With the fight now looming, and both men engaged in an intense training regime, I hope to provide some insight into the tactics and adjustments McGregor needs to make to win. I think he can be victorious on the 20th of August if he can implement some subtle changes in his game plan.
Since the first contest social media has proposed some polarising opinions about the result; ranging from ‘Nate destroyed him from start to finish’ to ‘Conor gassed and it was a fluke.’ Both seem ridiculous to me and to other informed observers. Others have suggested, like Joe Rogan and Diaz himself, that McGregor needs to spend more time on his Jiu Jitsu and drastically improve his skills. I disagree as McGregor’s skill level was of ample quality from the previous contest; he swept Diaz beautifully in round one and controlled him on the mat just before the bell concluded the round with McGregor holding the upper hand. Diaz did win the first meeting between the two via rear naked choke but the moments leading up to this finish was the result of McGregor’s own immediate exhaustive state than Diaz’s superior skill set. There are plenty of changes that McGregor can make that could make the second contest go in his favour.
Primarily, McGregor needs to alter his attitude towards the various challenges Diaz poses. The evidence suggests that McGregor underestimated Diaz, from the changes in his preparation to his fight strategy, everything points to McGregor expected an easy night. Part of McGregor’s downfall was his attempt to knock Diaz out very early in the fight, in a way that would be similar to the shot that landed ten seconds into his Featherweight title bout against Jose Aldo. McGregor’s reputation of ‘Mystic Mac’ in the past has been proven by finishing opponents early; but it may have instilled within him a confidence to do the same to a bigger man in a weight division he has never experienced before. In hindsight the policy of attempting to finish Diaz early was a terrible decision, as Diaz is a lot more resilient than Aldo was due to a larger frame and the lack of a difficult weight cutting process. In a way observers may identify McGregor betrayed the practice that won him many fights previously, ‘Precision beats power, and timing beats speed.’ McGregor and his management team at SBG Ireland now realize that Diaz has a resilience that McGregor has not encountered before and they MUST understand that Diaz will need to be gradually worn down, not like the lighter previous opponents.
The second major adjustment he needs to make is his specific preparation for this fight. As evident from the pre-fight press conferences the change in weight class hindered McGregor’s preparation. When contrasting McGregor’s frame in his 145 pound bout weigh-ins in comparison to this 170 pound weigh-in McGregor’s mindset seemed elsewhere; as if the struggle to lose all that weight sharpens the concentration and will. His boasts of eating ‘two or three’ breakfasts and a reduction in cardio workouts appear to clarify this thought. McGregor weighed in at a very healthy looking 168 pounds. The ease in which he made the weight lead to speculation, among journalists and fans alike, that he may seek to challenge for the Welterweight championship, currently held by Tyron Woodley, in the future. I believe once his opponent changed from Rafael Das Anjos, who pulled out to due to a broken foot, to Diaz his training did too. He no longer had to cut to 155 and instead seemed too concerned with bulking in size. This in turn must surely have affected his cardio. It’s practically impossible to bulk up without reducing cardio output, as cardio will burn calories. The noises coming from his camp seem to suggest they see the error of their ways. Conor has made referenced to being ‘lighter,’ ‘leaner’ and ‘faster’ for the rematch. As the fight takes place at 170 pounds, I would expect him to weigh-in between 160 and 165 pounds. His camp is also addressing the cardio issue; John Kavanagh has posted pictures on Instagram of McGregor training with a sports science team in Dublin, in an effort to improve cardio and to assist his ability to fight at his usual level at a higher weight. If you believe, as I do, that McGregor’s large volume of output and decreased cardio was the deciding factor for his loss, addressing this issue is vital for success against Diaz.
Another alteration, is in relation to McGregor’s fight strategy, with a specific importance to be placed upon his shot selection. In the first fight, it was clear the Dublin native tried to end the fight early with power shots. He did not make use of his right handed jab to wear down a resilient Diaz, but continued to overextend on left hand finishing shots; SevereMMA’s Andrew McGahon and Sean Sheehan identified five power punches that were thrown within a sixty second period. This not only cost him vital energy, but rendered his attack more predictable than usual; McGregor’s strength has always been in his unique ability to attack an opponent from a variety of angles with an arsenal of strikes with every limb. I think a more considered and varied attack would work to his advantage in the rematch. Diaz has a tendency to be heavy on his lead leg and this could allow McGregor to attack it with low kicks, which will pay off later in the fight. He also needs to incorporate more of the left and right high kicks that he brilliantly used to control Denis Siver in their fight in Boston. These kicks are not always the most devastating in relation to damage but they allow McGregor to control his opponent’s movement and take them out of their rhythm. It also minimises Diaz’s willingness to attempt a takedown. It’s important too that he reduce his use of the wild spinning back kick, which only partially landed against Diaz once from four attempts. These kicks are energy sapping for McGregor and ineffective unless his opponent is hurt or growing tired, perhaps a front kick aimed towards Diaz’s stomach may help to reduce Diaz’s motor, as it did against Chad Mendes at UFC 189. The left uppercut worked well in the first fight but he also needs to make more use of the right uppercut; which may be effective when Diaz leans forward to avoid the left hand. Other factors, such as the clinch against theoctagon wall, in which he seemed comfortable, need less of an adjustment. McGregor needs to keep the fight standing to a large extent and keep interactions on the mat to a minimum, if he does find himself on top on the ground, it might be wise to disengage before Diaz can attempt a submission. In conclusion, McGregor needs to forget the idea that he can take Nate out early and instead go in with a strategy of slowly breaking him down, picking him apart and getting a win later in the fight.
The obvious retort to all of this is no matter what McGregor does differently for this fight, Diaz will have a full camp to prepare and this will negate all of the above. While I feel Nate will improve with a full training regime, I don’t see him drastically changing the way he fights. His cardio seems fine for the last fight and will only improve, the extent of his advantage in cardio over McGregor will depend more on McGregor’s preparation than his. His fighting style and his excellent chin will not change with a full two month training period either. Diaz will be better prepared for the rematch but I don’t think this is the deciding factor; as McGregor will have the same preparation time at this decided opponent and weight class, which he did not have prior to their previous bout.
McGregor needs to amend his attitude, preparation and strategy for the rematch. The lessons learned from the first contest should mean that he won’t take Nate for granted again. Diaz is an excellent fighter and one McGregor won’t dispose of early as he has done to others so often before. A full gas tank is vital for victory and McGregor’s work with the Irish Strength Institute and other specialists make us believe McGregor’s preparation will be top class this time around. McGregor and his training team will have identified the resilient chin that Diaz possesses and adjust accordingly. The 19-3 Featherweight champion should expect the rematch to be the longest of his career; victory, should it come, is most likely to be on points or with a late stoppage. Another possibility is that with Diaz’s tendency to cut easily, a doctor’s stoppage.
The bookmakers have McGregor and Diaz closely positioned in the betting market and the contest may even start as a “pick ‘em”, if the adjustments outlined previously are made, McGregor could make that a very attractive bet. An improved and focused McGregor has an excellent chance to win and continue on his path to superstardom that has never been seen before in the history of MMA.
This has been a guest post by Cian O’ Connell, be sure find him on twitter, and leave a comment here if you want to discuss the finer points outlined in this editorial.