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UFC 196 Blog: The greatest of upsets, the most stinging of defeats

Nate Diaz’s face is bleeding after an ordeal of a first round. Walking down the seemingly unstoppable force that is Conor McGregor, he finds success with a jab-cross combination that the Irishman scoffed at only five minutes before. Suddenly McGregor is moving backwards and Diaz is coming after him.

Pinning the Dubliner’s head against the fence, the Stockton slickster lets his opponent have it and when “The Notorious” manages to escape, in a vision that is rarer than hen’s teeth, he shoots for a takedown. Stuffing it, Diaz guides himself towards McGregor’s back as the captive audience growls in anticipation.

More from UFC 196: Order UFC 196 replay | UFC 196 results | Post-fight bonus recap | Diaz shocks McGregor | Tate wins title | Latifi, Anderson, Nunes win decisions | Prelims had it all | Sanchez, Saggo and Ishihara win early | Backstage interviews: Nate Diaz, Miesha Tate, Corey Anderson, Amanda Nunes, Siyar Bahadurzada, Nordine Taleb, Vitor Miranda | Octagon interviews: Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor, Miesha Tate, Diego Sanchez | WATCH: Exclusive GSP interview | Watch the UFC FIGHT PASS prelims here | Picture perfect: Best snaps from Vegas

His arm slips under McGregor’s chin and the excitement in the MGM Grand Garden Arena nearly lifts the roof of the premises. McGregor’s tap concludes nearly three years of groundbreaking ascension, and with his defeat three titles come into play again, freed from the burden of speculation.

By press row, Tyron Woodley is singing and dancing. With Robbie Lawler being left on the shelf for a potential date with McGregor, and Stephen Thompson being matched with Rory MacDonald, it looks like the American Top Team man will finally get a crack at his teammate.

And earlier …

Traditional Irish music welcomes Holly Holm into the arena to the delight of the packed MGM Grand Garden Arena, which has yet to see the self-proclaimed ‘Irish King’ fall. As the co-main event gets under way, the audience takes turns chanting the names of the two fighters battling for the women’s bantamweight title.

Although it seems like Tate has let her chances of winning the bout fade away as the claxon ends her grappling assault in the second round, somehow, Tate locks up a rear naked choke in the dying embers of the fifth. As Holm loses consciousness, the crowd loses its mind as Tate finally declares herself at the top of the mountain.

With the same numbers not travelling in droves from Ireland this time, the vast majority of Irish flags carried on the night are from American fans. Not only has McGregor made the casuals trade their allegiance with their own countrymen, but he has also attracted a who’s who of celebrities to the venue.

Gordan Ramsey, Zac Brown, Nick Jonas, Reggie Bush and Gerard Butler file into their front row seats by the Octagon before the co-main event gets underway. Desperate to share in the excitement that saw the travelling Irish have a $200 million impact on Sin City in July, they are oblivious to the fact that they are about to witness two of the greatest upsets in the history of the UFC.

There will not be the same dancing up and down Las Vegas boulevard by the Green Army tonight, but should their champion call on their support again at UFC 200 in July, they are sure to give an emphatic answer that the world will witness when the UFC take its marquee show to the newly built T-Mobile Arena.

Peter Carroll is a longtime MMA journalist who writes for the Irish Mirror, FIGHTLAND and SevereMMA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PetesyCarroll



UFC 196 Blog Part 4: McGregor and Diaz Fulfill their Duty and Step on the Scales

Two police officers join Dana White and Co. on stage before Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz register their official weights for Saturday night’s main event. The chorus reaches a new high, and hisses and boos swarm around the MGM Grand as Diaz appears in front of the scales.

The crowd crescendos in an almighty roar as McGregor appears in a green T-shirt with an enormous smile on his face. Rubbing his belly, he rips off his signature Reebok tee and throws it to the left of the stage, nearly ensuing a riot. Looking as comfortable and healthy he ever has as a welterweight, the Irishman contorts his body into his usual weigh-in pose, and bellows a war cry right to the back of the historic combat sports venue.

As soon as they face off, Diaz sells McGregor a feint and “The Notorious” suddenly becomes animated, bouncing around and shouting insults in the direction of his opponent. The posturing is electrifying and even when Joe Rogan interviews them, the main event duo’s thoughts are inaudible over the noise. The gathering sounds their approval; it’s the perfect tease for Saturday night’s festivities.

