Did Conor McGregor Actually Beat Nate Diaz at UFC 202?

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterAugust 23, 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20:   (R-L) Conor McGregor raises his hand after facing Nate Diaz in their welterweight bout during the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

For 31 months, the great Conor McGregor seemed all but invincible. Five top-flight opponents entered the cage with him. Before the end of the second stanza, all five had fallen to his mighty hands.

Through adversity and injury, against wrestler and striker, one thing held true in the world's most chaotic sport: If McGregor put his fists to another man, that man would fall.

Death. Taxes. "The Notorious" Conor McGregor's left hand.

It's no wonder then. McGregor saw Nate Diaz as just another opponent. Diaz, in theory, was no different than any other man, which is to say he was born to be a victim of the great Conor McGregor. Just a "fat-skinny guy" who had failed to claim the throne McGregor sat so firmly upon.

Reality intruded, as it so often does in combat sports, in the form of a punch to the face. Diaz's blows, it seemed, knocked the hubris out of McGregor, dropping him, forcing him to shoot for a confused takedown, the gazelle walking right into the lion's den to deliver swift justice.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 5:   Nate Diaz (top) submits Conor McGregor in their welterweight bout during the UFC 196 in the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

It was there Diaz delivered the coup de grace, what Brazilians call the mata leao—the lion killer. McGregor had reached for the stars but landed with a thud on the unforgiving Octagon mat. The future, once so bright, was very much in doubt.

And so, just five months removed from his first UFC defeat, McGregor found himself making the long walk to the cage to face Diaz again. This time, he walked first—Diaz may not have held a title belt, but he was champion of this feud, already among the most memorable in UFC history.

After 25 minutes, McGregor's hand was raised in victory—a majority decision that drove the internet into convulsions of both anger and joy. Diaz was left to mutter a plaintive "What the f--k?"

McGregor, gracious in victory, credited his rival with bringing out his best.

"You've got to respect Nate and the style of fighting that he brings," McGregor told the media during the post-fight press conference. "How can you not?"

When the chits were counted at FightMetric, Diaz had landed 166 significant strikes; McGregor scored 164. But fights aren't scored on aggregate. They are judged round-by-round, with effective striking and grappling the defining criteria.

Who really won the rematch between Diaz and McGregor? We took a look at the fight to deliver an entirely unofficial scorecard of our own.

    

Round 1

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20:  Conor McGregor (L) kicks Nate Diaz during their welterweight rematch at the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
Steve Marcus/Getty Images

McGregor knew what he needed to do to beat Diaz. Benson Henderson had written the book on it. Josh Thomson and Rafael Dos Anjos had traced from the same pattern. But devising a game plan and executing it are two different things.

Diaz, with his wide stance, resting heavy on his front leg to maximize his boxing game, was born to be victimized by leg kicks. He, like his brother Nick, has a seeming disdain for them, with both men choosing to eat kick after kick rather than adjust their stance or style.

Diaz had proved what he could do with his height and reach advantage in the first fight. McGregor would need to utilize the only weapon in his arsenal to re-establish his dominance at distance.

The problem? McGregor had thrown only a handful of muay thai-style leg kicks in his entire UFC career, depending instead on linear kicks of the kind Jon Jones popularized. In fact, he expressly eschewed the style, judging its "flatfooted" fighters as lacking the movement necessary to keep up with him.

McGregor's chances depended on him perfectly executing a technique he had just five months to master—but he came out and did it like a multiple-time veteran of the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.

The first five significant strikes of the bout were all McGregor leg kicks. By the end of the round, Diaz's leg was already bruising, and his stance was compromised.

By the Numbers: Round 1
Significant StrikesTakedownsKnockdowns
Conor McGregor34/580/01
Nate Diaz25/730/00
FightMetric

"The leg kick is a huge factor in this fight," announcer Joe Rogan roared. "And Conor is using it brilliantly."

Even better, for McGregor at least, the leg kicks opened opportunities for his straight left hand. At 3:19, he dropped a befuddled Diaz to the mat with one, though replay showed clear eyes and a full heart.

Gone was the headhunter from the first fight. This McGregor was patient, composed and professional.

