Despite the last-minute injury of UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, and his subsequent withdrawal from the superfight against featherweight champion Conor McGregor, UFC 196 is still an outstanding event for fans to enjoy.
Nate Diaz, fresh off of a dominant win over Michael Johnson, has stepped-up to battle McGregor in the main event, and in the co-main event, bantamweight champion Holly Holm—who is best known for viciously knocking Ronda Rousey out to capture the belt—will put her strap on the line against the surging and high-level Miesha Tate.
In short, this event is still one of the best of the year, and shouldn’t be missed by any fan of the sport. Let’s take a closer look at the main and co-main events!
Conor McGregor vs Nate Diaz
Especially on such short notice, a better opponent than Nate Diaz would have been difficult to find. The elite Stockton-based fighter has consistently demonstrated outstanding boxing and stand-up skills, a high-level BJJ game, cardio that can easily handle twenty-five minutes of fast-paced fighting, and an iron chin, while competing inside the Octagon.
To win here against McGregor, Diaz must utilize his range and movement from the outside, in coordination with an occasional takedown attempt or clinch engagement, with the utmost caution. McGregor has demonstrated time and time again that he has the ability to put anyone who rushes inwards out with a single punch, and also, Diaz doesn’t possess the one-punch knockout power required to put McGregor out should he find his way inside (nobody has had this power yet—not even Chad Mendes, who is known for having solid hands, and connected cleanly several times during his fight with the Irishman).
Diaz will likely understand all of this, and especially given his stick-and-move style contest against Michael Johnson in his last outing, maintaining this gameplan shouldn’t be a problem (adapting to the aggression and adjustments of McGregor may be a different story).
That’s where the second component of Diaz’s gameplan, which will be integral to his success, comes into play: the takedown. Although Diaz has an outstanding ground game, he isn’t very well known for his straight, double-leg takedowns. That should change here, with the proper timing. He will likely hold a notable advantage on the ground over McGregor, and more pressingly, the attempt of these takedowns—successful or not—will work to disrupt the striking timing of McGregor.
Especially since Diaz has the cardio to support the constant movement and occasional takedown attempts required by this gameplan, it will be very interesting to see how he performs.
McGregor, on the other hand, must pick his shots more carefully than he has in the past. He has most certainly proven that his striking is on another level than that of most other competitors, but the reality is that he has yet to face an opponent who is as physically large and reach-heavy as Diaz is. Should he charge inwards, he may be greeted with a stiff jab, and even a takedown.
But then again, there’s a good chance that McGregor simply doesn’t care. That’s what makes him so incredibly intimidating, besides his core skills: he is fearless inside the cage. He marched forward without issue against Chad Mendes and paid for it, in the form of a number of takedowns, and a series of hard shots on the ground and on the feet. Of course, fans know that he also walked through these shots as if they were amateurish and weak.
Still, he’ll need to be slightly more cautious against Diaz than he has been in the past, by carefully moving and waiting for an opportunity to progress inward to present itself. Moreover, he will also need to be mindful of the takedown, which is a distinct possibility, given that the fight has been booked at 170 lbs. and that Diaz is a larger competitor than he is used to battling.
To throw off the timing of Diaz’s strikes, McGregor himself may look for a takedown as well. Diaz has had some trouble being planted on his back in the past (this was most clear in the Benson Henderson fight), and even if McGregor isn’t successful, the unexpected nature of these attempts may very well confuse and disrupt Diaz.
In short, McGregor must pick his shots and be mindful of the physical size of his opponent, as well as his longevity, while carefully moving inside as opportunities to do so are encountered.
The winners of this fight will most certainly be the fans. McGregor is an incredibly skilled and talented athlete who has affirmed his status as one of the best of all time, but if there’s one thing that Nick and Nate Diaz have proven, it’s that there is no such thing as an easy fight when competing against either one of them.
Holly Holm vs Miesha Tate
With all of the excitement and anticipation behind the main event, it seems as though many fans are overlooking the co-main event contest between Holly Holm and Miesha Tate—a real shame, given that it is an awesome bout.
Holly Holm’s time inside the Octagon, prior to her win over Ronda Rousey, wasn’t overly notable. The multi-time world champion boxer evidently possessed some outstanding skills, but it wasn’t until the Rousey fight that she put them altogether.
An expert of movement and range, Holm will need to be careful in utilizing both in this match against Tate. Unlike Rousey, there’s an excellent chance that the veteran Tate won’t move inwards with reckless abandon, but will rather pick her shots from the outside until an opportunity for the takedown presents itself.
To counter this, Holm should use her kicks from the outside as she did against Rousey, but push forward slightly more. Not recklessly, so as to fall victim to a takedown, but enough to land cleanly and early on her opponent. Striking at range with Tate may be a bad idea, as “Cupcake” has demonstrated an underestimated awareness and skill from this distance, and more pressingly, Holm has had some difficulty dealing with opponents who stick to the outside in the past, like in her Octagon debut against Raquel Pennington.
Tate, on the other hand, should keep her distance, pick her shots from the outside, and integrate the takedown and the clinch in the best possible instances, utilizing her timing and Octagon awareness.
It’s imperative that she not wade forward without purpose, or become overly aggressive in general, like Rousey did, as this is when Holm is able to connect cleanly and tag her opponents. Moreover, the clinch may be a very important part of Tate’s gameplan later on in the fight, and throughout the contest, she would be wise to utilize as many leg kicks as possible, to inhibit the movement of her opponent.
Contrary to what the odds and many fans are saying, this is a very winnable fight for either woman. Ultimately, the victor may be the competitor who does more in the first few rounds to frustrate her opponent and impose her will, then coasting to a decision.
As was said, UFC 196 is set to be an outstanding event. Be sure to catch all of the action as it goes down live on pay-per-view on Saturday, March 5th, with the prelims beginning on Fight Pass about four hours before the main card, and the televised prelims beginning two hours before the main card and airing on Fox Sports 1.
Enjoy the fights!