- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2016

With 1:45 to go in the first round, Nate Diaz began to leak. An on-point left hand from Conor McGregor had swept through and crashed into Diaz’s scar-tissue-filled face. Blood ran down from next to his eye, streaming past his cheek bone. He did not back up.

At the end of the first round in their first fight back in March, both Diaz and McGregor were covered in blood. It all belonged to Diaz, who had been smashed in the face over and over. This week, McGregor simultaneously described the early beating as facing a “heavy bag with eyes” and pointing out he “teed off on his head.”

Yet, Diaz, more experienced, heavier, rangier and unfazed, kept rolling his hands before throwing. Though it looked like a balloon fill with blood had burst on his face, Diaz continued to bob and punch. Then, shock. A stiff left hand sent McGregor into the fog. Minutes later, Diaz rolled McGregor onto his stomach tucked his right forearm under the Irish champion’s fur-covered chin and sealed the guillotine choke with his left arm. McGregor tapped.

Diaz circled the ring with blood rolling past his smiling lips. McGregor stayed on his back, downed by reality. All his talking and revenue generation had ended with a loss. He began to think about what’s next. Everyone will finally find out Aug. 20 at UFC 202 in Las Vegas when they fight a second time with all possible outcomes available.

“I’m happy this happened because it forced me to look at my preparation, the route I was going,” McGregor said on a conference call. “It forced me to reassess. So, I’m happy that it happened. Make no mistake. This one means a hell of a lot to me. This one means more than any amount of gold or money combined.”

The rematch was supposed to happen at UFC 200 in July. But, McGregor was removed from the card in April for not fulfilling his promotional duties, according the UFC president Dana White. McGregor has talked in the past about being torn between the marketing and fighting sides of being the marquee name for UFC. This time, it was Diaz on late-night talk shows or in radio studios. McGregor had hunkered down, fighting a battle between what’s sensible for success and his high-end ability to let his mouth drum up additional dollars. He loves to cause a stir, but needs to properly train.

Before facing Diaz, McGregor’s route to UFC success was distinct. “When I hit them, they fall,” he said.

That was true at featherweight. Not so with Diaz, whom McGregor made his welterweight debut against. Diaz giggled on the conference call when asked about rumors that he is walking around at 200 pounds now. His opponent’s size leaves McGregor trying to find a way to fell a pine with a hatchet.

So, he began fighting heavier, larger men in training camp to emulate the beating Diaz can take and distance he can operate from. The first fight was the second time McGregor, who is three inches shorter than Diaz, had faced a taller opponent in the UFC. It was the first time he did not have a reach advantage, trailing Diaz’s length by two inches.

Plus, there’s the weight gap. McGregor said it was not an issue in the first fight until the end. When Diaz had a mount, McGregor tried to counter just before the choke hold settled in. He couldn’t move the larger Diaz off his back.

“When I went to turn away from the mount to try to get my knee back, he sprawled me out right at the right time and that was it,” McGregor said.

The rematch is polluted with risk for McGregor. Should he lose again, his aura will be cracked. One loss produces intrigue about a second shot. A second makes for conclusions and smaller paychecks.

If McGregor wins, which he assured he will before the second round concludes, he will have to decide how to proceed. He did not hesitate when asked if there would be a third fight. “One hundred percent,” he said. But, he also slipped in that he wasn’t sure what the timing would be, leaving an option for him to return to featherweight before another hurt session with Diaz. He’s even begun to think about his legacy.

“Look, when people look back at my career, I’m just a kid who came from nothing in Dublin and went all the [expletive] way,” McGregor said. “You know what I mean? Showed up every time. There’s a lot of [expletives] in this game. I’ve said it before. Lot of people that claim they want to fight — want to do this and want to do that — but they don’t do [expletive]. I bring it every time.”

The teleconference lasted more than 30 minutes, yet Diaz seldom spoke. Even when McGregor did not show at the UFC 200 press conference in late April, leaving instead an empty chair, Diaz didn’t say much. Though the noises were clear when he rose off McGregor’s back to hold his hands out in victory after their first fight. The crowd was shocked in the preceding fight by Miesha Tate’s dethroning of Holly Holm. It roared again at the site of a blood-spattered Diaz, who flexed both arms.

Bruce Buffer screamed Diaz’s name minutes later to denote the victory. McGregor was in his rarest state: silence. He stood with his hands on hips, starting to think about the rematch.

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