Saturday 18 January 2020

Comment: Is Nate Diaz in Conor McGregor's head all over again?

JOE CALLAGHAN reports from Las Vegas

WHO knew? Nate Diaz clearly takes punctuality pretty seriously.

When Conor McGregor did eventually show to take his seat on the other side of Dana White at the David Copperfield Theatre in the MGM Grand on Wednesday afternoon, Diaz had been fielding questions for fully 28 minutes - pretty much all on his own.

Anthony Johnson and Glover Teixeira, who meet in the curtain-raiser for the UFC 202 headline rematch, had both spoken briefly. But it was mostly Diaz who had kept things ticking along in the half-hour absence of McGregor, whose immature tardiness has long since proved tiresome for his employers, his fellow fighters and those who cover the sport of MMA.

So maybe Diaz was making a wider point when he promptly walked off the stage as McGregor began to answer the second question posed to him. Some nearer the front of the stage have instead suggested Diaz was following older brother Nick's urgings to stage a walkout. Either way, it sparked chaos in the theatre as Saturday night's welterweight rivals traded insults and then exchanged missiles as the pre-fight press conference descended into utter farce.

Photographs later confirmed that as well as bottles, McGregor launched at least one full aluminium energy drink can in the direction of Diaz and his swelled entourage in the upper tiers of the theatre. Little wonder that in a later interview, it was the Dubliner who expressed his hope that the Nevada Athletic Commission don't take action over the whole circus.

"I was scared for my life,” he said, with tongue firmly in cheek. “I just hope everything is left. I hope I don’t hear about it. That’s what I’m thinking. We’re ready to fight. We’re prepared to fight.”

McGregor was asked if anyone in his own entourage had been hurt from the wave of bottles that came the other way, Diaz seeming to lob the first one.

"We’re absolutely brand new. It was handbags," he insisted in a brief interview with the LA Times. "If they want to fight, let’s fight. I just saw bottles being thrown. I was like, ‘Right, fuck that. You want to start throwing bottles, I’ll throw cans’. But it was all in self-defence."

There was no little irony that McGregor was mid-way through answering a question about his legacy and the potential impact of a second defeat to Diaz in three days' time when the get-together descended into a scene that was more street boy wannabes than mixed martial artists.

There is a widely-held view by many in the fighting community that in lining up Diaz on short notice back in March, McGregor talked trash to the wrong trash talker, Diaz backing it up by choking the hype out of the Notorious one. As they prepare to renew hostilities at the T-Mobile Arena, there's a feeling that Diaz is still very much in McGregor's head as he looks to get back on track.

While earlier still awaiting McGregor's arrival at the press conference, Diaz had been asked about his opponent's prediction in an interview this week that he will right the wrong and knock the Californian out in the second round on Saturday night.

"That's what he said last time. He's got a lot of people around him and he's trying pumping himself up," said the 31-year-old. "He's either lying to himself, about his confidence or trying to make himself believe. He remembers what happened in the last fight.

UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor is held back
UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor is held back

"I think it's a little silly. He's got pictures up in his garage of him punching me. Who does that? He's trying to make himself believe something. He's trying to hype himself up but when he goes to sleep at night, he knows what happened the last time."

Diaz's poking drew ridicule and laughter from a crowd that was significantly lower and a whole lot less engaged than the audience for the pair's pre-fight media gathering in the same venue in March. There is no doubt that in the drowsy late-summer heat of the desert, this rematch had been struggling to gain nearly as much traction as its first instalment.

From that point of view, UFC chiefs and Dana White, who had been exasperated with McGregor's timekeeping at the outset Wednesday, won't lose a whole lot of sleep as their hype machines just got a fresh fuel shipment. Whether an organisation recently sold for $4bn and eager to gain more mainstream appeal wants to go about it with bottles and cans flying through the air is another matter.

For his part, McGregor was asked how the mini-riot would change his approach.

“Nothing. I’m good," he said. "I have a fight on Saturday night. I get to punch him in the face on Saturday so I’m happy with that.”

He'd be well advised to show up on time.

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