MORE ON UFC 196: Buy tickets to UFC 196 | McGregor vs. Diaz First Staredown | Read: Always a superfight when Conor is in town | Diaz clears up McGregor comments | Watch: UFC Minute - Inside UFC 196 Numbers | McGregor - Rogan Riffs | McGregor on UFC 194 | Holly Holm - Ready to Defend | Miesha Tate - And New | Read: Reasons to watch | McGregor doesn't disappoint in verbal war w/ Diaz | Diaz steps up, states case against McGregor | Fight week blog: McGregor, Diaz, Holm, Tate making moves | Sanchez ready to entertain on UFC FIGHT PASS | Pre-order UFC 196 PPV

Earlier, Tom Lawlor draws a confused, premature explosion from the crowd. With his back to the audience, Lawlor removes his t-shirt and seeing what he has yet to reveal to the rest of us, Joe Rogan cracks up laughing.



“Filthy” steps on the scales and shows the room his new tattoos, which are identical to that of main eventer McGregor’s. When Corey Anderson stands in front of him to face off, he twists himself into the same wide stance that has become synonymous with the Irishman, drawing big laughs from the assembly.

Earlier, the big names that punctuate UFC’s schedule from April to June are wheeled out before the weigh-ins at the “Unstoppable” press conference. Capitalizing on McGregor’s cultural transcendence into the mainstream, the promotion is sure to keep the interest of some new fans with the variety of mouth-watering contests the UFC has in store for its mainstays.

Although there will be six titles on the line during that period, there is a seventh strap that appears in front of Jon Jones. The dethroned champion, who lost his title through a suspension, is the picture of confidence as he faces off against the new champ, Daniel Cormier.

Hours after the melee at the press conference Thursday night, McGregor is his charismatic self as his pre-recorded interview with Conan O’Brien is beamed around the world. Cracking jokes, giving insights into his mind frame and even demonstrating a flying capoeira kick, even veteran talk show host O’Brien can’t help but be enamored by “The Notorious.”

In many ways, the people who have criticized McGregor’s punching of Diaz’s hand are guilty of hypocrisy. On the announcement that the Stockton charge would take Rafael Dos Anjos’ place, the thoughts of the two pouring over into fisticuffs at face offs was one of the unique selling points of the bout. Now that it’s happened, and despite the unsportsmanlike conduct McGregor has been accused of, there is more interest than ever in the headline bout.

As always, two of the most captivating figures in the sport have delivered for their employers, but as Scott Stern of Las Vegas Fight Store maintains, McGregor’s presence in Vegas has an impact on the whole city.

Forced to order in extra stock back at UFC 194 to cater to the Irishman’s fans, Stern is more than ready for the thousands who will make the same pilgrimage through his shop doors this weekend.

“A lot of people think Conor’s ‘Red Panty Night’ catchphrase is just a joke to mock whatever opponent is lucky enough to get the chance to fight him, but it’s true in more ways than people think,” Stern explains.

“It’s also a financial boon for Las Vegas. Conor brings crowds. Conor brings money. The only thing comparable is ‘Money’ Mayweather. And with Floyd’s career ending its Conor’s turn to be the new King of Vegas. People are here to be part of the spectacle and excitement.”



UFC 196 Blog Part 3: Chaotic Closing Statements Highlight Final Media Clash

Dana White wipes the perspiration from his hands on the legs of his jeans before welcoming Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz to face off for the penultimate time before Saturday night’s UFC 196 main event.

As Diaz stretches out his tall frame, his fist stops just in front of McGregor’s face, which is being held aloft by the tall, regal stance of the Irishman. There is a pause as the main event duo stares at each other, but only for a peaceful, pregnant second.

Suddenly, McGregor’s left hand bursts out from over his shoulder, punching Diaz’s obviously offensive fist from his face.
 


Dana White has to pin the Stockton charge back as he tries to get at the Dubliner, and within seconds, Jake Shields and Nick Diaz are on the scene to back their teammate. Ido Portal and some of McGregor’s team follow quickly behind as Diaz and McGregor trade insults as massive security guards hold them back.

