Conor McGregor will look for revenge when he faces Nate Diaz in what might be the most highly anticipated rematch in history, as the two rivals meet in the main event of UFC 202 on Saturday night.
Diaz took the first fight with McGregor on 10 days’ notice and the proceeded to submit the outspoken Irishman with a second round rear naked choke. Immediately after the fight, McGregor started calling for a rematch and now he'll get his chance.
Diaz has actually enjoyed a full training camp this time while McGregor has put together an all-star team to ensure that he'll get the win in the return bout.
Meanwhile, in the co-main event, a title shot is likely on the line when Anthony "Rumble" Johnson meets Glover Teixeira in a pivotal matchup at 205 pounds. Both Johnson and Teixeira have earned some very impressive victories recently and the winner of this fight may be the next one in line to face current champion Daniel Cormier.
In today's fantasy preview, we're going to examine some of the matchups taking place at UFC 202 to see who has the advantage going into Saturday night and if there might be an upset brewing during a spectacular 12-fight card from Las Vegas.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Conor McGregor (-115 favorite) vs. Nate Diaz (-105 underdog)
The last fight between McGregor and Diaz was an instant classic, with the two pugilists going toe-to-toe as the crowd watched them batter each other back and forth for nearly 10 minutes straight. McGregor got the better of Diaz early with an aggressive striking attack as he bloodied the Stockton, Calif. native with hard shots on the feet. Diaz, known for having an incredible chin, weathered the storm and came firing back with crisp, accurate punches in round two before sinking in a rear naked choke after McGregor attempted an ill-fated takedown that precipitated the end of the fight.
Five months later, the two combatants are ready to do it all over again, but what could have changed to make the result any different this time around?
Well, for one, McGregor has trained exclusively for Diaz for several months. While Diaz was certainly at the bigger disadvantage in the first fight by accepting the bout on only 10 days’ notice, McGregor was originally scheduled to face a much shorter Muay Thai specialist in Rafael Dos Anjos, so it's understandable that he wasn't ready for the size and durability of somebody like Diaz. McGregor threw an enormous amount of power punches in the first round but came up well short on numerous exchanges thanks to Diaz's height and range. Add to that a massive mistake for McGregor when it came to his weight cut after believing he could just eat his way to 170 pounds rather than filling his body with the right fuel that would not only put weight on, but also keep him in peak physical condition.
For Diaz, the changes for the rematch are simple — he actually has opportunity to prepare this time. Diaz had no training camp to truly get ready for McGregor the last time, so actually putting work in for several months ahead of the rematch can only help him put on an even better performance. Diaz is well known for his durability, but his boxing seems to improve with every camp and he'll still have a lot of size on McGregor when they finally step into the Octagon on Saturday night.
So who wins?
It's no secret that McGregor has put everything into this rematch to beat Diaz and erase the bad memory of what happened the last time they stepped into the cage together. McGregor has to realize that this is a marathon and not a sprint because Diaz has rarely been finished during his career and can likely take a lot more punishment than the Irishman is used to dishing out to put away an opponent. McGregor has to be aggressive, but he can't over extend himself and he certainly can't gas out after less than two rounds or he'll be in deep trouble again. Diaz doesn't have to change much from the last fight outside of trying to avoid some of the early damage he endured while McGregor teed off on his face through the first five minutes.
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The key for McGregor is pressure and patience. McGregor did a fantastic job of walking Diaz down early and not allowing the former Ultimate Fighter winner to control the center of the Octagon while pushing him back with punches. McGregor just has to understand that it's not going to be one punch that finishes Diaz — it's going to take several rounds to peck away at his armor before finally being able to put together a combination to potentially finish him. These are all areas McGregor has seemingly addressed in his camp and it may still not be enough to get the win.
Diaz is durable, tough and lands with such staggering volume that most fighters are simply unable to keep up with him for three rounds, much less five. In the first fight, Diaz landed 77 significant strikes against McGregor in less than two rounds. If he lands with that kind of volume again in the rematch, McGregor will be gasping for air and searching for a moment to breathe. If McGregor can keep Diaz on his heels, however, then the momentum shifts towards the Irishman. McGregor did that very well in the first round last time out, but can he do it repeatedly for 20 or 25 minutes? If he does, McGregor will pull off the victory.
