What Conor McGregor (19-3) wants, Conor McGregor eventually gets. Right now, that’s another date with Nate Diaz (20-10). No matter what you think of this rematch, it’s happening in Vegas on August 20th.
If you’re still dealing with a UFC 200 hangover, give yourself a shake and get excited for UFC 202, which features the bout that was supposed to be the UFC 200 main event.
The McGregor-Diaz rematch was bumped from the mega-card when Conor and the powers-that-be had a bit of a tiff. After a conversation or two about media obligations, a few tweets, and a fake retirement, the brash Irishman found himself on the outside looking in on what would have been a nice little payday.
Whether you’re on team McGregor or team UFC in the dispute, I think we can agree that it will be nice to have the polarizing featherweight champ doing his sparring in the ring again, especially with other megastars (Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar) embroiled in doping controversies. Just give me some fights of the Octagon variety please.
While the main event casts a big shadow on the rest of the card, let’s not forget, there is another huge fight that shouldn’t be overlooked.
With everything going down in regards to Jon Jones, the light heavyweight division needs some new title contenders. The winner between Anthony Johnson (21-5) vs. Glover Teixeira (25-4) in the UFC 202 co-main event could very well get the next title shot against Daniel Cormier.
Join me as I put on my pontificating glasses, chew on my trusty bic, and make my picks for the upcoming slobberknockers set for UFC 202.
Nate Diaz (+115) vs. “The Notorious” Conor McGregor (-135)
The line on this fight has moved a few times. When it was in the works for UFC 200, McGregor opened as a -155 favorite, but by the time the fight was officially announced at the end of March, McGregor had fallen to even money. As I write this, McGregor is once again the favorite, but only at a very modest -135 (or 20/27 in fractional terms), while Diaz sits at +115 (23/20).
Though the odds are continually shifting, and will keep doing so as we approach the event, those aren’t huge swings. The moral of the story is that the bookies and the betting public see the rematch as a close fight.
I’m not sure I agree.
McGregor is taking a huge risk here. He wants to blame his loss to Diaz at UFC 196 on a short turnaround; but, from a technical standpoint, a few aspects of the first fight stood out for me and, at the end of the day, Diaz is a terrible matchup for McGregor. (Fighting at 170 lbs won’t make it any easier for the Irishman, who can easily make weight in the 145-lb featherweight division.)
Diaz’s striking game, especially his “punches-in-bunches” style of boxing, is meant to wear his opponents down. McGregor likes to use his kicks to find distance and stalk his opponent, keeping his hands low while looking for the big power punch. That plays right into Diaz’s game. The lanky Diaz has enough reach to slap that unprotected Irish face around. Taking a dozen of those reaching jabs will empty McGregor’s gas tank quickly.
If McGregor doesn’t end this in the first round, the bout will start to slip out of his hands. Will he be able to? I don’t see it happening. McGregor’s strength – i.e his strength – is more potent in the lighter weight classes, where his power shot is far more damaging. Diaz can take a ton of punishment, and if McGregor’s biggest shot couldn’t put the Stockton native down in their last go-around, then I don’t see how anything is going to change in the rematch. Plus, Diaz is so much better on the ground. If he gets this fight to the mat, especially in the deeper rounds, he’ll score points at will and could end the bout with his toolbox full of submissions.
In my opinion, the jump to 170 lbs is just too much for the fast talking Irish star.
I fully understand that more prep time should give McGregor a better chance, and I don’t doubt his team’s ability to strategize. They have brought in more sparring partners to improve his overall game, but the prep time will also help Diaz, too. If the king of the “Stockton Slap” was able to dispatch of McGregor on short notice, what will a better prepared Diaz be able to do? Looking past all the bravado and smoke, I believe Diaz is just a stylistic nightmare for McGregor.
Pick: Nate Diaz (+115) – “I’m not surprised motherf#*kers!”
Anthony “Rumble” Johnson (-250) vs. Glover Teixeira (+210)
The bookies and I diverge once again on the Johnson vs. Teixeira fight. The -250 line (or 2/5 fractionally) for Johnson suggests that he has roughly a 70-percent chance of winning. I see this fight being much closer.
Teixeira is a wily veteran in the MMA game; do not sleep on him. Since his back-to-back losses to Jon Jones and Phil Davis in 2014, Teixeira has ticked off three wins in a row and finished all three before the final bell. His most recent was a first-round KO of Rashad Evans.
In my view, the vital question is whether Teixeira can withstand the power and size of Anthony Johnson. “Rumble” has scary knock-out power, and it was on full display in his last two fights when he KO’ed Jimi Manuwa (September 2015) and Ryan Bader (January 2016).
But Teixeira isn’t easy to finish – his only stoppage was in his first MMA fight back in 2002 – and Johnson is a one-trick pony. Teixeira has more tools to finish a fight, with some pretty slick submissions and decent takedowns. He’s no slouch in the stand-up department, either. And we’ve seen Johnson get submitted before; four of his five career losses are by submission, more specifically, by his apparent kryptonite, the rear-naked choke. That includes his last setback to Daniel Cormier in May 2015.
Johnson has also been known to fade when fights reach the deep waters. Teixeira could “steal” a win in the later rounds if he has focused on his conditioning. If I’m Teixeira, I’m instituting the “embrace the grind” strategy that Cormier employed to beat Johnson.
If one of Johnson’s big mits touches Texiera’s face, the fight could be over as quickly as it started. This very well could be an anti-climactic fight with a big knockout within the first minute. “Rumble” is very capable of being that monster, with an “aw shucks” attitude about it afterwards. But given what I said above about Teixeira’s durability and Johnson’s lack of versatility, betting on Teixeira at +210 looks like the right play here.
In sum, I won’t be at all surprised to see Johnson win, but he should not be the 70-percent favorite that he is.
Pick: Teixeira (+210) – It’s a hunch versus a punch.
See the full card here.
Photo Credit: Angry Anunnaki (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baU6OgxEKCs)