Eventually leaving the stage, McGregor and Diaz are brought to separate hotel rooms to conduct satellite interviews, where a handful of police officers stand guard outside each door, according to veteran MMA reporter Ariel Helwani.

The climatic crescendo to the UFC 196 final press conference is widely expected after both main eventers made their critical closing statements in the David Copperfield Theatre in the MGM Grand. Neither McGregor nor Diaz pulled any punches in what will be their last chance to exchange public barbs.

“Nate is always talking about people don’t want to fight him, they’re scared to fight him, and he’s right,” says McGregor. “The likes of Pettis and all these people, they are probably running from him, but I’ve hunted him down. I’ve stalked him like my prey. Now I have him and on Saturday night I will eat his carcass in front of his little gazelle friends and they can do absolutely nothing.”

“I train with top guys,” Diaz explains. “I train with Kron Gracie, a world champion, one of the best jiu-jitsu guys there is. I train with Nick, Jake and Gil, they’re top ten MMA fighter and Joe Schilling is a top ten kickboxer. All I see is this guy,” he says, gesturing towards McGregor, “training in the park with goofballs with ponytails.”

While there are obvious hostilities between the main event duo, Meisha Tate seems to think she and Holly Holm are polar opposites to the headline act.

“These guys are flipping each other the bird under the table and me and Holly are making each other friendship bracelets,” she laughs, but on the opposite end of the table, Holm is all steely determination, refusing to acknowledge Tate’s citation of a blossoming relationship between the two.

Hours before, Chris Weidman fields questions beside a massive image of Luke Rockhold wearing the championship title he took from him at UFC 194, which hangs from the ceiling to the floor in the MGM Grand’s Studio A. Just a few meters down from him, his teammate Gian Villante is laid back and cracking jokes with the media members who surround him, despite his looming bout with Corey Anderson.

At the very top of the line of interviewees, Diego Sanchez sits behind a pair of dark sunglasses. Without even saying a word, the intensity of the TUF 1 veteran pours out of him. Across the way, his opponent at the top of the Fight Pass prelims card, Jim Miller, is also taking interviews. While they seem cordial now, the two aggressive lightweights are certain to leave everything they have in the Octagon when they meet on Saturday night, given their reputations as two of the gamest men to ever grace the UFC’s roster.

Peter Carroll is a longtime MMA journalist who writes for the Irish Mirror, FIGHTLAND and SevereMMA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PetesyCarroll



UFC 196 Blog Part 2: McGregor, Holm, Tate all making moves

Conor McGregor’s fearless approach to moving up two weight divisions is quite evident based on his relaxed demeanor as seen in the Embedded series that coincides with UFC 196.

The fascination “The Notorious” had with a fan’s balcony tribute to him gave us an insight into his mood. While the Irishman would be drained from his cuts to featherweight in the past during fight week, the replenished version of the champion allows him to be his captivating self as he visits the fan's apartment. The tears in the man’s eyes to see his hero in his living room is a stark reminder of how much McGregor means to his passionate supporters, even outside of Ireland.

The droves arriving from the Emerald Isle shocked Sin City back in July, but if McCarran International Airport is anything to go by, Vegas is ready and waiting for the arrival of the Green Army. Just beside the baggage collection, there is a shop selling McGregor’s Reebok kits for those who forgot to pack them ahead of their near daylong cross-Atlantic voyage.

Kron Gracie’s presence in the Diaz camp points to days gone by with MMA. With his father taking on all comers at different weight classes, parallels can be drawn with McGregor’s ascension in weight in the modern landscape of the sport.

Nate Diaz smiles as he greets the crowd in the Jabbawockeez Theater with a middle finger for the open workouts. Taking to the matted area with his Cesar Gracie teammate Chris Avila, Diaz effortlessly transitions into various takedowns after pummeling with the featherweight. Throwing out a few of his signature jab cross combinations, Diaz exits the stage with both middle fingers raised to the joyous crowd.

Holly Holm takes a young fan from the gathering to demonstrate her dance moves. After strutting her stuff with “The Sprinkler”, Holm goes from All- American sweetheart to ferocious fighter in the blink of an eye as she explodes into the devastating dance of kicks and punches. And despite her famed striking display, Meisha Tate explains to the gathered media to the right of the stage that she is more than capable of holding her own with the bantamweight champion.

