Conor McGregor needed five rounds and a ton of heart to gut out a majority decision over Nate Diaz in what may go down as one of the greatest main event fights of all time.
The rematch between the two fierce rivals had been talked about non-stop for the past five months, ever since Diaz submitted McGregor by second-round rear naked choke back at UFC 196 in March.
Almost from the moment he tapped Diaz’s arm, McGregor was obsessed with exacting revenge and he got his chance on Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
McGregor put everything into his training camp to dissect Diaz’s strengths and weaknesses to earn a win this time around and the study in the gym showed off early when the Irishman came out with a much more tactical game plan than the first fight.
McGregor attacked with leg kicks almost immediately and fired off a series of hard, straight punches as he backed Diaz up against the Octagon repeatedly in the first round.
The Irishman threw a quick left hook that clipped Diaz’s jaw and knocked him to the mat as the crowd in the arena erupted, but McGregor didn’t want to go to the ground and instead allowed his opponent back to the feet.
The second round started much the same way with McGregor cracking Diaz with a series of precision punches that once again put him on the ground. McGregor was pouring on the offense, and it appeared that he might earn a finish just as he had predicted ahead of the fight.
Unfortunately for McGregor, Diaz was down but far from out, and he came storming back late in the round with an aggressive attack that hurt the featherweight champion with a dizzying series of punches.
Diaz saw the momentum swing in his favor in a big way in the third round as he started stalking McGregor around the Octagon, swarming him with punches and not allowing him a second to breathe.
McGregor’s breath was labored as he started looking at the clock and with less than 30 seconds to go in the round, Diaz trapped him against the cage and started unloading with a huge barrage of punches.
If the round had gone on another 10 seconds, Diaz may have been able to finish it but the horn sounded and McGregor was able to return to his corner. McGregor sat down and it looked like he was in serious trouble but the minute rest period somehow allowed him enough time to recover and he came out strong in the fourth round.
McGregor started popping Diaz with punches again while opening up a series of cuts that left the Stockton, Calif. native covered in blood. McGregor’s willingness to engage with Diaz hurt him in round three, but he was able to return to his original game plan where he fed the former “Ultimate Fighter” winner a diet of leg kicks and stiff combinations.
The round seemingly went to McGregor and as it turns out he definitely needed it because Diaz took over in the final five minutes with another punishing series of strikes. Diaz pressured McGregor time after time and as the clock ticked away it appeared that he could get a finish.
McGregor was forced to dig down deep to survive a few brutal exchanges, but he refused to back down and never allowed Diaz to see him hurt. When the final horn sounded, the crowd stood at attention and applauded both combatants while Diaz helped McGregor up from the canvas and the two embraced for a brief moment after what can only be described as a war of attrition.
The scores came back 48-47 and 48-47 for McGregor with the third officials scoring the fight 47-47, but the two judges were enough for the Irishman to earn a majority decision win after 25 minutes in the Octagon.
“Surprise, surprise, (expletive),” McGregor said after he was announced as the winner. “The king is back.
“If you want this trilogy, it’s on my terms. I came up to 170, now you’ll come back to 155 and we’ll finish what we’ve started. I knew what I had to do this time around and I did it.”
While he didn’t get the finish he predicted, McGregor still got the result he wanted as he earned a victory over Diaz while tying up their series at one fight a piece. While UFC president Dana White has promised that McGregor would be returning to featherweight for his next fight, it’s hard to imagine the promotion wouldn’t seize the moment and the momentum and set up a third fight with Diaz right away.
It certainly seemed both fighters were up to the challenge with Diaz calling for a trilogy right away following the loss to McGregor.
“I came here to fight. I want number three,” Diaz said. “I gave him number two, so let’s do it.”