Conor McGregor beaten after being choked out by Nate Diaz at UFC 196
CONOR McGregor's star came crashing down to the canvass in Las Vegas last night as Nate Diaz choked the life out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena and submitted the UFC's golden boy on an utterly startling night of mixed martial arts.
Having taken the fight on less than two week's notice the Californian defied all predictions and a whole lot of logic to rock the Notorious's world with a rear-naked choke submission. It was an identical outcome to the co-main event where Miesha Tate stripped the bantamweight title from Holly Holm as UFC 196 turned the sport on its head.
The first defeat of his UFC tenure in his first ever welterweight fight leaves the featherweight world champion with a whole lot of pondering to do. For Diaz, who had been left with a brutally bloodied right eye after losing the first round, this was the defining he night of a long career of combat.
“I’m always in good shape, I peak as I go," said the victor on his night of nights. "I thought I landed with some good punches that got him off. I started off slow but I’m faster than anyone later on. My jiu-jitsu is always there for me.”
The arrival of the UFC's exiled icon Georges St-Pierre a couple hours before fight time created a significant stir. The Canadian, seen by many as the greatest mixed martial artist of them all, hasn't fought since 2013 when he vacated his world title at welterweight. That he returned to the spotlight on the night McGregor was making his professional debut in the division wasn't seen as mere coincidence.
The UFC are desperate for a megafight to sit atop the bill of their summer spectacular, UFC 200, at the new T-Mobile Arena here in Las Vegas, the prospect of St-Pierre making his long-awaited return against the organisation's new golden boy suddenly looked a live one. But first McGregor had to mark his welterweight bow with victory.
It had initially looked like he would do just that as McGregor landed the first punch of the fight to send the decibel levels soaring anew. It reddened Diaz's jaw. As he looked to respond, McGregor goaded him, repeatedly asking his opponent "What's that?" as Diaz poked jabs. The canvass was soon crimson as McGregor opened Diaz under his right eye. The Notorious had dominated an opening round that was as wild as had been
Body shots soon started to find their mark too as the second round looked like going much like the first. How wrong that was to prove. A left-right combo knocked Diaz back as he wipes blood from his eye. Once his vision cleared however, Diaz broke through and rocked McGregor back.
After a heated build-up the two were now trading verbal blows and left and right bombs. This was now an all-out brawl And it wasn't going the McGregor's previous seven outings had largely gone. With just over a minute remaining the fight went to the ground, where Diaz had an advantage. He crucially got McGregor's back and locked in a perfect choke hold.
McGregor tapped out and this hall of fighting that has seen all kinds of nights struggled to take in the scene. The leading man was crestfallen. UFC 196 was never supposed to go like this. For a man obsessed with bottom lines, there was no escaping that this was a disaster.
“I thought I took him the first round. I’m humble in victory or defeat," he said. "I took a chance to move up in weight and it didn’t work.
McGregor pledged in Thursday's final pre-fight press conference that he could be the UFC's billion dollar man, having helped the organisation amass over $600 million in revenue in 2015. On Saturday night he became its first million dollar man, McGregor's declared purse the first seven-figure sum received by any fighter.
That base salary didn't include any of the myriad pay-per-view and sponsorship bonuses that were also on the line. The number dwarfed the $46,000 Tate received as challenger in the co-main event, the blatant lack of parity all too unsettling, even more so after the fight transpired.
With Rafael Dos Anjos - McGregor's original opponent in a lightweight championship bout - out of the picture, the meeting of Tate and Holly Holm represented the only title fight of UFC 196. It had played a much murmured second fiddle in the build-up. It was the first time in 11 years that a pay-per-view card featured a non-title bout ahead of one with something tangible on the line.
The arrival of Holm and Tate finally got the crowd worked up. It was the bantamweight champion's first defence of the belt she unceremoniously stripped from Ronda Rousey last November. She was to discover just how that felt as Tate stunned the MMA world with a staggering fifth-round submission.
Holm had earlier somehow survived a second round salvo, when the former champion Tate took her down and rocked her with elbows, twice coming within millimetres of locking in a read naked choke. But the champion recovered to take the third and fourth rounds, having earlier shaded the first.
That left Tate needing something special in the final round if another chance wasn't to pass her by. She was to find something extra special with the clock ticking down. Just 90 seconds remained when Tate finally did lock in a rear naked choke that left Holm out cold.
The Garden Arena erupted as Las Vegas offered more than a penny for Rousey's thoughts. The golden girl is still weighing up her next move. The golden boy will now have to do similar. Nate Diaz ensured that.