Saturday 3 December 2016

Everything you need to know about Conor McGregor’s new opponent Nate Diaz

Tom Rooney

Published 24/02/2016 | 17:41

As social media teetered on fever pitch amid the whirling speculation as to who would face Conor McGregor at UFC 196, one name became increasingly prominent on the consensus wish list, that of Nate Diaz, and so it was decreed.

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As we now know both Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar were both offered and subsequently turned down the bout, though the latter is said to be injured. While Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis each strongly petitioned through their management to be selected as the next foe of MMA’s marquee draw.

Lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos’ omission with a broken foot is a crushing blow in light of the fact that McGregor was vying to make history by becoming the first man ever to consecutively hold titles in two different weight classes.

However, in choosing Diaz to step in on 11 days notice, at 170lbs., the UFC have given fight fans of all degrees the type of dream match up that oh so rarely develops beyond the hypothetical.

This is so because Nate Diaz’s style of fighting and demeanour has almost universally endeared him to fight fans and, here, we take a close look at the Californian.

Veteran 

When Diaz enters the octagon on March 5 in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, it will be his 22nd appearance under the UFC’s banner. Comparatively, he has three times more bouts with the promotion than McGregor.

Diaz officially debuted in the UFC in March 2007, when he defeated Manny Gamburyan to win the fifth edition of the The Ultimate Fighter series. The Dubliner would not make his professional bow for close to year.

In the interim, Diaz has recorded 12 wins and tasted defeat eight times but, not one of those contests have failed to deliver in the entertainment stakes. The 30-year-old goes all in every time and owes much of his popularity to that fact.

High calibre

Unlike Chad Mendes Jose Aldo or Rafael Dos Anjos, Diaz should not be viewed as the most genuine threat to McGregor’s 100pc UFC record. That said, he’s as tough as they come and possesses an effective, if limited, skill set.

Diaz owns victories over perennial contenders such as Gray Maynard, Jim Miller and, most impressively, Donald Cerrone.

In December 2012, he challenged then lightweight champion Benson Henderson for the title, but lost a unanimous decision over five rounds. As such, his credentials as an elite level fighter are beyond reproach.

He has a tendency to fall short against those with a wrestling heavy style like the aforementioned Henderson and Dos Anjos for that matter. He has only been finished twice; one knockout and one submission.

Most recently, after a near year hiatus, he returned to action last December to record an ultra impressive decision win over the dangerous Michael Johnson. After which he had some choice words for McGregor.

 A brother’s love

You could say that MMA is a family business in the Diaz house, with Nate following older brother Nick into the cage and then the UFC.

It could be said he is slightly less talented replica of his elder sibling, who was the Strikeforce welterweight champion and has challenged, unsuccessfully, for the UFC’s interim and unified title in the same division.

Both often come off as ornery to the point of belligerent, while employing a slick boxing game inside the octagon.

Part of their appeal is that nobody is ever quite sure what they’ll say next. Insulting opponents before, during and sometimes after bouts has been a Diaz hallmark long before anyone ever heard of Conor McGregor. At weigh-ins and stare downs, their propensity for shoving their forehead into a foe’s, tends to amply stir the pot.

In describing the pair, Dana White once said that ‘the Diaz brothers are angry at the world’.

An exciting style, but tailor made for the ‘Notorious’

As stated, Diaz’s most potent mode of offence is his boxing. A lanky Southpaw, he likes to throw a pawing jab followed by a cracking left hand, and does so with great frequency.

What he lacks in impact and speed, he compensates for with volume and grit. He also possesses a decent lead hook, but little by the way of kick boxing.

Diaz’s stance and head movement render him a rather stationary target, though his ability to take a punch has mitigated this on many an occasion. Yet, McGregor’s accuracy and power simply cannot be accounted for, so hoping to withstand the Dubliner’s barrage by force of will is not the least bit advisable.

In terms of height and reach, Diaz is the first man McGregor has faced in the UFC that will enjoy a notable advantage. The American is 6’0 with a reach of 76 in., while the SBG man, also a leftie, stands at 5’9 and has a reach of 74 in.

Where Diaz unquestionably holds sway over the featherweight champion is jiu-jitsu. 11 of his 18 career wins have come via submission and he’s been awarded Submission of the Night bonuses on five occasions by the UFC.

A long tome black belt under Caesar Gracie, Diaz only tends to use his grappling when put on his back by a wrestler or if he’s completely overwhelmed someone with strikes; neither scenario seems probable with McGregor.

Expect a barnburner

Diaz, for sure, will not find McGregor’s jibes and mind games the slightest bit unsettling. He will fire out his own expletive laden barbs with sheer abandon and relish getting up close and personal with the Irishman.

This could be viewed as unchartered territory for McGregor, and seeing how he copes with a fighter undaunted by his psychological warfare will be interesting to the say the least. 

Another Diaz habit is to punctuate his punches with ‘Motherf**cker’ or ‘bitch’ time and again, or simply smirk at his enemy as he tees off on them. If that doesn't do it, his middle finger is frequently on show.

It’s for this reason above all else, that so many clamoured for the bout. McGregor is the superior athlete and technician, but he’s being asked to navigate and bigger man who will hold no fear for him. For that alone, it’s a worthwhile endeavour.

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