Disconnected microphones, a featherweight belt for a welterweight fight, and a brother yelling from off camera: that’s how the pre-fight press conference for UFC 196: McGregor vs. Diaz will go down in history.
In retrospect, it will be looked back upon fondly, not only as one of the highest profile fights for an athlete considered a “non-needle mover”, but as the first time a champion went a full two weight classes above his throne for the sake of entertainment alone. And that press conference was nothing if not entertaining.
After coaxing Diaz out of his shell with a few well aimed barbs early in the show, McGregor couldn’t help but smile as Diaz became visibly perturbed, playing right into the Irishman’s hand. All looked like it was going according to plan; Dave Sholler standing in less as a delegator and more of a space holder, allowing both fighters to essentially say whatever they want.
But roughly halfway through the press conference, something changed. Diaz clammed up, answering questions with either non-verbal gestures, or simply one-word answers. At one point it was clear his older brother Nick felt the need to back Nate up; as though they were back on the playground and the elder was forced to play enforcer against the new (very rich) kid on campus.
But despite the fact that a 145lb champion is fighting a 155lb contender at 170lbs, this fight feels oddly meaningful. As much as it hurts fans and McGregor inc. to not have Rafael dos Anjos’ lightweight strap on the line, his recent foot injury will only make their eventual meeting even bigger.
In what has become a troubling pattern amongst McGregor’s opponents, his March 5th date with Diaz stands as the fourth time in eight fights that the Irishman has had an opponent pull out due to injury. While it’s nothing new in the world of mixed techniques, it’s something that Conor’s detractors can’t really say anything about. McGregor, much like Diaz, is ready and willing to fight injured; if we believe his team, McGregor had an 80% tear in his ACL leading up to the Chad Mendes fight back at UFC 189 and yet refused to shy away from the contest.
Of course, had he lost, Team McGregor could have just as easily pointed to the ACL injury as the only reason he wasn’t able to finish the wrestler. But that’s not what happened. Instead, McGregor called his shot (as he seemingly always does) by knocking Mendes out in the second round.
And while he was disappointed at the time that then-featherweight King Jose Aldo had pulled out of the contest, McGregor maintains he doesn’t train for individuals, rather, he simply trains to be a more complete martial artist. In that sense, the fact that 50% of all his UFC opponents have backed out in the weeks leading up the fight might not be such a disadvantage after all.
If anything, it just strengthens McGregor’s hand all the more. Much like the fallen Aldo, dos Anjos wanted nothing more than to have an opportunity to silence the brash McGregor. But why waste that opportunity if you’re not as close to 100% healthy as you can be? I’m sure it was a torturous decision to pick up the phone and tell the powers-that-be at Zuffa you won’t be able to make the fight that they’ve already invested millions of dollars into promoting. Not only do you frustrate your employers and fans, but you also lose out on the “red panty night”, or, more accurately, a massive cut of pay-per-view royalties that only a fight with McGregor can generate.
But of course McGregor isn’t going to be on your side for this. Rather, he’ll insist you “broke your vagina.” Rude, disrespectful, and sexist though it may be, it gets laughs and applause breaks. Throughout this rollercoaster that has been Conor McGregor’s undefeated run in the UFC, the rules have never really applied to him. Against Diaz, nothing is different.
It’s just a shame the 209 native lacks the articulation to spar with McGregor leading up the bout. He just wants to fight, preferably in jeans on the streets of Lodi. The pomp and circumstance that comes with a McGregor fight is antithetical to the road that Diaz has maneuvered up to this point, and you could see him made to be visibly uncomfortable at yesterday’s press conference. The man, much like his brother shouting in the wings, talks with his hands and his chokes. As a foil to McGregor, he comes off frustrated and at a loss for any possible comeback.
Relying on one of the Diaz brother’s favorite jabs, Nate accused McGregor of steroid use more than once, eventually just saying, “You’re on steroids.” As though his statement was less a grumbling of a lanky tri-athlete and more a statement of fact.
For McGregor, it was an easy strike to slip; two members of the Scrap Pack, Diaz’ informal teammates Jake Shields and Gilbert Melendez, have previously both tested hot. Why accuse your opponent when your stablemates are using?
A wise response from a quick witted man. And if we were to glean nothing else from the press conference, the fight will act out much like their verbal tirade; precision beats power, and timing beats speed.
image credit – @TheNotoriousMMA
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