keep in mind that McGregor has gone past the first round in three of his seven UFC fights, meaning the even-money offer provides us with good value.
I personally think that bout will go to a decision victory for Conor McGregor, which can be backed at a lofty 4/1 with BetVictor.
For those who are interested, there are a number of interesting markets to be found for this fight. Nate Diaz to give the middle finger during the fight can be backed at 1/2 with Coral.
Both fighters to touch gloves after the referee's instructions at 13/5 with Betway – for all their talk in terms of selling the fight, I expect both fighters to respect each other before and after the battle. McGregor will definitely look to touch gloves and Nate will likely follow suit.
Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz – Conor McGregor to win via decision (4/1 BetVictor)
Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz – Over 1.5 Rounds (1/1 Ladbrokes)
Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz – Nate Diaz to give the middle finger during the fight (1/2 Coral)
Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz – Both fighters to touch gloves after the referee's instructions (13/5 Betway)
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