UFC boff David Walker (@WalkerDavid32) highlights the best betting opportunities for Sunday’s much-anticipated dust-up between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz.
Conor McGregor v Nate Diaz | Sunday 05.00 | BT Sport 1
It feels like I was only writing a preview for this match-up a month ago, so it’s surprising to think that the last fight between Conor and Nate took place in March.
Since that fateful night, Nate Diaz's profile has sky-rocketed beyond what any of us could have imagined.
Although, Diaz feels that this praise and attention has been a long time coming and that he has always been deserving of the accolades that McGregor has been bestowed.
However, come fight night, all of that attention, all of the extra adoration and the new fans will matter little. Once that Octagon gate closes, two men will be left facing each other inside that gladiatorial arena and only one will leave victorious. Who will it be?
If you read back to my UFC 196 preview, you will see that I wrote about how unlikely it would be for Conor to finish Nate.
The 209er has been stopped only once by TKO and, if anyone was in doubt about his chin and durability, the first seven minutes of his initial battle with McGregor highlighted just how tough Diaz is, as the Irish man hit him hard and often.
What I also wrote about was expecting the Notorious one to have a tactical game plan to try and out point Diaz and take the win by decision. Unfortunately, I think that arrogance and a degree of complacency crept into McGregor's mind with taking on the Stockton-native at short notice.
That error will not be repeated this time around.
Diaz rightly earned praise following the first encounter with McGregor but, in criticising the 145lb champion, it has been forgotten by many that he largely controlled the first round. McGregor's undoing was twofold: his lack of cardio fitness and getting punched (hard) in the face when exhausted.
Followers of McGregor and knowledgeable MMA fans will be fully aware that Conor will not put himself in that same position again.
Since March, he has been obsessed with the rematch and he has trained accordingly, sacrificing the media adulation and the glamorous lifestyle he had earned for himself.
He and his coach, John Kavanagh, have recently spoken to Ariel Helwani on the The MMA Hour about how they have entirely revamped training and that they have adopted a much more structured and scientific approach as opposed to the previous regime of training as and how Conor felt fit.
This time around, there has been much more specific training for Nate Diaz; bringing in BJJ specialists; heavier, longer boxers and trying to replicate the Diaz threat throughout the training camp.
Many dismiss McGregor as a showman or a smack talker but when it boils down to it, he is one thing: a fighter. Conor obsesses about the game. Little else will have consumed him since his solitary UFC in March. He will show up prepared both physically and mentally.
In Nate Diaz, McGregor faces an opponent who has all the tools to beat him: a durable chin, mental fortitude, unstoppable cardio, rangy boxing and top class BJJ.
It is only a lack of application throughout the years that has prevented the younger Diaz from rising to the top of the UFC. If he were to beat McGregor for a second time running, he would be in the upper echelons of the company's fighters without doubt.
Diaz took the first fight on less that two week's notice and, infamously, after partying on a yacht drinking Tequila. He will have had a considerably longer camp to build up to this fight and the question is, how will it have affected him?
Much more so than his Irish counterpart, Diaz has done the majority of the media donkeywork leading up to the fight as he appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien shows. He has talked about how distracting this was and how it got in the way of his training at times.
Listening to the 209er, it is obvious that he does not particularly enjoy the media circus and having to play the game. He wants the spoils, but is not always ready to sacrifice himself to build his hype in the way that McGregor was prior to this point.
If Nate wins on Saturday night (Sunday morning for us in Ireland and the U.K.), he won't have much choice in the matter.
But, enough of the nonsense about outside of the Octagon. Let's look at the fight.
Diaz holds a weight, height and reach advantage over McGregor which are huge factors when it boils down to this fight as it will start on the feet and will likely stay there over the course of the first two or three rounds.
With Nate's 2″ reach advantage, Conor will need to find a way of avoiding the straight one-two punch combos that Diaz often throws and try to get inside to land his own powerful uppercuts and hooks.
As I mentioned previously, Diaz does not possess overly quick movement on his feet and tends to plod forward which should allow an improved cardiovascular Conor McGregor to move around Diaz with relative ease and land his own damaging strikes, much as he did in the first round back in March.
McGregor lands a dangerous 5.74 significant strikes per-minute, which caused Diaz to cut badly in their previous contest, and, should the Irish man maintain that level of striking, I have little doubt that he will pierce Diaz's skin again in this fight.
Where McGregor will need to improve is in his striking accuracy as it currently sits at 44% and this is not efficient. If he continues to miss with more than half his attempted strikes, he will tire and Diaz will prosper.
McGregor must refrain from throwing as many power shots in the early rounds and concentrate more on hitting Diaz and moving, picking him apart. Many fighters have used the leg kick to great effect against Diaz (RDA and Michael Johnson – 1st round – in recent fights) and should Conor add this to his arsenal instead of flinging spinning wheel kicks, then it will serve him much better.
Another area that McGregor must improve is in his defence. Currently, the Notorious absorbs 4.04 significant strikes per-minute and Diaz will be thinking that he can improve on his own 4.45 significant strikes landed per-minute.
McGregor is an offensive fighter and tends to keep his hands far too low as he looks to attack his opponents, however, Diaz is a very skilled boxer who will use his range to try and exploit McGregor's defensive frailties.
Look at the second round of first fight and how often Nate landed that devastating one-two combo to rock the Irish man. He will be looking to capitalise on that same area again in this rematch.
Whilst there is little doubt that Diaz is the more decorated jiu jitsu practitioner, it is surprising to find that Conor has better grappling stats with his MMA career with an impressive 71% takedown accuracy in comparison to Diaz's 31%.
Furthermore, McGregor has a better takedown defence that he is credited with as he stuffs 61% of attempts, which betters Diaz's 45% takedown defence.
Whilst these stats may be slightly misleading due to the much higher number of fights that Diaz has been involved in, it would not be a surprise to see a fitter McGregor look to clinch with Diaz from time to time.
In the first round of their last fight, Conor pointed out that he had the better of Diaz in the clinch against the fence and that he also swept Nate when on the ground to then finish on top of him. This area of the fight will be much more closely contested that most people think and it will not be a foregone conclusion if Conor gets taken down.
The more that I have read and watched in recent weeks, the more I think that McGregor will avenge his defeat, however, I absolutely detest the best price of 1.83 on offer from Matchbook.
Diaz won the first fight and has more tools to win the rematch so I had been hoping that McGregor would have been odds-against at the very least.
With that in mind, I am avoiding the straight win on him here. Instead, I am going for McGregor to win in the 4th Round at 18/1 with BetVictor and a smaller stake on him to win in the 5th Round at 33/1 with Bet365.
With McGregor's improved cardio, his determination to avenge his sole UFC defeat and his undeniably striking prowess, I believe that he will cut Diaz early (as he did in March) and will continue to cause damage to the Stockton man, eventually causing the referee or doctor to step in and stop the fight.
McGregor himself has spoken about feeling that this will happen, albeit earlier in the fight, and his coach believes that it will end in the fourth. I cannot see Diaz being stopped earlier but I do believe that cumulative damage could see the fight stopped in the later rounds.
My main pick for this fight, however, is Over 2.5 Rounds. Over 1.5 rounds was my big winner in their initial battle and, once again, I do not see this fight being stopped early.
With Diaz's durability and McGregor's improved cardio and game plan, I have little doubt in feeling that this fight will reach the third round at a minimum. Ladbrokes are offering a lofty 13/10 for this to be the case and I feel like it is very good value. A
s an aside, keep in mind that I felt the first fight would go the distance so this is not a new line of thought for me on this fight.