With the debacle that was UFC 200 now in the rear-view mirror – minus the full repercussions of Jon Jones’ failed drug test – mixed martial arts fans can turn their eyes to the future. While there are several more good cards to come – this weekend’s UFC on Fox 20 and UFC 191 a week later – the event most MMA heads are looking forward to most is UFC 202 on August 20.
The card is stacked to a degree that rivals the UFC’s bicentennial event. Glover Teixeira and Anthony Johnson square off for a potential crack at the belt. And action fighters Cody Garbrandt and “Cowboy” Cerrone return in exciting scraps.
But the headliner is what fight fans are most eagerly anticipating. Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz will meet in the rematch we were supposed to get at UFC 200, and the buzz has obviously already been growing.
In anticipation of the frenzy of the two rabid fan bases, the trash talk, and the violence sure to be put on display, this latest list aims to rank the probability of each potential outcome. But more than merely handicapping the likelihood of a McGregor knockout or a Diaz submission, this piece will also break down the post-fight possibilities for both sluggers.
How likely is it that McGregor returns to featherweight? What will it take for him to jump the lightweight line and get a crack at new champion Eddie Alvarez? If Diaz wins, does he get a title shot? Would he even take one?
Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.
6. McGregor Wins By Submission, Earth Implodes
The “Notorious” submitting the Cesar Gracie black belt is extremely unlikely. It might also involve hell freezing over or a giant meteor obliterating the Earth. It is therefore the lowest ranked outcome on this list.
But this is mixed martial arts, where the seemingly impossible happens with ironic regularity. It is certainly feasible that the biggest featherweight hitter of all time could rock Diaz on the feet, maybe even drop him. McGregor could then jump on Diaz’s back and sink in a choke. While I have a hard time envisioning it, particularly McGregor finishing the submission without being fended off or reversed by Diaz, everything before that lies firmly within the realm of the possible.
If McGregor were to submit Diaz, John Kavanagh would likely award him his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt on the spot. He could probably also parlay tapping one of the slickest submission grapplers in UFC history into appearances in grappling promotions like the Eddie Bravo Invitational or Metamoris, though the pay would likely be too small-fry for McGregor to bother.
More to the point, the “Notorious” one could go right back to where he was before fighting Diaz: on the brink of fighting for a second UFC title. McGregor would almost certainly jump Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson for the first crack at Eddie Alvarez’s lightweight championship.
Diaz, on the other hand, would demand a trilogy fight with McGregor to get back his own embarrassing loss. I find it highly unlikely that McGregor would grant such a request, however. He would have just gotten what he wanted, revenge over Diaz, and would then feel free to attack new challenges. Diaz would be left to pick up the pieces at lightweight or welterweight.
He would find himself in similar territory to that Donald Cerrone is currently navigating. With his own drawing power firmly established, Diaz could square off with any number of exciting or high profile opponents across two different weight classes. At lightweight, there’s Dustin Poirier or Will Brooks, and at welterweight, he could battle Matt Brown or Thiago Alves. Any of those names would make for a battle fans would be frantic to see.
5. McGregor Wins by Decision, Challenges Eddie Alvarez Next
McGregor’s poor cardio in the first fight and Diaz’s propensity to grow stronger as the fight goes on make a decision victory for the Irishman the second-most unlikely outcome of their impending firefight. But there is a path to victory for McGregor in the later rounds if he chooses to take it.
One area many people believed McGregor would have a significant advantage over Diaz heading into their first fight was kicking range. Diaz has always shown a vulnerability to leg kicks, but the SBG Ireland export chose to eschew the technique for his trademark heavy hands. When Diaz’s chin held up in the first round, his legs were still fresh in the second, allowing him to box effectively.
McGregor went to the wheel kick often, but failed to hit the low-percentage strike. If McGregor fights with a smarter kick-centric gameplan, he could take home a “W” without having to put the iron-chinned Diaz away. He could attack Diaz’s legs, as his boxing stance has him standing heavy on his front foot. And he could attack Diaz’s body with the front kick that was so effective in wearing down Chad Mendes. And perhaps the best thing about using kicks for McGregor is that they help him stay out of range of Diaz’s long punches.