"That's the technical difference between the two of us," McGregor's trainer John Kavanagh offered as his fighter took a seat in the corner. For McGregor, it was one down and four long rounds to go.

Round 1
Derek Cleary10-9 McGregor
Jeff Mullen10-9 McGregor
Glenn Trowbridge10-9 McGregor
Bleacher Report10-9 McGregor
Nevada Athletic Commission

    

Round 2

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20:  (L-R) Conor McGregor of Ireland knocks down Nate Diaz in their welterweight bout during the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

"No more free kicks," Diaz's corner yelled as the bell sounded to begin Round 2. Obviously listening, he attempted to check a few early, but whether they landed or were deflected, the kicks served their intended purpose: to open up Diaz for McGregor's left hand.

The work, at least early in the fight, was much easier for McGregor than it had been in the initial bout. Then, McGregor landed plenty of haymakers, but only rarely were they clean, and he exhausted himself in the process. This time, the leg kicks opened the door for everything else, preventing Diaz from circling away and backing him into the cage where McGregor could tee off with his power hand.

Two stunning lefts put Diaz down, though McGregor chose not to engage the Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert on the ground.

"Nate's having a hard time moving on that right leg," Rogan offered. "That could be a factor in why he's falling down like this."

By the Numbers: Round 2
Significant StrikesTakedownsKnockdowns
Conor McGregor34/700/02
Nate Diaz37/760/00
FightMetric

In the corner, Kavanagh was suddenly a believer in the power of Thai boxing, calling out, "On the leg, on the leg." McGregor obliged and landed a right hand to boot, belying the notion he's a one-handed fighter.

For a fighter often criticized as a headhunter in search of knockouts, McGregor maintained his focus brilliantly. Diaz came willing to him and, over and over again, was met with a left-hand counter no matter what he tried. McGregor parried everything that came his way and responded with a straight punch that was more timing than pure speed.

"He's picking him apart right now," play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg said. "It's all Conor McGregor."

Perhaps that was Diaz's cue—a check hook launched him back into the fight, and a furious combination soon followed. Rogan began selling the idea that McGregor was slowing down, though it wasn't particularly obvious based on his incredible output.

The two men exchanged 71 significant strikes in the round and, for the first time, Diaz looked to be competing on even terms.

"We have ourselves a fight," Goldberg said.

He didn't know how right he'd be.

Round 2
Derek Cleary10-9 McGregor
Jeff Mullen10-9 McGregor
Glenn Trowbridge10-9 McGregor
Bleacher Report10-9 McGregor
Nevada Athletic Commission

    

Round 3

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20:  (R-L) Nate Diaz gestures towards Conor McGregor of Ireland in their welterweight bout during the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Imag
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Diaz often fights with his hands down, sometimes even leaning forward to bait his opponent into a punch. His long frame and arms allow him to either avoid or absorb those blows. His own slapping right hook follows, and then the storm comes—punch after punch until it feels like they will never stop raining down.

McGregor's leg kicks had prevented that strategy from coming into play and, on this night at least, his left hand was quicker to launch than Diaz's right. It required a shift in tactics that came into play in the third round.

Diaz covered his head with both arms and threw a few awkward kicks of his own, sometimes lifting his knee off the ground, looking to close the distance on his Irish rival instead of countering his charge.

McGregor dealt with this change smoothly, sometimes landing stunning elbows when the bigger man attempted to get inside, other times resetting across the cage, causing Diaz to point and the crowd to jeer.

By the Numbers: Round 3
Significant StrikesTakedownsKnockdowns
Conor McGregor26/450/00
Nate Diaz49/870/20
FightMetric

Perhaps feeling McGregor wilt, Diaz got some of his swagger back in the second half of the round, taunting McGregor, who responded with some of the "spinning s--t" Team Diaz despises so much.

Eventually, Diaz's tactical adjustments paid off. With just under a minute left, he cornered McGregor against the cage, put the top of his head down on the short man's chin and proceeded to go to work Diaz-style. Punch after punch flowed—to the body, head, arms and air.

McGregor never stopped fighting. On slow-motion replay, you can even see him avoiding or mitigating many of the worst blows. But they came in waves, a force of nature, inexorable and unyielding.

"Nate Diaz," Goldberg said, "is looking to finish him right now."

