Friday 19 January 2018

Conor McGregor still $10m better off despite UFC golden boy being taught a lesson

Dubliner insists he will take positives from stunning Las Vegas defeat

Nate Diaz applies the winning choke hold to Conor McGregor during their fight at UFC 196 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Nate Diaz applies the winning choke hold to Conor McGregor during their fight at UFC 196 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
McGregor gets in a kick Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
The fighters exchange blows Photo: Mark J. Rebilas / SPORTSFILE

Joe Callaghan in Las Vegas

He's far from the first. In this town of all towns, he sure as hell won't be the last. Las Vegas is a city littered with souls who have come here with great expectations only to see a massive gamble blow up in their face in a moment of brutal realisation.

However, Conor McGregor may be the only one who has ever walked away from such a disastrous denouement still $10m better off.

The Dubliner better not hold his breath for a wave of pity from the Strip to lap up at the doors of the Mac Mansion any time soon.

On Saturday night at the MGM Grand, the problem was that McGregor couldn't hold his breath at all.

Nate Diaz, with all of 11 days' notice, strode off the beach and into the cage and cut off the Dubliner's circulation. With a stellar second-round submission of the UFC's golden boy, he suffocated a whole lot of hype too.

'Rear naked choke' is the mixed martial artist's terminology for Diaz's decisive move. And when it's locked in as perfectly as the Californian got it late in the second round of the ­headline bout of UFC 196, it does ­exactly what it says on the tin.

It did for McGregor's undefeated record in the organisation he had taken command of these past three years.

Rear naked choke. Three words that are going to live long in the memory of the hundreds of thousands of newcomer supporters McGregor has attracted to mixed martial arts since 2013.

After this another truly remarkable night of combat, they're three words that will stay synonymous with the number 196.

In the co-main event of the card, Holly Holm was also brought ­crashing down from a great height to the harsh reality of the canvass by an equally perfect rear naked choke from ­Miesha Tate.

The defeat of the women's bantamweight champion only served to add another uncomfortable context on McGregor's disastrous night in the desert. Unlike the Dubliner, Holm refused to tap out and instead was choked unconscious by Tate.

It had been six years since McGregor had last lost a professional bout but that was also by submission.


The simple act of tapping Joseph Duffy's arm that day to signal surrender stalked McGregor afterwards.

"It ate me alive," he recounted in an interview last year. "After that I said I was going to fight to the death. You're going to have to kill me [to submit me]."

Would this tap, in front of the eyes of the world, eat McGregor alive all over again?

"You're damn right [it will]," he said at the post-fight press conference, an equally stunned Holm sat beside him. "But we can either run from adversity or we can face adversity head on and that's what I plan to do. It wasn't ideal. But I will learn from it.

"It's a bitter pill to swallow. I took a shot and went at it. I was simply ­inefficient with my energy. Nate took [my shots] very well. The weight helped him take those shots.

"I was inefficient with my energy. I made errors. His range was a factor, my left hand was falling short. My wheel kicks missed and that did more to my energy than his. It was a battle of energy in there and he won.

"This is the game. I am happy to have come out and continue and stay in this fight. It didn't pay off. This is the fight business. It's another day. I will come back."

But McGregor's UFC record - and with it his very aura - will now forever have this black mark on it.

He'd probably prefer to not have anything Floyd Mayweather-­related brought up any time soon but ­before last year's fight of the century, ­boxing historian Springs Toledo argued that Manny Pacquiao's own ­blemished record could be viewed just as ­impressively as his undefeated ring rival.

"Mayweather's career lacks that over-the-brink experience," said ­Toledo. "Losses on a record are like Cindy Crawford's mole or Cary Grant's cleft chin. They add character."

In a brilliant piece on these pages on Saturday, Vincent Hogan had argued that it would only be in defeat where McGregor's true character would be revealed.

Having tracked the Dubliner's ­career particularly closely over the past two years, it was equally this writer's view that it would be the first defeat rather than the next facile victory which would open a new door more about into the Notorious one.

Searching for early signs here on Saturday night, McGregor was magnanimous, gracious, humble. He ­lauded Diaz and saluted his resilience. The only cursing was towards himself and his descent into "panic mode".

There may come a time down the line when this defeat will be recognised as not a negative but positive watershed.

From a professional perspective, McGregor learned a brutal but valuable lesson and didn't sacrifice anything tangible in the process. His featherweight title still sat in front of him on the dais.

From a personal perspective, defeat and his reaction to it may help him garner a whole new level of respect and respectability.

The time for maybes and mights wasn't Saturday night, though. It was a time for the here and the now. Neither felt particularly good.

"He kept his composure," said McGregor. "He went into almost auto-pilot mode with the shots, his face was bust up, and I went into panic mode. There was a shift of energy and he capitalised on it."

The energy had been mostly one way up until the midway point of the second round. McGregor, fighting in this arena for the third time in eight months, looked like picking up where he'd left off as he landed left-handed power shots that bruised and then bloodied Diaz.

What they didn't do, however, was bury the Californian like they had Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes before him.

McGregor was learning that moving up two divisions in a little over 12 weeks to fight a bigger, stronger opponent was all but unheard of for a very good reason.

"I think with a bit of an adjustment and recognition that it must take more than one shot, more than two shots, more than three shots to put the ­heavier man away.

"I think if I go in with that mindset at a heavier weight I will do fine again," he insisted as he mined for what little positives could be plucked from a dark night in the desert.

"There's many lessons to be learned from the fight but I'm happy with it. I'll learn, I'll grow and I'll come back."

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