In the aftermath of such a victory, the most obvious direction for McGregor is down the path to Eddie Alvarez and lightweight gold. We’ve all seen that “Mystic Mac” is all about the green, and vying for a title is the best way to draw when you don’t have a super-charismatic foil like Diaz to help at the pay-per-view window. While he wouldn’t deserve a shot based on merit over guys like Nurmagomedov or Ferguson, he’ll cash in in a way they simply can’t.
With Jose Aldo the newly minted interim featherweight titlist, there would certainly be cries for McGregor to drop back to featherweight to battle his old nemesis. But I see McGregor taking the path of least resistance here, both in terms of the weight cut and the opponent. No offense to Alvarez, but he isn’t the pound-for-pound juggernaut Aldo confirmed he still is with his second victory over Frankie Edgar.
Diaz, meanwhile, could take on one of the aforementioned action fighters at either 155 or 170 pounds. With a 1-1 record against McGregor in two extremely high-profile bouts, Diaz has proven that he is among the proverbial needle-movers. He could easily main event a pay-per-view with the exposure he’s gotten over the last six months.
4. Diaz Wins By Decision, Fights Tony Ferguson
Both Diaz brothers have legendary cardio that is perhaps surpassed only by the integrity of their chins. As Nate showed in his fight with Michael Johnson, once he finds his timing and internalizes the rhythm of his opponent, he is a hard man to stop. If the bout were to go all five rounds, it is easy to imagine Diaz becoming more and more of a force as the fight deepens. That is especially true if McGregor chooses to headhunt again rather than working the body and legs of the Stockton native.
Still, it is hard to imagine this fight going the distance, making a decision victory for Diaz the third least likely outcome. It took Diaz less than a round to batter McGregor into shooting for a takedown once he found his range in the second. But if McGregor hangs back and doesn’t try to win a slugfest with one of the best ever at that type of fight, he could see the final bell.
A second victory for Diaz, albeit a less thrilling one than the first, could conceivably earn Diaz a crack at Alvarez’s belt. But a decision win might not be enough to see him leapfrog Nurmagomedov, and Diaz has made it clear he isn’t really interested in titles anyway. A more likely outcome is a matchup with a top-five lightweight, like Tony Ferguson or Michael Chiesa, possibly as a title eliminator.
McGregor could be in the same boat. With a second straight loss, him fighting for a second belt would be out of the question. He could make the trip back down the scale to 145 to fight Aldo. That would probably be the most high-profile bout available to him. But I’m betting McGregor would prefer to avoid cutting all that weight and taking on a murderous Aldo hell-bent on revenge if he can help it. With a win at lightweight over a fellow contender, McGregor could rebuild his stock and make one more last-ditch effort to hold two belts simultaneously before inevitably vacating the featherweight throne.
3. Diaz Wins By Knockout, Battles Alvarez Next
This outcome isn’t higher on the list precisely because of what we saw in the first fight: if McGregor gets hurts, he’s going to roll the dice on the ground rather than stand around to get posterized. Still, Diaz has hurt plenty of foes before, and when he has them rocked, he flurries with an unending salvo of precision-guided bombs like few others in the sport. It’s possible he doesn’t give McGregor the chance to breathe if he staggers him, much less the opportunity to shoot for a takedown again.
If Diaz ended UFC 202 with a knockout, his next fight would almost certainly be against Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight strap. Interested in titles or not, that fight would be too easy to sell and make too much money for him to turn down. Fellow contenders Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson recently beat overmatched UFC newcomers, so a knockout and second consecutive win over the featherweight champion would be enough for Diaz to skip to the head of the lightweight line.
He would certainly be down to throw hands with Alvarez. And the champ makes for a much better stylistic matchup for him than Nurmagomedov, who many view as the uncrowned king at 155 pounds. Why get into the lightweight line and potentially meet “The Eagle” in a non-title affair or as the challenger if he can skip right to the belt and all the money that entails?
