Conor McGregor wanted to run it back. Same weight, same opponent. He got his wish and this time, he turned in a different performance which resulted in a different result, a win.
‘Surprise, surprise, the king is back!’ he told Joe Rogan after his hand was raised. Following a majority decision (48-47, 47-47, 48-47) win over Nate Diaz, McGregor’s swagger was in full swing as he stood in the center of the Octagon victorious as thousands in attendance including celebrities like Gordon Ramsey, Kanye West and Mike Tyson looked on.
To say his ‘Notorious’ reputation was on the line in this rematch would be a massive understatement. It was a more measured and composed performance from a laser-focused McGregor. Instead of going gung-ho looking for the knockout blow, which ultimately gassed him in the first encounter with Diaz at UFC 196, he was able to get the better of him over the course of 25 minutes in what turned out to be an instant classic.
To his credit, Diaz had his part to play and showed his own toughness as McGregor turned his face into the proverbial crimson mask.
“Boy is he one tough motherf***er,” said McGregor. “He kept walking forward, he took every shot. I dropped him multiple times. He just keeps coming. His face was busted open and he’s still coming forward. I learned from the last contest, I stayed calm. I stayed tight in the pocket. It was a hell of a fight; he’s a hell of a competitor. The whole lot of it brought out the best in me and it forced me to look at myself truly. I’m just grateful.”
Leading up to the fight, SBG Ireland head coach John Kavanagh spoke of how his reputation was on the line and in the days prior to the fight the majority of the media as well as fellow fighters were picking Diaz to beat McGregor again. This didn’t go unnoticed by the featherweight champion in the post-fight media scrum.
“This was a hell of an important fight for me,” said McGregor. “Everyone, from the media to the fighters, wrote me off for this one. They tried to say if I lose this one, I’m done. They tried to discredit the fact that I’m going up in weight. He was 25-30lb heavier than me; I don’t care what anyone says. He was a big boy in there. He was easily 190lb. I was 167 leaving for the fight and I was saying to myself, I need to eat, try and get up at least over 170.”
McGregor cleared $3m (a new UFC record) and Diaz $2m respectively in disclosed pay for UFC 202 and the brash Irishman is taking full credit.
“I don’t care what anyone says, I helped bring this game to another level,” said McGregor. “They can deny that all they want, but I did. Look at Nate’s purse tonight. Look at Nate’s purse after the first fight. Look at everyone’s. Everyone’s game has gone up money-wise, and I helped do that.
So what’s next? Well as he’s said in the past, he has options and it’s good to have options. He could go back to featherweight and unify the championship belts in a rematch with José Aldo. He could fight Eddie Alvarez at 155lb and try and become the first UFC fighter to hold two belts in two different weight classes at the same time. Or how about the trilogy fight with Diaz? UFC President Dana White said win, lose or draw, McGregor would fight Aldo after UFC 202 and if he decided not to, he would have to relinquish his championship. McGregor doesn’t believe that will happen.
“I don’t think they’re going to do that, I mean how can they do that?” said McGregor. “If they want to do that and want to give my belt to the guy I KO’d in 13 seconds and bury that division on the prelims or the Fight Pass stuff, because that’s what they’re going to do, I mean, we’ll see. How can they do that? What would that do to the division if the guy I KO’d in 13 seconds is the unified champion? We got a lot to talk about and I’m in a beautiful, beautiful position right now. And that was built through hard work and I’m going to capitalize on that. We’ll see. There’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline. S**t is about to hit the fan here.”