When the possibility of stepping in on short notice to face Conor McGregor in this Saturday’s UFC 196 main event arrived on Nate Diaz’ doorstep, he did what Nate Diaz does. He said “okay” and went to work.
“They called and I took off to the gym, trying to get my weight down,” he said. At the time, he assumed he would be fighting the current UFC featherweight champion at 155 pounds, the weight McGregor was going to meet lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos at before the Brazilian got injured. But once Diaz agreed to the fight, he left things in the hands of his team.
That’s their job. His job? Scrap.
It’s why the announcement of Diaz’ bout with McGregor sent shockwaves through the MMA world, and for a change, they were positive ones. Everyone wants to see the Stockton bad boy in against Dublin’s McGregor, and neither backed down during an entertaining press conference last week, and they most certainly won’t shy away from battle on fight night this Saturday. But make no mistake about it, Diaz will not settle in and accept a role as the B-side in this bout.
“It’s the biggest fight,” Diaz said. “Obviously everybody wants that fight (with McGregor). But I’m a big fight too. It’s not one-sided. If you’re gonna fight anybody, it’s me. (The UFC) know it. I didn’t call for this fight. The UFC kept calling. This fight was gonna happen eventually.”
Maybe, maybe not, but the odds of it coming to fruition grew after Diaz’ triumphant return to the Octagon in December. Out for a year and six days, the 30-year-old came back with one of his best performances to date as he won a three-round decision over Michael Johnson that earned him Fight of the Night honors. Following the bout came a memorable rant that declared to the world that McGregor was firmly in Diaz’ sights.
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“I knew when I first saw that guy talking about coming up in weight that we were going to be fighting,” Diaz said of McGregor, who had his challenge of Dos Anjos to deal with, then an expected date at UFC 200, possibly to defend his featherweight bout. But when RDA got injured, everybody’s plans changed.
“This was a dramatic, quick thing that happened with everybody,” he said. “The circumstances were crazy.”
The craziest is perhaps that the McGregor-Diaz fight will take place at 170 pounds. Diaz has fought there before in the Octagon, knocking out Rory Markham and Marcus Davis before a pair of losses to Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald, but it will be “The Notorious” one’s maiden voyage to welterweight and Diaz believes the Irishman will enjoy it as much as he will.
“I fought at 170 and felt like a million bucks,” he said. “I was fast, I was strong, I just had to concentrate on fighting and not any type of weight cutting. So he should feel great.”
Despite their trash talk at the UFC 196 press conference and in various instances before that, the impression is that if the two weren’t about to fight each other, they might be friends. Just ask Diaz about his opponent’s persona and his fighting ability, and there is obviously a level of respect there.
“It’s what you need to do,” he said of McGregor’s penchant for selling fights. “He’s outspoken about it and it’s more entertaining than any of the other stuff going on. And look where it got him. He’s on top of this whole sh*t because he’s speaking up. If you’re going to fight people, then you shouldn’t be holding back. You should tell people what you think.
“On top of that, I think we’re both good martial artists, good fighters and we put on entertaining fights,” Diaz continues. “You’re gonna want to watch this fight. There ain’t no other fights to watch. These fighters out here are confused. They’re trying to be this super athlete and this positive role model and this thing they think people want to see, but let’s not forget that people tune in to see fighting.”
And McGregor and Diaz will give those people exactly what they want this weekend. As for the compliments, that’s about it from Mr. Diaz.
“We’re at war here,” he said. “A lot of those guys (previous McGregor opponents) got real scared. This is the fight game. If you get scared, you shouldn’t have signed up. This ain’t a place to be scared. We’re gonna go in there, we’re gonna fight, one of us is gonna win and one of us is gonna lose.”