It didn't seem to matter to Diaz where the punches landed. He was throwing them until someone made him stop—and only the bell did that.

Round 3
Derek Cleary10-9 Diaz
Jeff Mullen10-9 Diaz
Glenn Trowbridge10-8 Diaz
Bleacher Report10-9 Diaz
Nevada Athletic Commission

    

Round 4

Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

While the announcer focused on McGregor's alleged fatigue, the fight's brutality caught up with Diaz in Round 4. The blood poured, and Diaz was forced to constantly sweep it from his eyes. Worse, as his body was failing him, an intellectual challenge presented itself.

He had successfully adjusted to McGregor's new game plan in the previous round. Now it was McGregor's turn to show his fight IQ.

By the Numbers: Round 4
Significant StrikesTakedownsKnockdowns
Conor McGregor46/760/00
Nate Diaz36/630/10
FightMetric

After 15 minutes of relying mostly on leg kicks and left hands, McGregor let his jab fly free. Like the leg kicks, it's never been much of a weapon—but he smoothly danced at a distance, firing away with the kind of lead punch he'd never needed before in a UFC fight.

Some of his favored straight kicks to the body followed, and, when Diaz attempted to repeat the feat of closing distance with a heavy guard surrounding his head, McGregor dug shots into his body with vicious glee.

We knew prior to this fight that McGregor was a gifted puncher and an excellent finisher. After the fourth round of this bout, we knew something else: He was capable of outsmarting his foes too.

Round 4
Derek Cleary10-9 McGregor
Jeff Mullen10-9 McGregor
Glenn Trowbridge10-9 McGregor
Bleacher Report10-9 McGregor
Nevada Athletic Commission

    

Round 5

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 20:  Nate Diaz shakes hands wih Conor McGregor of Ireland at the completion of their welterweight bout during the UFC 202 event at T-Mobile Arena on August 20, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC v
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Even after Diaz spent a minute in his corner, blood dripped to the mat as he flexed his muscles at the sound of the bell.

"Look at the blood," Rogan said, speaking for us all. "Good lord."

While the judges' scorecards indicated he needed a finish to win, Diaz saw things differently. There was no sense of purpose or urgency to score a finish. Winning the round, he seemingly thought, would be enough.

It wasn't.

It was one of the fight's closest. Diaz attempted to push McGregor into the cage, and McGregor continued to land punches. The story was McGregor's takedown defense. Though he didn't "dominate the clinch" like Kavanagh claimed in the corner, McGregor more than held his own in the championship rounds.

Against the cage, McGregor worked sharp elbows that left Diaz leaking blood and overhooks to avoid meeting the mat. Diaz, of course, was Diaz, managing a collar tie and some nice work. But it was mostly a stalemate—and for McGregor, that was as good as a win.

By the Numbers: Round 5
Significant StrikesTakedownsKnockdowns
Conor McGregor24/370/10
Nate Diaz19/441/40
FightMetric

As the round approached the halfway point, a frustrated Diaz pointed at a retreating McGregor and then turned his middle finger up to offer a rude salute. McGregor responded with a multiple-strike combination.

With 10 seconds left in the fight, Diaz scored the takedown he should have been desperate for. It was too late to mean much of anything. Both men raised their arms high after the bell rang. Both deserved to soak in the applause.

Round 5
Derek Cleary10-9 Diaz48-47 McGregor
Jeff Mullen10-9 Diaz48-47 McGregor
Glenn Trowbridge10-9 Diaz47-47 Draw
Bleacher Report10-10 Draw49-47 McGregor
Nevada Athletic Commission

"Wow," Rogan said. "What a fight...Those men just gave everything they had. Win, lose or draw, that was an incredible performance by both fighters."

It felt like a close fight, and it was. But, though the FightMetric stats showed both men landed significant strikes in almost identical numbers, McGregor scored the cleaner, stronger blows throughout the bout.

Though not nearly as definitive as their bout in March, this was McGregor's fight. He took on a bigger, taller, more experienced fighter and did everything necessary to eliminate all those advantages.

"We win, or we learn," McGregor told Rogan after the fight. "I learned from the last contest."

Now it's Diaz's turn to reinvent himself.

Bring on the trilogy.

    

Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.