Prediction: Conor McGregor by TKO, Round 4
Anthony Johnson (-200 favorite) vs. Glover Teixeira (+170 underdog)
Two of the biggest power punchers in the UFC face off in the co-main event as Anthony "Rumble" Johnson and Glover Teixeira both look for a second shot at the gold with a win on Saturday night.
Johnson is known for his incredible finishing power and there's not a fighter in the UFC who he can't finish on the feet — and that includes every single competitor in the light heavyweight - and heavyweight – division, for that matter. The scariest part about Johnson's game is that he only needs one shot to end the fight, but rarely does he over extend himself looking for a haymaker to put somebody away. He's tactical and smart with his striking and that will go a long way in this matchup with Teixeira.
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Teixeira is a very aggressive knockout puncher in his own right and he's arguably looked better in his last few fights than even during the win streak he put together to earn a title shot in the UFC a couple of years ago. Teixeira is nearly impossible to stop if he's the one getting off first in exchanges and if he can back Johnson up early, he could easily get a first-round finish.
That being said, Johnson not only has fight-stopping power, but he has also shown incredible timing and movement since returning to the UFC as a light heavyweight. His wrestling background allows him the additional weapon to choose to take a fight to the floor and Johnson would have no problem going deep into the third round if necessary to keep the pressure on Teixeira to win the fight. Add to that, Teixeira has shown some defensive liabilities in the past when getting drawn into an exchange with an opponent where he's often willing to eat a punch to give a punch. If he does that against Johnson, it's lights out.
Prediction: Anthony Johnson by TKO, Round 2
Donald Cerrone (-165 favorite) vs. Rick Story (+145 underdog)
Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone has enjoyed life as a welterweight thus far in the UFC, with two wins in his past two fights while putting together a pair of flawless performances. He gets a decided step up in competition this time around, however, as Rick Story stands across the Octagon from him, ready to put an end to his hopes of climbing the welterweight ladder any further.
Story is on a three-fight win streak, including victories over Gunnar Nelson and Tarec Saffiedine, and he might just be one of the most underrated contenders at 170 pounds. He throws with incredible power on the feet and also possesses a serious wrestling game that could stifle nearly anybody in the 170-pound division. Now he'll be giving up a little bit of reach against Cerrone, who is still the longer, taller fighter, even in this welterweight matchup. So Story has to know that he needs to get in close to hurt Cerrone, and standing on the outside could be playing with dynamite.
Cerrone just needs to stick to the same game plan he used to beat Patrick Cote the last time he stepped into the Octagon. He needs to get aggressive early, bully Story around the cage and land with a volume of strikes. Cerrone is definitely the better kickboxer, but he's also faced some mental lapses in the past where he's come slow out of the gate and been forced to make up ground in the later rounds. He can't make that error against Story because he'll end up planted on the mat, eating punches and staring up at the lights wondering how he ended up there for 15 straight minutes.
Make no mistake, Cerrone could absolutely batter Story for three straight rounds en route to another victory, but it's a much tougher road to get the job done this time around. Story is tough, he's a grinder and with his ability to mix in a few takedowns, which could keep Cerrone from throwing as many kicks, he remains the favorite to get the victory on Saturday night.
Prediction: Rick Story by unanimous decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Cody Garbrandt (-550 favorite) vs. Takeya Mizugaki (+425 underdog)
Cody Garbrandt looks like he's poised for a potential title shot in the very near future, but to remain unbeaten, he's going to have to go through a very crafty veteran in Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 202.
Garbrandt vs Mizugaki headlines FS1 prelims on Saturday!
Mizugaki has been around the racetrack more than a few times while racking up some very impressive victories along the way. He's a “Jack of all trades” because Mizugaki isn't well known for knockout power or an incredible submission game, but he puts together a complete mixed martial arts package to get win after win inside the Octagon. Unfortunately, Mizugaki has also been involved in some serious knock down, drag out wars throughout his career, and if he eats some shots from Garbrandt early, he may not make it out of the first or second round.
