After beating Jose Aldo to lay sole claim as king of UFC's featherweight division, Conor McGregor is setting his sights on Nate Diaz. The two will clash Saturday in Las Vegas at UFC 196.
McGregor was originally supposed to face lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos; however, a broken foot ruled Dos Anjos out for the pay-per-view. Almost immediately, Diaz was named as a replacement, meaning the fight would be at the welterweight, rather than lightweight, limit.
Despite the fact he's fighting in a completely new division, McGregor remains the favorite Saturday. According to Odds Shark, the reigning featherweight champion has 5-8 odds to win, while Diaz is a 7-5 underdog. McGregor also has 20-53 odds to win the fight by knockout, per Odds Shark.
No matter what the result, the fight should be extremely entertaining. McGregor is one of UFC's best showmen, while Diaz made it clear he's looking to make a statement inside the Octagon.
Here's some of the pre-fight hype between the two fighters, followed by predictions for how the fight will unfold.
Diaz wasted little time throwing his first shot McGregor's way:
Nathan Diaz @NateDiaz209
He's going to have to get on his knees and beg...2016-2-23 17:51:25
Making the jump from featherweight to lightweight would've been a difficult enough transition for McGregor. He has to jump two weight divisions in order to fight Diaz, and as a result he has been forced to add a significant amount of weight for such a short amount of time.
In an interview on Submission Radio (via Anton Tabuena of SB Nation's Bloody Elbow), Diaz's coach Richard Perez asserted his belief McGregor "has got to be on some kind of steroids."
During a press conference on Feb. 24, McGregor dismissed similar accusations from Diaz himself. (Warning: Video contains language that is NSFW):
McGregor also shared some short clips of his pre-fight training regimen:
Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA
Where's fatigue? https://t.co/xGwGew8ekQ2016-2-24 12:10:47
Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA
God bless this hard work. I don't care about weight divisions. I'll run through everyone on the roster. #11Days https://t.co/AAd25Rme732016-2-24 12:24:44
Even with the short turnaround time between the time McGregor vs. Diaz was announced and this Saturday, the hype machine hasn't lost a single beat. McGregor is guaranteed to grab headlines himself, and the steroid allegations only added another layer of personal animosity between he and Diaz.
Tensions almost boiled over at the pre-fight press conference, per UFC:
Saturday can't come soon enough! #UFC196 https://t.co/sZjTF5UaPi2016-3-3 22:14:11
Given the amount of bad blood on display, Saturday's fight won't be lacking in drama.
Not only is McGregor fighting in a weight class 25 pounds higher than what he's used to, he's also had only a little over a week to prepare for his opponent. Even the greatest of fighters would struggle when facing those two obstacles.
Then, you throw in the physical and stylistic challenge Diaz poses, and this won't be an easy fight for McGregor by any stretch.
In addition to his size advantage, Diaz owns a slightly longer reach than McGregor—two inches—per FightMetric. That should allow Diaz to remain a safe distance away yet still be close enough to land the volume of blows to sway the judges his way.
Diaz would be smart to use McGregor's aggressive nature to his advantage. The 30-year-old former Ultimate Fighter winner could frustrate his opponent with well-time jabs, and should that frustration get to McGregor, he could leave himself open long enough for Diaz to land a major blow.
While one can see a road to victory for Diaz, this fight is McGregor's to lose. He's the stronger puncher, and his speed and agility will help him avoid Diaz's attempts to get the fight down on the mat.
McGregor has called for a first-round knockout.
"End of the first, I feel he will be put away," he said, per Fox Sports' Damon Martin. "I respect Nate. Don't get me wrong. I do respect Nate. There's a lot of (expletives) in this game and he is not one of them. Don't get me wrong, there's a respect there between us but it's business in there and business is business."
He predicted as much before his fight with Jose Aldo and duly delivered. A win Saturday won't come nearly as easy.
Diaz will be behind on the scorecards in the third round, and he'll start getting a little desperate as a result. That desperation will be his downfall as McGregor sees an opening and ends the fight in the third.
Prediction: McGregor, Round 3 TKO