One of the longstanding tag lines for the Ultimate Fighting Championship has been “Anything Can Happen” and while it usually pertains to the action inside the Octagon, occasionally it is transferable to surprises that take place on conference calls as well.
Over the past nine months, almost every interaction between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor has been white-hot and produced memorable lines that will remain a part of the MMA lexicon for a long, long time.
But while everyone was expecting another back-and-forth battle between the rivals who are set to renew hostilities in the main event of UFC 202 in two weeks at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, there were no such verbal fisticuffs on Friday’s media conference call. Instead, there was a lot of McGregor pontificating about what went wrong in the first fight, how he’s made the necessary adjustments to reverse the results this time around and how Diaz has him to thank for the mainstream opportunities and increase in pay coming his way in advance of their rematch.
“I didn’t give enough credit to Nate’s durability, his experience,” McGregor offered when analyzing what contributed (from his perspective) to the outcome of their first encounter at UFC 196. “He’s had more UFC fights than I’ve had fights.
“For the first round and a half he was a heavy bag with eyeballs,” he said, the first of multiple times he would refer to Diaz in such terms. “His durability held out, his experience held out for him, so this time, I’ve been preparing for that. I’ve been preparing to face a durable, experienced fighter who has the reach, the height and the length. I feel very confident that we will go in and get this win back and put this man away.”
While McGregor’s chief reason for chasing this rematch is obvious, a second consecutive bout with an opponent you just beat on 10-days’ notice isn’t necessarily the most obvious follow-up step for Diaz. But the long-time lightweight contender kept it quick and concise when asked why stepping into the Octagon with the featherweight champion for a second time made sense for him.
“I’ve fought everybody in the UFC and I’ve been fighting forever,” began Diaz, who made his official debut with the promotion in June 2007 and will be stepping into the UFC cage for the 23rd time when he faces off with McGregor on Saturday, August 20. “So if I’m going to fight, it’s going to be for a big deal fight, not just to fight.
“If I’m going to have a big fight, then I’ll fight, and if not, then I’m not going to **** around no more.”
Even though their initial meeting came together in under two weeks, the matchup captivated the UFC audience and the heat between the two transcended the MMA space.
The drama surrounding this rematch has done the same.
Whether it was the announcement that Diaz and McGregor would do it again, the bout being pulled from the marquee at UFC 200 or the hype of realigning these two for two weeks from now, there is no denying that this is the most anticipated bout of the summer.
With such buzz and the potential for McGregor to bring the series level two weeks from now, the possibility exists that each man will hold a win over the other the morning after UFC 202, which opens the door for a potential rubber match – one both men are definitely interested in pursuing if that is indeed how things play out.
“100 percent,” McGregor answered before the question of an immediate trilogy match was even done being asked. “Of course. Maybe not straight away, but most certainly there will be a trilogy fight. Me and the boy have something and it ain’t finished yet.”
“Who wouldn’t want a rematch with somebody that beat them?” Diaz asked rhetorically in response to the same question, further setting the table for the potential of these two running it back one more time before they’re ready to put an end to this rivalry.
But before a third fight can happen, the second fight must occur and despite coming away on the wrong side of the result the first time, the verbose Irishman remains as confident as ever that he has made the right adjustments necessary to secure the victory this time around.
“This time, I’m still going to march forward, I’m still going to press him, I’m still going to bust him, there is just going to be a lot more in my tank,” McGregor offered, queuing up his prediction. “I’m going to be a lot more prepared for a man that can stay in there with me.
“Even still, I struggle to give him past round three. If I were to make a prediction – which I will right now – I believe I will repay the favor and KO him inside the second round.”