The main event of UFC 196 is a heavily-anticipated welterweight match-up between UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor and former lightweight title challenger Nate Diaz. The brash McGregor was scheduled to face UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos for his belt, but the Brazilian was forced to withdraw from the fight last week due to a foot injury. In his place will be the fan favorite Diaz, who beat Michael Johnson in impressive fashion this past December. Conor McGregor (19-2 MMA, 7-0 UFC, -440 favorite) Conor McGregor has become the biggest male draw in mixed martial arts, as his fame and popularity have skyrocketed over the last three years. The Irishman has done everything he has said he would do, including defeating longtime champion Jose Aldo for the UFC Featherweight Championship at UFC 194 in December 2015. McGregor was looking to make history at UFC 196 by becoming the first fighter to hold two UFC belts simultaneously. However, dos Anjos’ broken foot has put that goal on the backburner for the time being. The 27-year old is an offensive juggernaut with an impressive arsenal of punches, kicks, and knees. His attacks are very unpredictable, as his opponents never know what is coming. Like most great strikers, McGregor can fight going forward and going backwards. His hands, especially his straight left and left uppercut are deadly. He will lull his opponents into a false sense of security and then explode on them with vicious multi-punch combinations. Kicks are also a key aspect of McGregor’s game. Spinning back-kicks, side-kicks, jumping switch kicks, front hook kicks, and wheel kicks are just some of the techniques he employs. Some of the kicks are to damage his opponent, while others are to get his opponent to move back toward his powerful left hand. His ability to get his opponents to move where he wants them is tremendous. There may not be a fighter in the UFC that has a more varied striking attack than McGregor. Additionally, McGregor is very good at working his opponent’s body, which pays dividends in the later rounds. Defensively, he can be hit but his chin is rock solid and no opponent has been able to hurt him on the feet. Heavy-handed Chad Mendes hit him with several hard punches and he did not flinch. McGregor’s weakest area is on the ground, but by no means is he as bad on the canvas as some people think. He was recently promoted to a brown belt under SBG founder John Kavanagh. His offensive wrestling is above average; he can hit double and single-legs in open space and is adept at catching kicks and gaining top position. From top position he passes well and stays very heavy on top, as he has a strong base and usually enjoys a considerable size advantage over all other featherweights. McGregor’s takedown defense is serviceable but not impenetrable. However, he has good hips and is adept at creating space and scrambling back to his feet. His only UFC fight that he got taken down in was against Mendes, and he fought him with a torn ACL. McGregor has not shown much of a guard game thus far, as he mainly prefers to create space to get back to his feet than to attempt low percentage submissions. One of McGregor’s strongest attributes is his self-confidence and demeanor. His mind is bullet proof, he really believes the things he says. Taking a fight against a fighter that was supposed to be his kryptonite (Mendes) on two weeks’ notice with a torn ACL shows how strongly he believes in himself. He is great at getting inside the head of his opponents, which causes them to fight emotionally. However, he did not have much time to play mind games with Diaz because the fight came together on short notice. Nate Diaz (18-10 MMA, 13-8 UFC, +350 underdog) Longtime fan favorite Nathan Diaz looks to earn the biggest win of his career by defeating UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor in the main event of UFC 196. Diaz has had his ups and downs throughout his UFC career, but he enters this matchup on a high note. The brash Californian defeated top 10 lightweight contender Michael Johnson via unanimous decision in a December contest that was awarded “Fight of the Night”. Diaz, the winner of the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter, has recorded impressive victories over Donald Cerrone, Gray Maynard, Jim Miller, and Takanori Gomi. There are not many fighters on the UFC roster that are capable of exciting fans in the same manner as Diaz. The Stockton, California native is known for his exciting fights and tendency to taunt his opponents inside the Octagon. Fighting out of a southpaw stance, Diaz relies heavily on his boxing game while on the feet. He throws a stiff jab and straight left hand, which he often throws in combination. The 30-year old throws punches in bunches, though he does not always put his full power behind all his shots. While he is not the most powerful striker Diaz’s high volume and accuracy allow him to accumulate damage over the course of a fight. Kicks are not a big part of his game, but he does throw a few leg kicks to mix things up. Movement is not one of Diaz’s strong suits, as he employs a flat-footed approach. This has been problematic for him against fighters with exceptional movement and speed. Like McGregor, Diaz has been able to get into the head of his opponents, which takes them out of their game and gives Diaz an edge. While Diaz is known for his boxing attack, he also shines when the fight goes to the ground. He has one of the better guards in the lightweight division, as he has very dangerous submissions from his back. Seven of Diaz’s thirteen UFC victories have come via submission, including a whopping six by either guillotine or triangle choke. The problem for Diaz is that he does not have good enough wrestling to get the fight to the canvas on a regular basis. Furthermore, his takedown defense has not been the greatest throughout his career and he has struggled against strong grapplers that were able to stifle his submission game. Conditioning is not usually an issue for Diaz, but he has tired in fights that he did not adequately prepare for. That could be an issue for this fight, as he did not have the luxury of a training camp. Thoughts This fight has certainly created a lot of buzz among mixed martial arts fans. While fans were understandably disappointed when dos Anjos announced he was injured, they quickly forgot about it when Diaz was announced as the replacement. Both McGregor and Diaz are tremendously popular, especially McGregor, who has the support of a nation behind him. As far as the matchup is concerned, it is hard not to favor the Irishman. For starters, McGregor has the benefit of having a full camp to prepare for this fight. Diaz, meanwhile, did not have a training camp and is likely not in proper fighting shape. Further, McGregor will hold a sizeable advantage in power, speed, strike variation, and movement. His movement and speed should be problematic for Diaz, as the California employs a flat-footed boxing approach. Diaz will have an advantage if he is able to get McGregor to the mat, but that is unlikely because Diaz is not a very strong wrestler. McGregor keeps this fight on the feet and puts Diaz away within two rounds. The Prediction: Conor McGregor defeats Nate Diaz by technical knockout (round 2)
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