Garbrandt is not only a very skilled boxer on the feet but, along with John Lineker, he may possess the most power in the division. Garbrandt hits fast, hits hard and he hits with accuracy. Garbrandt is unbelievably explosive with his attacks, and if he goes after Mizugaki with the same kind of aggression he showed in his last bout with Thomas Almeida, he might go home with another big knockout and a bonus worthy performance at the end of the night.
Prediction: Cody Garbrandt by TKO, Round 1
Tim Means (-450 favorite) vs. Sabah Homasi (+360 underdog)
Tim Means returns from a layoff to face late notice replacement Sabah Homasi at UFC 202 this weekend. Homasi gets his first official shot in the UFC after taking part in The Ultimate Fighter season 21 as part of American Top Team. During his time on the show, Homasi lost a very close, somewhat controversial, bout against Carrington Banks but since then he's racked up two impressive TKO victories to earn his shot in the UFC.
Homasi belongs on the roster, but he's getting a very tough matchup with Means, especially on short notice.
Means is a volume striker with power who throws from every angle and has an arsenal of strikes that includes everything from crippling kicks to fight-ending elbows. Means lands over four significant strikes per minute with nearly 45 percent accuracy as well on the feet. Means is an offensive juggernaut, and considering he's getting Homasi with only a matter of days to prepare for this fight, you can bet on him coming out of the gate and looking to overwhelm the UFC newcomer. Homasi might survive early, but it's only a matter of time before Means finds the right combination to put a stop to the bout to get the win.
Prediction: Tim Means by TKO, Round 2
Colby Covington (-300 favorite) vs. Max Griffin (+250 underdog)
Max Griffin will make his UFC debut with a very impressive 12-2 record while facing a laundry list of veteran fighters who have given him the experience worthy of a shot inside the Octagon. Griffin is a rangy striker with a solid jab and good power on the feet who sometimes slips into brawler mode when he finds an opponent willing to engage in a firefight. Griffin has three TKO victories out of his last four fights, so he's got plenty of stopping power, but none of that may even come into play while facing a powerful wrestler like Colby Covington on Saturday night.
Covington might be one of the brightest prospects at 170 pounds right now, and while he's still crafting his overall MMA game, his wrestling is so good that he'll have plenty of time to evolve his striking and jiu-jitsu before tackling the top 15 in the world. Covington averages nearly five takedowns per 15 minutes in the cage and chances are he's going to plant Griffin there early in the first round and then rinse, wash and repeat until the fight is over.
Look for Covington to close the distance early, put Griffin on his back and pound away at him for 15 straight minutes until he either gets a stoppage on the ground or just gives the UFC newcomer a very rude three-round beatdown to welcome him to the promotion.
Prediction: Colby Covington by unanimous decision
Lorenz Larkin (+110 underdog) vs. Neil Magny (-130 favorite)
Despite a 10-1 record over his last 11 fights as well as a top 10 ranking, Neil Magny remains one of the most underrated fighters in the welterweight division. But he'll enjoy favorite status this weekend when he takes on Lorenz Larkin in the featured bout on UFC FIGHT PASS. Magny has put together a very impressive record lately, including victories over Hector Lombard and Kelvin Gastelum in recent fights. Of course, Magny has faced some adversity in both of those bouts when he allowed his opponents to land a few too many power shots, and that's one mistake he can ill afford to make against Larkin this weekend.
Larkin is a very creative and versatile striker with a ton of power in his hands and feet. Larkin is a finisher, but he's also capable of putting together three rounds of brilliance while mixing up his attacks on the feet. When he's aggressive, Larkin is a punishing force. When he's passive, Larkin can be an incredible effective counter striker.
In this matchup, Larkin needs to go for the kill and force Magny to go backwards from the time the referee says go until the fight is over. Larkin is very tough to beat when he's the fighter landing first and putting together blitzing combinations. Magny can be a defensive liability at times while stopping only 57 percent of his opponent's strikes on the feet. If Magny starts exchanging shots with Larkin early, he could eat two or three punches for every one he returns. Magny has overcome those deficits before, but against a disciplined knockout striker like Larkin, it could come back to haunt him.
Prediction: Lorenz Larkin by unanimous decision
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