The hype was never louder for the UFC this year than the anticipation of UFC 200 on July 9th.
The all-star line-up took two hits that dissolved its star-studded status more than a little bit. One was the Jon Jones banned substance revelation by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the other was the UFCs decision to nix the rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz.
McGregor fled to Reykjavek, Iceland to train and did not want to be bothered with any pre-fight promotional obligations. His focus was purely on defeating the only man to beat him in the UFC, a second round rear naked choke submission at that. McGregor lashed out on social media, letting the world know that he wasnt for the marketing games this go-round.
Dana White flexed back and pulled the bout from the card however. What seemed like a curse morphed into a blessing in disguise. UFC 202 was announced with the bout rejuvenated as the headlining scrap and the MMA world went into a collective blitzkrieg of anticipation.
Nate Diaz, younger brother of veteran fighter Nick Diaz, is a no nonsense tough jiu-jitsu ace from Stockton, California that also knows how to use his paws. With McGregor totally obsessed on obliterating his opponent for the sheer gall to tarnish his indefatigable winning image, the stage was set for a brawl of epic proportions.
Starting with the circus-like press conference that saw McGregor late and Diaz first hurling water bottles from the stands down to the dais that were returned as he exited, fans salivated for this rematch.
The event was held at the newly built T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and brought with it all the glitz and glamor of any major prizefight hosted in the desert. The fight was also the first bout under the ownership regime of WMG-IMG that paid $4 billion to own the sports behemoth.
From the outset, the tone was set and McGregor would play matador to the patented bullish aggression of Diaz.
In round one, McGregor opened with low kicks and kept applying pressure with them throughout the entire stanza. Diaz tried a few high kicks but each was missed and resulted in him eating a well-placed low kick. Diaz eventually picked up the timing of the kicks and checked one, landing a body kick in response. However, a low-high combo from McGregor, then another heavy low kick and straight left dropped Diaz.
McGregor waved him up and the two traded shots with McGregor winning the transaction with straight and solid lefts in his natural southpaw stance before the bell closed the round. All gave McGregor a score of 10-9 for the round.
The barrage continued in round two where a low kick and a big left hand dropped Diaz early in the round. McGregor waved him up once again then assaulted him with a counter left which dropped him yet again. McGregor was in total control two minutes in delivering body shots, right hooks upstairs and leg kicks behind it. Another 10-9 round for McGregor.
Round three saw Diaz finally exerting his dominance with a forward marching barrage of right hooks, dirty boxing and body shots. McGregor constantly retreated in this round and Diaz taunted him accordingly. Having only entered the third round once in his UFC career prior to that point. Diazs relentless and vicious attacks to the body and knees to the face in the clinch gave Diaz the round 10-8.
Round four saw McGregor regain his energy and mimic his attacks in rounds 1 and 2 to take the round while round 5 saw Diaz do enough to cement his persistence in the match to win the round but not the fight.
With the final result of McGregor defeating Diaz by a majority decision, this fight was bigger than the two warriors battling it out in the cage. The fight came on the heels of McGregor winning the UFC featherweight championship 13 seconds into the first round at UFC 194 against deadly striker Jose Aldo.
McGregor’s fight purse was the highest in history, breaking Brock Lesnar’s record from UFC 200 by $500,000. Also, the event estimates doing 1.65 million buys on pay-per-view, putting it slightly ahead of the previous record (1.6 million) from UFC 196, which featured the first bout between McGregor and Diaz.
With boxings resurgence and a great pairing between Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter that was the runner-up as fight of the year, UFC 202s main event has to take the cake for not only a stellar five-round war, but cementing Conor McGregors rise to eventual two weight class champion.