Jumping two weight classes and keeping up the same level of trash talk didn’t work out for featherweight champion Conor McGregor at UFC 196. Instead, the Irishman’s pride and enthusiasm was literally choked out of him by lightweight Nate Diaz.
The loss may lead to questions about McGregor’s long-term future in mixed martial arts and UFC, in particular whether or not he’ll only dominate the featherweight division.
But there’s no reason to doubt how strong and consistent a force McGregor still is and will continue to be for UFC in the coming years. And much of it involves his grit and determination.
Starting with the poor decision to hurdle to weight classes, especially on short notice, McGregor will do better to extend his career by being a little more picky when it comes to opponents. It may be safe to assume that he underestimated Diaz, who entered with eight losses in his previous 16 fights. Diaz reportedly wasn't training, and was vacationing in Mexico.
Diaz would fill in for the injured Rafael dos Anjos with a little over two weeks until the opening bell, which in turn left both fighters vulnerable to a massive letdown. In particular for McGregor, he made it clear at the post-fight press conference that he thought his power would be just as punishing despite the 25-pound difference between the classes.
"I feel I was simply inefficient with my energy," McGregor said. "Usually, when I fight a man in the division I am champion in and they crumble under those shots. But Nate took them very well. I think the weight allowed him to take those shots well."
It was an ill-advised decision to reach so high in the first place, and it's an issue McGregor and his SBG Ireland team will probably hope to avoid in the future.
Going further, McGregor also admitted that he reached a certain point of desperation as it became evident in the second round that Diaz was turning the tide.
"I enjoyed the fact that a person could take the shots and keep coming," McGregor said "He kept his composure. He went into almost autopilot mode with the shots. His face was busted up. And I went into panic mode. It was just a shift of energy and he capitalized on it. I think with a bit of adjustment and a bit of recognition it must take more than one, more than two, more than three to put the heavier man away. I think if I go in with that mindset at a heavier weight I think I will do fine again."
With “again” being the operative word, McGregor’s clearly contemplating higher and higher moves, much like mountain climber sizing up a K4 after conquering a K3. Losing to Diaz should force him to reconsider his weight options. Another similar defeat may quickly prompt UFC fans to find the next top fighter.
But the tenacity, determination and charisma that have endeared McGregor to UFC fans and made him arguably the sport’s biggest star are all reasons to believe he’ll stay near the apex for quite some time.
“I'll take this loss like a man,” McGregor posted on FaceBook after the bout. “I will not shy away from it. I will not change who I am. If another champion goes up 2 weights let me know. If your tired of me talking money, take a nap.
“I'll still be here when you wake up with the highest PPV and the gate. Still talking multi 7's.
“Thank you to the true support and [expletive] the hate that came out of the woodwork. I love it all. Its still steak for breakfast.”
Up next for McGregor could be a bout with Jose Aldo, who he knocked out in 13 seconds in December. While McGregor may view the rematch as a way to pad his record, it may do little to erase the image of his defeat to Diaz.