In the early hours of Sunday morning, 7,800 Km from his hometown of Dublin, Conor McGregor defeated Nate Diaz by majority decision. Avenging his loss at UFC 196, in which the Irishman was submitted by the Compton-based fighter, McGregor and Diaz put on a performance that not only went the distance in lasting all 5 rounds, but has gone down in many opinions as an instant classic.
UFC 202, attended by over 15,000 packed into the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas, saw a host of excellent bouts, resulting in 6 TKO’s and a KO in the run-up to the headline event. Earlier fights did not fail to entertain; Welterweights Donald Cerrone and Rick Story were awarded bonuses for the “Performance of the night”, in a Cerrone TKO victory of off head kicks and punches. Other notable fights of the 12 included the 13 second KO of Glover Teixeira by Anthony Johnson, matching McGregor’s own fastest KO of Jose Aldo, a year previously.
The headline fight between Diaz and McGregor not only took the “Fight of the Night” award, but also saw record-breaking purses for both fighters, McGregor earning approximately $3 million to Diaz’s $2 million.
In a fight that saw both tested extensively, McGregor took a lead in the early rounds. Leg kicks and outside fighting exhibited the lessons learned from McGregor’s previous meeting with Diaz, who was knocked down three times in the opening rounds, and appeared shaky and ineffectual. By the third, a fight materialized. Pulling in close, Diaz was able to finish the round strongly, working McGregor viciously with head punches; the Irishman appearing visibly fatigued, perhaps even saved by the bell to end the round, but stayed on his feet.
Going into the fourth, the fight appeared relatively even, and continued leg kicks from McGregor, combined with an intense focus, uncharacteristic patience and clear game plan, saw Diaz bleeding heavily from the face, less mobile and struggling to grapple with his opponent; Diaz’s forte in the Octagon. The fifth saw two fighters bloodied, fatigued and battling for a victory that was expected to be incredibly close on the cards.
To Diaz’s credit, his ability to not only take significant damage early on, but to actually flourish in the later rounds was a testament to his heart as a fighter. However, McGregor exhibited excellent defence with every attempt from Diaz to bring him to the floor. The fight highlighted the amount of preparation McGregor had clearly done since his March submission loss to the American.
The final round ended on a high; Diaz brought McGregor down in the last ten seconds only for the bell to sound. An unexpected helping hand from Diaz to bring McGregor to his feet illustrated a newly-found respect the two fighters appear to have found for one another. Respect rightfully earned by both parties.
The final decision saw McGregor take the fight on the scorecards; 48-47, 47-47, 48-47. The deciding points that gave McGregor victory being from the dramatic third, a round that was clearly his weakest, but also a round in which he admirably did not yield despite heavy punishment from his opponent.
The desire for a third, deciding match was expressed by both fighters at the conclusion. The outspoken McGregor stating his sentiments clearly, “Surprise, surprise! The King is back!” to raucous cheers from the crowd. He has called out Diaz to drop down to 155 pounds for the third, in response to McGregor’s willingness to bulk up to 168 pounds for the previous two bouts the pair have had.
UFC 202 may go down as one of the best in recent memory; thanks in most part to a most satisfying return to the Octagon for both McGregor and Diaz. The two have now set the stage for a fight trilogy that the growing UFC fan-base has been hoping for. Congratulations to Conor McGregor. The King is back.