Conor McGregor shows heart of a champion in epic Diaz battle

Dubliner digs deep to fend off rousing comeback from American at UFC 202

His hand may have been raised in the end, but Conor McGregor flirted with disaster for long periods at the T-Mobile Arena before redeeming himself by winning a majority decision in a barnstorming rematch with Nate Diaz in Las Vegas.

In a place where every night is Saturday night and everything new must be bigger and better than what went before it, it was going to take something special to wow the crowd.

They need not have worried, as these two warriors delivered a spectacular display of heart, passion and courage in a bloody battle that easily overshadowed their previous match.

“This was a hell of an important fight for me,” an emotional McGregor said afterwards. He had limped into the press briefing on crutches because of a damaged shin. “Everyone from the media to the fighters wrote me off this one.”


Writing off his chances

Pundits and fighters had indeed spent the week writing off his chances, but no one will be more aware than McGregor of just how close that scenario came to being played out.

Coach John Kavanagh’s mantra of “win or learn” was put to the ultimate test, as the qualified engineer rebuilt McGregor’s game from the bottom up to find a way to help the unstoppable force of McGregor to defeat the immovable object that is Diaz.

In the beginning, it seemed to work. Gone were the acrobatic, energy-sapping spinning kicks that may have wowed the crowds in their first fight, but which did little damage to Diaz.

Instead, McGregor methodically attacked his opponent’s front leg, kicking at it viciously and repeatedly to slow him down and stop him from maximising the power of his stinging jabs.

McGregor’s own punching power took its toll, dumping Diaz on the deck three times in the first two rounds but, well aware of the Californian’s superb ground game, McGregor was reluctant to take the fight to the mat.

The featherweight champion barely broke a sweat as he went about his business in the first two rounds, but no matter how beat up Diaz gets, he is always capable of coming back.

And towards the end of the second round, he did.

Nothing motivates Diaz more than the smell of blood, even if it is his own, and when he sensed that the tide might yet turn in his favour, the fog cleared and he attacked with purpose, forcing McGregor back.

By the end of the third round McGregor was struggling to stay upright, and the last 10 seconds of that round went on for an eternity as he withstood a furious onslaught from the 31-year-old.

“His face was opened up and he was still just coming. You’ve got to respect that. You’ve got to respect Nate and the style of fighting that he brings. How can you not?” McGregor said.

But whereas McGregor wilted in their first bout, his improved fitness gave him a fighting chance and he began landing some vicious strikes of his own, employing his elbows to good effect and using his knees in the clinch, as well as continuing to go after Diaz’s leg.


He was by no means coasting, but at least he had the energy to grapple around the side of the cage and continue to evade much of what Diaz threw at him.

By the end of the fifth round of this epic encounter, both men were hanging on, desperate not to make the mistake that would give the other the chance to end the fight before the final bell.

Despite protestations from Diaz that he had won the fight, in the end it was McGregor’s hand that was raised, restoring his dented reputation and adding a new dimension to his legend.

The lover of spectacular lightning knockouts could now count himself as a brawler that could go the distance with one of the toughest competitors in the game, and he put the rest of the UFC on notice that normal service had been resumed.

“After that fight when I lost and they were all celebrating my demise and saying I’m done, it certainly lit a fire under my belly. Every single person doubted me. Every single fighter doubted me,” he said as his eyes narrowed.

“Doubt me now.”