It didn’t take long for Conor McGregor to find a new opponent for UFC 196. Nate Diaz will replace the injured Rafael dos Anjos in the main event of the March 5 pay-per-view at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
McGregor, who has been looking to become the first UFC champion to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight classes, had committed to moving from featherweight to lightweight. But instead of going to 155 pounds, the 145-pound champ will face Diaz at the 170-pound welterweight limit.
Diaz has fought mostly as a lightweight, but the two fighters agreed to meet at 170 pounds since the new challenger will have just 10 days to prepare to get back inside the octagon. Diaz is 2-2 as a welterweight in UFC, losing back-to-back decisions to Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald in 2011.
Though the wait was longer than he had hoped, Diaz will finally get his shot at McGregor. After beating Michael Johnson at 156 pounds in his first fight in a year on Dec. 19, Diaz called out McGregor in a profanity-laced rant.
Diaz is known for being one of the biggest trash talkers in UFC, and his persona should help draw a lot of interest for the fight. But he hasn’t been a consistent winner of late, and he might not offer McGregor the challenge that dos Anjos presented. Diaz lost a unanimous decision to dos Anjos on Dec. 13, 2014, and has three losses in his last five fights.
For all the hype surrounding McGregor, he was still a slight underdog in the lightweight fight. Now, McGregor is a -350 favorite, while Diaz is getting +265 betting odds at Bovada.lv.
A few other fighters were considered as replacements for dos Anjos. UFC president Dana White said Jose Aldo was approached about a rematch, but he declined the chance to defeat the man that took his featherweight title because he needed more notice. Featherweight Frankie Edgar turned down the fight because of an injury, but Donald Cerrone and B.J. Penn were willing to take on the biggest name in UFC.
"A lot of guys wanted this fight, but we ended up with Nate Diaz. We felt this was the fight to make and the fight the fans wanted to see," White said on “SportsCenter.”
Headlined by McGregor vs. Aldo, UFC 194 reportedly sold more than one million buys, potentially ranking second in UFC history. With McGregor’s popularity increasing even more after he defeated Aldo in 13 seconds, UFC 196 could prove to be an even bigger event.