Saturday 18 November 2017

Comment: McGregor's 'obsession' with Diaz could cost him the empire he worked so hard to build

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

After ascending to the summit of the UFC by making the most of his advantages it has now been confirmed that for the second fight in succession, Conor McGregor has agreed to level the playing field.

McGregor will fight Nate Diaz at 170 pounds in a welterweight rematch at UFC 200 in July, just a few months after the American shockingly submitted the Dubliner at UFC 196.

The decision to fight again at 170 pounds appears to be risky on the face of it - McGregor clearly couldn't dominate at welterweight in the way with which he knocked out his rivals at featherweight, and Diaz will now have a full training camp behind him rather than taking the fight at two weeks notice.

Of course, McGregor will have also learned lessons on how to better deal with taking on a bigger fighter and despite the first fight most people will still expect him to dispose of Diaz just as he did with Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes.

But it is telling that at the moment the bookies have both fighters at 9/10. McGregor has only lost once in the last five years, Diaz five times, so the bookmakers obviously feel that the second fight poses similar problems for McGregor as the first.

There are no easy fights in the UFC - McGregor's last  bout will tell you that - but the Dubliner seems to be neutralising his natural advantages by insisting on avenging his welterweight defeat.

McGregor won his first seven UFC fights at featherweight, a 145 pound division where the 5ft 9 fighter could utilise his power very effectively. Given that McGregor previously said that he walks around at 165 pounds, it was a significant struggle for him to cut so much weight with each fight.

But the reward was huge - by fight time he could be near his ideal weight and that is where he could use his superior power to trouble smaller fighters. A move to lightweight - the bridge between 145 and 170 - was the natural progression but after Rafael dos Anjos pulled out of their UFC 196 bout, McGregor opted for the even larger weight gain at 170.

McGregor has enough clout in the UFC that he could have picked his next fight but according to UFC President Dana White, despite being persuaded by both him, his trainer John Kavanagh and other UFC officials to take a bout at a lower weight, McGregor was 'obsessed' with taking on Diaz.

"He was obsessed – obsessed – with fighting Nate Diaz again," White said in an interview with ESPN.

"Obviously, Lorenzo [Fertitta]  and I tried to argue with him and say, ‘Let’s go back down to [1]45 and defend your title, or if you really want the Diaz fight that bad, do it at [1]55.’

“But he wants to fight at 170. Even his coach, Kavanagh, tried to get him to get off this rematch and off the 170-pound fight, but it’s what he wanted. And he’s going to get it.”

Those quotes speak to the gamble McGregor is taking with this fight. Another loss would to a journeyman fighter - even taking the weight issue and Diaz's iron chin into account - would be catastrophic for the McGregor brand.

He would still be the featherweight champion but the hype - and the associated earnings - would certainly be reduced. So much of the McGregor mystique was built on his ability to quickly vanquish opponents. The aura can survive one loss but by attempting to immediately avenge it at the same weight, he may be in danger of damaging his UFC empire even further.

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