As for McGregor, a knockout loss to a lightweight, even if the fight is at 170 pounds, would send him back down to featherweight with his tail between his legs. At that point the Aldo fight is a no-brainer. He would have confidence going into a fight with a man he already embarrassed that he likely wouldn’t have against the killers at 155.
2. McGregor Wins By Knockout, Fights Alvarez
It must be remembered that of the two combatants in UFC 202’s main event, it is McGregor who has shown the one-shot knockout power. While he wore down Dennis Siver and Chad Mendes with kicks before finishing them off with his hands, he essentially put down Marcus Brimage, Dustin Poirier, and Jose Aldo with one punch apiece. Even if Diaz is famously durable, he has been knocked out before (albeit via head kicks), and no man is completely impervious to the knockout.
Employing a smarter strategy that would conserve more of his energy would allow McGregor to retain his knockout power deep into the fight, giving him more chances to land the deciding blow. Couple that with a stream of kicks to wear Diaz down, and the possibility of a late TKO if an early knockout doesn’t present itself is certainly plausible.
With a knockout of Diaz, McGregor would be fully avenged and fully able to resume his reign of terror on whomever he chooses. As with most outcomes here, that probably means Alvarez.
Again, Diaz would call for a rubber match, but likely wouldn’t be granted one. One win over McGregor would be enough to get him a top five or top ten lightweight if he wanted it. But as mentioned earlier, I’m betting he would take on the best possible combination of action and drawing power the lightweight and welterweight divisions have to offer. I would lean toward Matt Brown if he gets by Jake Ellenberger at next weekend’s UFC 201.
1. Diaz Wins By Submission, Ferguson or Title Shot Next
Maybe this is a copout because it’s what happened in the first fight, but hindsight says it’s what makes the most sense.
Diaz is much bigger than McGregor, so he isn’t as effected by the “Notorious’s” punches as featherweights are. Plus his chin is granite. Diaz is also longer, something McGregor is not used to dealing with. And Diaz’s ground game is miles ahead of McGregor’s, making any time spent there extremely dangerous for the Irishman.
McGregor eschewed kicks in the first fight, likely due in large part to the emotions and trash talk; he wanted to take Diaz’s head off. I would bet McGregor kicks more the second time around, but when Diaz starts taunting and hitting him, strategy and good sense will go out the window and McGregor will head hunt again. That will be his downfall. If he couldn’t win a boxing match against a Diaz who had ten days to prepare – with no sparring to get his timing down – it’s going to be ugly when Diaz has a full camp.
The most likely outcome to this fight is Diaz once again making McGregor think he’s “a wrestler now” after hurting him on the feet, and locking up a submission.
While this is the most likely outcome, it’s also the one for which it is hardest to predict Diaz’s next move. As with a decision victory, he could conceivably jump the other contenders and face Alvarez. But without the highlight of a scintillating knockout, would two wins over a featherweight be enough for people to call for Diaz over Nurmagomedov as Alvarez’s next challenger? That’s what it comes down to for Diaz: do more people want to see him or the Dagestani sambo champion challenge Alvarez next?
With another submission over an undersized and perhaps grappling-deficient McGregor, I’m betting more fans will want to see “The Eagle” finally get his crack. That leaves Diaz to fight in a number one contenders’ fight if he’s interested in the title, an action fight at welterweight if he’s not.
I’ll bet the former. The problem with Diaz entering the lightweight-welterweight purgatory that Cerrone finds himself in is that Diaz has never been as active as “Cowboy”, nor shown an interest in fighting that much. Therefore, he’s going to look for the quickest way to make the most money, and that points toward a title. If Diaz submits McGregor again, he fights Tony Ferguson for next.
A submission loss for McGregor isn’t as humiliating as a knockout would be, so he could insert himself in the lightweight picture if he chose. But with Aldo being crowned the interim featherweight champion, a title that explicitly grants next dibs on the undisputed champion, McGregor might have to vacate the featherweight crown to start climbing the lightweight ladder. I don’t think McGregor would vacate unless he has to or he already has something better. So if McGregor gets submitted by Diaz on August 20, we will see McGregor-Aldo 2 down the road.