Conor McGregor lacked the spirit needed to get through his tussle with Nate Diaz at UFC 196, according to former UFC star Jake Shields.
The Notorious tapped out in shock circumstances on Saturday night in his UFC welterweight debut. Shields claimed the superior fortitude showcased by the victor was central to his victory and is something McGregor, for his talents, doesn't have.
“Nate has something Conor doesn’t: Nate has heart, you can’t teach that,” he told BT Sport. “Nate fought with his heart and came back and finished Conor.”
There’s absolutely no denying the heart of Diaz, who despite having taken the fight on such short notice—less than two weeks before the fight—came through a difficult first round, reasserted himself and troubled the Notorious in the second. Eventually, he forced McGregor to give up his back and locked in a rear-naked choke.
Here’s a reminder of the remarkable finish to the fight, which saw McGregor's run of seven wins in the UFC come to an abrupt end:
Plenty are happy to see Diaz secure this kind of momentous result too. He’s a competitor who has always captured the attention of fans when stepping inside the Octagon, giving it everything whether he wins or loses. So it’s no surprise Shields, a team-mate of his, is so thrilled for his colleague.
“[Diaz] has more experience,” suggested Shields. “Nate was smart, he lost that first round but I think he did it on purpose. ... He was pacing himself, he was trying to let Conor punch himself out a little bit and then he started to put the pressure on. Nate has the experience to know he can do something like that.”
While McGregor may not have had that kind of know-how in his first fight at welterweight, a lack of heart is not an accusation that has been levelled at the Irishman too often.
However, given how quickly he tapped out, there have been question marks about his spirit. In the fight beforehand, Holly Holm was choked unconscious by Miesha Tate as she sought to cling to her bantamweight title, but McGregor tapped much sooner.
Ken Early of the Irish Times made the comparison between the two fighters and cited a previous quote from McGregor on the topic of submitting:
Still, McGregor showed heart in a lot of ways in the buildup to this fight. Indeed, making the jump to 170 pounds was a huge gamble and one taken in order to give fans a bout befitting of a main event following the withdrawal of Rafael Dos Anjos.
As Luke Thomas of MMA Fighting noted in the aftermath of UFC 196, it’s rare to see fighters in any combat sport make that kind of jump; the Notorious’ previous fight, back in December, was for the featherweight title, which has a 145-pound limit:
Having taken some big shots from Diaz, it’s feasible that in the heat of a frantic fight, McGregor lost a little composure and panicked when put in the submission hold. Still, for a combat athlete, submitting to an opponent is galling and is something that will surely be resonating with the Irishman as he seeks to process this loss.
Shields knows what the minerals competitors need to even set foot in the Octagon. So while he’s right to praise his friend, although McGregor did tap out, any suggestions the Notorious lacks heart seem to be misplaced when you consider his achievements in the UFC.