It's official: Conor McGregor will get his immediate rematch against Nate Diaz in the main event of UFC 200, happening on July 9 in Las Vegas. However, if the Irishman wants a different outcome this time, then he'll have to work on some things.
Last month at UFC 196, Diaz pulled a major upset by staggering McGregor with punches before submitting him via rear-naked choke in the second round. The fight was an eye-opener for both fighters, as it revealed some chinks in their armor. With that in mind, here are a few things the two could improve on to up their chances of winning big at UFC 200.
McGregor's Drawing Board
Immediately after UFC 196, McGregor admitted that he blew his gas tank after putting too much power behind his punches. This time, it would be wise for "The Notorious" not to go for power shots so often. If he could land more combos and save the big shots for when they count (read: fight like Nate), then he'll be able to conserve his energy.
Set up his kicks
He has a two-inch leg reach advantage over Diaz, and the only KO defeat of Diaz's career came off a head kick against Josh Thomson. The difference is that McGregor doesn't set up his kicks (especially the wheel kick he often threw during their first fight). In Thomson's case, he feinted left as if he was going for a takedown, and then launched the right head kick, which landed flush. Incorporating more feints and combos could help Conor set up his kicks more effectively.
Work tirelessly on grappling
Even if McGregor trains every day in just grappling from now until July, it still wouldn't amount to the mat time that Diaz, a BJJ black belter, has already put in. But improved grappling would increase the former's chances of defending, or scoring a takedown or a submission. We don't suggest that McGregor goes to the ground with Diaz, but working on this facet of his game would help a lot.
Plus, note that Diaz pressed him against the fence a few times at UFC 196 and landed close-quarter strikes. In doing so, the American didn't just land shots but also made McGregor carry his weight, which could've been a factor in Conor gassing out early. Improved wrestling would help the Irishman in such scenarios as well.
Attack the legs
The three men to have most recently beaten Diaz are Rafael dos Anjos, Thomson, and Benson Henderson, and they all targeted his lead leg with hard kicks (sometimes, even punches). Diaz's boxing stance is wide, and it leaves his lead leg vulnerable to attacks. McGregor had the right approach in their first fight by taking the same route with oblique kicks. He should've kept at it to hamper Nate's mobility and give him more things to think about besides punches.
Make Diaz lead
Here's another thing McGregor can learn from Thomson, who fought the perfect fight against Diaz. At UFC 196, Conor pushed the action, lunging forward with 1-2 combos, hence opening himself up to counters and ultimately exhaustion. Thomson didn’t brawl with Diaz; he circled, made the man chase him, and then countered. If McGregor can do this, then...well, Jose Aldo can tell you how effective a McGregor counterpunch can be.
The Diaz Workshop
Avoid the left hand
For someone who fought on 11-days' notice with no sparring in his preparation, Diaz fought a near-perfect fight at UFC 196, except for one thing: McGregor's left hand landed too often. This resulted to a cut over Nate's right eye in the first round. Come rematch, Diaz will want to steer clear of McGregor's overhand and straight lefts to avoid damage and the chances of getting KO'd.
Watch out for the wheel kick
If Diaz circles to his left to avoid McGregor's left hand then he'll run into the latter's wheel kick. He barely avoided this kick in their first fight. Diaz needs to ensure he doesn't get hit by this kick (or any other shots to the head), and he could leave UFC 200, in his words, "with a pocket full of cash."
Gab Pangalangan is an MMA analyst and reporter for DojoDrifter.com.