Since earning one of the biggest upset victories in MMA history on less than two weeks notice by submitting UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor at UFC 196 in March, Nate Diaz has occupied the center of the sport’s spotlight and seen his stock rise accordingly.
But for McGregor, that loss sparked an obsession with revenge that’s forced the featherweight king to sharpen his entire Octagon approach as he attempts to prove that he’s still a threat to multiple UFC thrones in Saturday’s rematch with Diaz at UFC 202 in Las Vegas.
Originally, McGregor was booked to battle Diaz for a second time in the main event of July’s UFC 200 until his refusal to leave training camp in order to fulfill promotional obligations for the event caused a semi-serious problem with the UFC. While brief, the rift led McGregor to announce his temporary retirement, but ultimately, the UFC and its biggest earner reconciled, and the champ’s actions were chalked up to the fact that he’d just suffered a devastating loss.
During an international media conference call on August 5th, McGregor attempted to put on positive spin on his loss to Diaz before explaining the personal significance of the most highly-publicized rematch in UFC history.
”But I don’t dwell on that [loss]. I’m happy this happened, because it forced me to look at my preparation, look at the route I was going on,” said McGregor via ESPN. ”It forced me to reassess. I’m happy this happened. Make no mistake, this one means a hell of a lot to me. This one means more than any amount of money or gold combined. I gave up a hell of a lot of money, gave up Hollywood opportunities, for this contest. I wanted to restrict the media. That should tell you how much this fight means to me. I’ve been preparing accordingly.”
So what exactly has McGregor done differently to prepare for Saturday’s rematch? To begin with, he and his team have converted an old rail house in the Las Vegas area into a personalized training facility complete with strategically-placed motivational images and a full-size Octagon.
More specifically, in order to properly prepare for Diaz’ troublesome combination of size, experience, and stamina, McGregor has hired a nutritionist, masseuse, performance coach, videographer, and even a movement coach. However, the Irishman’s training camp, which apparently cost the featherweight king around $300,000, wouldn’t be complete without SBG head coach John Kavanagh, striking coach Owen Roddy, and the additions of grappler Dillon Danis, and Diaz-sized Irish boxer Conor Wallace.
Of course, it will all be for nothing if McGregor doesn’t defeat Diaz. From using his pull with Dana White to secure what’s essentially a meaningless rematch, to his sudden refusal to attend promotional events, to spending big bucks on his training camp, McGregor has rearranged his entire life around revenge.
While attempting to reschedule the rematch in June following McGregor’s brief beef with the UFC, White gave viewers of ESPN’s Sportscenter some valuable insight on the Irishman’s mindset.
”Conor is obsessed with this rematch,” White told ESPN. ”I don’t know why, but he is. It’s just his type of personality. He’s obsessed with it. He’s obsessed with fighting Diaz again—at 170 pounds.”
But has that obsession led McGregor down a painful path of defeat and eventual doubt? Obviously, we won’t know the answer to that key question until the conclusion of this can’t-miss rematch. However, while they seem to respect each other as competitors, we know that the tension between these two has reached a boiling point.
On Wednesday, water bottles were the weapons of choice when McGregor’s late arrival to a media event sparked a bizarre back-and-forth between the two camps. While walking out of the venue early in response to the featherweight champ’s lack of punctuality, Diaz and his entourage yelled a few choice words at his opponent before launching several water bottles at the stage, and not surprisingly, McGregor and his camp immediately retaliated while an irritated White tried to stop the Irishman from throwing whatever he could find.
Although Saturday’s rematch means everything to his opponent, Diaz will enter the biggest fight of his life with very little to lose for the second time in only five months. With the fight being contested at 170 pounds, it would be tough for the UFC to justify relating the outcome of the bout to his status in the lightweight division, and if he loses, Diaz will still be remembered as the first UFC fighter to have conquered King Conor.
But from the beginning, this rematch has only been about McGregor. Sure, we’ve enjoyed watching two of MMA’s top trash-talkers battle it out, but the fight itself is all about the Irishman and his ability to bounce back from a momentum-killing loss that’s stalled his ascension and prevented him from becoming the dual-weight champion that so many think he should be.
[Photo By Isaac Brekken/Getty Images]