Monday 20 November 2017

Nate Diaz: 'Conor McGregor has been training to fight me all along'

UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor (L) and lightweight contender Nate Diaz (R)
UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor (L) and lightweight contender Nate Diaz (R)

JOE CALLAGHAN reports from Las Vegas

THEY had packed out what is all but his house. They were all but speaking his language. There's every chance then that Conor McGregor would have felt all too comfortable amongst the sea of souls jammed into the Garden Arena on Tuesday.

More usually a hallowed hall of fighting, yesterday, as UFC 196 fight week slowly came to life on the Las Vegas Strip, the MGM Grand venue was filled to the brim with real estate agents. The three seminars scheduled for the first day of the global property sales summit were as follows: a masterclass in improving sales technique, followed by a talk to help 'develop a high performance team' and finally a four-step guide to 'accelerating your income'.

All of which sounds like it would have been right up McGregor's alley. Hard selling, high performance and swelling bottom lines, the Dubliner has mastered all three as he blazed a trail through the mixed martial arts world in recent times. So so much so that this capital city of combat is now McGregor's real estate. certainly from a UFC perspective, he is the landlord of Las Vegas.

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Alas, the Notorious one wasn't around to poke his head in the door and take in some of the (probably pretty insufferable) management-speak of the property market deities on hand. He was making his way to Sin City from the suburbs of Los Angeles, where he has finalised his preparations for Saturday night's showdown with Nate Diaz.

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Conor McGregor

The rapidly rearranged headline bout of UFC 196 will creep further on to the landscape here on Wednesday afternoon (9pm Irish time) when both fighters - and their co-headliners Holly Holm, the women's bantamweight champion and her challenger Miesha Tate - take part in public workouts at the MGM Grand.

But the creep could be an uncharacteristically slow one, certainly a touch more sluggish than McGregor's two most recent visits here to the desert, in July and December of last year when his interim and then outright featherweight title victories over Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo Junior enveloped the place.

Yesterday there were subtle but still noticeable signals that the non-title bout, hastily put together and promoted last week in the wake of a foot injury ruling McGregor's original opponent, Rafael Dos Anjos, out of Saturday night pay-per-view event. The Brazilian took his lightweight title out of the equation too, with it McGregor's chance of becoming the first fighter to hold two divisional titles simultaneously disappeared.

So McGregor will instead face Diaz, the featherweight moving all the way up to welterweight. Yet on separate advertising hoardings inside the mega casino, Dos Anjos and Diaz were alternately listed as the scheduled opponent. Ticketmaster, meanwhile, still showed availability for tickets in most categories for Saturday night's card.

The master salesman of MMA will now need all those skills to ensure that income continues to accelerate at the desired rate. To that end, and undoubtedly on the back of all of the buzz generated by last week's wild press conference showdown between Diaz and McGregor, UFC chiefs yesterday opted to repeat the trick.

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Conor McGreogr will fight Nate Diaz on March 5

They shook up the fight week plans to schedule another face-to-face sitdown for the cameras involving the pair on Thursday afternoon. It may have only come together on 11 days' notice, but the McGregor-Diaz showdown will be given every opportunity to come to the boil.

The stand-in challenger, who has already accused McGregor of being on steroids, such has been the ease that the 27-year-old Irishman has seemingly jumped from 145lbs to the 170lb limit for Saturday's bout, is determined to play his part. Yesterday, while McGregor continued to post social media updates on just how laid-back his beachside preparations have been, the veteran Diaz insisted that it was the UFC who begged him to take on the sport's most daunting prospect, rather than the other way round.

"It's no McGregor show. It's a fight that needed to happen. I'm the biggest fight," he insisted. "They knew they were fighting me already. They were already training for me. They knew what's up. But hey, don't trip. Maybe I'll plot back. They were plotting on me, I might have been plotting back too. You never know.

"Nobody wants to take fights with me, until they start losing and then they want to take a fight with me. Anybody I fight, you fight me and you get a title shot. They'll deny it, but no one wants to fight me if they're doing good. There's no other real fighters in the game."

However, Diaz, wildly popular with long-time UFC fans along with elder broth Nick, did admit that the all too brief lead-in could also backfire on him.

"I think you should beat everybody on your worst day, but you can never be ready enough for a fight anyway. I might get murked," he added, in an interview with TMZ Sports. "Don't care, though. It's all good. Or he might [get beaten badly].

"It would have been nice to get a camp. It's all good, whatever. I've went to camps, trained hard and fought like sh*t. Three weeks later, after eating as much as I want, hanging out, not doing nothing, came in and whooped everybody's ass in the gym anyway. So we'll see what happens."

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