McGregor’s punctuality, or lack thereof, leaves the crowd simmering before it erupts when he enters the matted area along with Artem Lobov, Owen Roddy and Ido Portal.

Lobov is first off to go through some grappling drills. After several takedowns, Lobov begins to imitate the tall stance of Diaz as McGregor spins spectacularly and unloads with his various techniques.

With Roddy, McGregor looks more explosive than ever as he displays his arsenal.

“Too strong,” he shouts at the end of a flurry. “Too strong,” he roars again.

Landing a left uppercut at the end of the combination, McGregor looks at Roddy and tells him, “I like that.” Then, with his eyes fixed on the crowd, “The Notorious” lets off the same combination three times with extra spice on the climactic uppercut – a sign of intent for his finishing blow on Saturday night, perhaps.

Finally, the ambassador of “Movement Culture,” Ido Portal, steps up for a series of his signature contortions with McGregor. The duo struts like various animals during their routine, propelling their bodies to the side with their fists on the ground like apes before lowering themselves to the ground to begin an elaborate slithering like a serpent.

McGregor rubs his abdomen on several occasions during his showcase. Clearly happy with the lack of dietary requirements during the workout, don’t be too surprised if the Irishman fighting at 170 pounds becomes the norm should he have his hand raised on Saturday night.

Peter Carroll is a longtime MMA journalist who writes for the Irish Mirror, FIGHTLAND and SevereMMA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PetesyCarroll



UFC 196 Blog Part 1: A very popular replacement

DUBLIN

After weeks upon weeks of canvassing, debates and pontificating, the Republic of Ireland had its general election last Friday. Voters made their way to polling stations that were dotted around the Emerald Isle to designate their support to the various politicians that were available for selection.

On more than a few occasions, instead of issuing their selections, some voters simply wrote “Conor McGregor” on their ballot sheets.

Two days before the voting ensued, Nate Diaz joined “The Notorious” on stage for their UFC 196 press conference in California. Having only broken the news of Diaz replacing Rafael Dos Anjos the night before, it was amazing to see the lack of concern the majority of fans and media had despite the Irishman’s chances at becoming the first man to hold two UFC titles simultaneously being brought to an end.
 


The insults flew back and forth with both men enjoying joyous eruptions from the crowd, which celebrated a meeting of two men famed for their machismo on the microphone and their self-proclaimed visions of being “true martial artists”.

Despite a battle 10 years in the making taking place in the London last weekend, as interviewers, camera crews and fighters filed into the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel, there was one particular matchup that was queried more than any other – and it wasn’t Anderson Silva versus Michael Bisping.

Fighters from the top to the bottom of the UK card were asked about mouth-watering UFC 196 main event matchup, and although they might usually be a little bit reluctant to converse on other matchups with their own bouts being around the corner, even they couldn’t help but give their two cents.

And it’s not just the aggressive striking styles of McGregor and Diaz that make it such a contest for the fans – it’s the attitude that they bring to the Octagon. Both men are known to walk down their opponents and as their counterparts retreat, they mock them until they are either forced to exchange or they run out of room to escape in the steel-meshed enclosure.

According to Owen Roddy, McGregor’s striking coach, it is the trash talking exchanges that The Notorious is looking forward to more than anything else.

“Conor is buzzing about having that kind of fight with him,” Roddy tells me as he waits for his plane to join McGregor in Las Vegas.

“It actually has him more excited for this fight that anything else. He wants to have that little bit of back and forth with Nate, and we could see that from the press conference. Conor was enjoying that trash talk, although Nate didn’t say much.

“I was expecting a lot more from Nate during that press conference, but he just kept cursing,” Roddy adds. “There were plenty of ‘I don’t give a f*cks’, but I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but I was expecting something a lot better than that.

“Conor loves this. He enjoys giving people a bit of sh*t when he’s fighting, and if people come back with sh*t, Conor just kind of laughs it off. He doesn’t take any of that stuff too seriously. I really doubt that Nate’s talking in the Octagon will effect Conor in any way.”

With such a masterful piece of matchmaking to be manifested in front of our eyes in the MGM Grand on Saturday night, four days seems like a lifetime.

Peter Carroll is a longtime MMA journalist who writes for the Irish Mirror, FIGHTLAND and SevereMMA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PetesyCarroll

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