UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor's rematch with Nate Diaz marks a pivotal crossroads in the Irishman's MMA career.
In the aftermath of UFC 196, which produced his first loss in the promotion, McGregor faced his first major setback on his path towards becoming a two-weight world champion in the UFC.
McGregor’s bold, brash and uber-confident persona finally hit a speed bump when Diaz coerced him into submitting via a deep rear naked choke, and now he is hell-bent on wiping the slate clean as soon as possible.
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With great risk comes great reward, and until March 5, 2016, McGregor’s UFC career has skyrocketed as a result of the risks he gambled on, and won.
Hindsight is the story of the fight game, and fighting an experienced veteran like Nate Diaz on 13 days’ notice, jumping up 25 pounds from his usual weight class of 145lbs was clearly a bridge too far.
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This time, it was different. The script was flipped, as McGregor lost, and he lost big. But is McGregor’s decision to fight Diaz again in a milestone UFC 200 PPV a risk worth taking, or is it a reckless gamble?
The lightweight title bout which was originally scheduled with Rafael Dos Anjos is now slipping out of McGregor’s long grasp. Granted, he still has bargaining power and leverage with the UFC President Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, judging by the rapid announcement of a rematch,
Granted, he still has bargaining power and leverage with the UFC President Dana White and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, judging by the rapid announcement of a rematch, however he looks to be walking a fine line between confidence and irrationality.
The outcome of this main event on July 9 will either shunt Conor McGregor back down to defend his belt, or shoot him back into the reckoning for another star-spangled title fight at 155lbs or 170lbs. The overriding feeling is that win, lose or draw, McGregor will have to defend his featherweight title next, and then consider his next move.
But one thing is for certain: the outcome of the Diaz rematch will either free the Dublin native or shackle him to the featherweight division for the foreseeable future. There are no compromises or middle ground when you gamble as big as this.
A loss would surely permanently tie McGregor’s hands at defending his belt in the featherweight division, but a win would re-open the door of a lightweight title fight.
Like a game of Snakes and Ladders, everything lies on McGregor’s next roll of the dice. When you bet big as he has, you win big, but when you lose, you stand to lose a whole lot more.
In his column for The42.ie, McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh sheds some insight into the mind of the champion after his first UFC defeat:
“He’s much more concerned about trying to give a perfect representation of his ability than he is about material things like belts or money," he said.
"That’s just a fact. Money is certainly not a motivating factor anymore because he has already made plenty of it."
Kavanagh suggesting that money isn’t a motivating factor for his prized fighter anymore contradicts everything that comes out of McGregor’s mouth.
He constantly speaks of breaking numbers, making history and making money, but you do get the impression that there is a real obsession, and perhaps even love of the sport that he has helped escalate in the past three years.
“I don’t believe people should have microphones stuck in their faces immediately after a fight,” writes Kavanagh. “There’s a lot going through your mind at a time like that so the response you’re forced to give may not necessarily be an accurate reflection of your views.”
In the post-fight press conference, McGregor spoke of dropping back down to 145lbs to defend his belt, but Kavanagh said that it was as early as the changing room after the loss that his fighter was already talking about a potential rematch with the Stockton native.
Now the rematch is set for July 9, 2016 in the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, as McGregor attempts to avenge his first defeat in the UFC. The only thing different about this bout is that he will prepare for Nate Diaz for a full training camp, but so will Diaz.
A loss could prove detrimental for McGregor’s future prospects, but a win would likely slingshot him right back into the driving seat, which he has been lavishing in for so long.