UFC 202 is just about ready to warp out combat minds and make tonight (Sat., Aug. 20, 2016) one to remember. With a rematch between Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight champion Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz headlining the pay-per-view (PPV) main card later tonight from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, UFC 202 should develop into one of the biggest events in mixed martial arts (MMA) history.
Considering these two MMA superstar have collided once before in epic fashion back at UFC 196, which saw Diaz tap a spent McGregor via second-round rear naked choke, the reboot is considered to be one of the most highly-anticipated bouts in recent memory. After all, Diaz is the only fighter to defeat McGregor inside of the cage and a brash opponent who failed to cripple under the Irishman's infamous mental warfare.
While the outcome of their UFC 202 rematch is truly up in the air, there are a few things McGregor and Diaz can do in order to bolster their chances of winning in front millions of PPV onlookers. We take a closer look at the keys to victory as McGregor attempts to get back his most disappointing professional performance to date.
1. Conserve energy ...
While McGregor lost via submission to Diaz at UFC 196, he ultimately found himself in a position of no return after gassing on the feet. McGregor had done such a good job at tagging Diaz in Round that it looked like he was going to easily win his 170-pound debut.
But as history will have it, McGregor gassed as Diaz willing and emphatically absorbed every looping left and lunging uppercut the Irishman had to offer. McGregor looked out of sorts, incapable of tapping into his reservation tank and began to dwindle away like we've never seen before.
Heading in UFC 202, McGregor must adopt a new plan of attack on the feet against the ultra-durable Diaz. No longer can "Notorious" rely on his one-punch power. Doing so will only sap his energy quicker and allow Diaz to take advantage of slowed movement and stagnant pressure. If McGregor wants to exit Las Vegas later tonight victorious he must conserve his energy, pick his shots, welcome the championship rounds and take his time in putting away one of the toughest outs in the game today.
2. Attack the body ...
With such success on the feet in the opening five minutes of his initial meeting with Diaz back in March, it's likely that McGregor will conservatively throws similar punches at UFC 202. But against an experienced boxer like Diaz, the Featherweight champion may want to mix it up with attacks to the body and legs in order to make the Stockton striker change levels.
As someone who has had trouble in the past defending leg kicks and strikes to the body, Diaz would be susceptible to these attacks against someone like McGregor. While McGregor isn't going to land a knockout head kick like Josh Thomson did to Diaz's chin back at UFC on FOX 7, but he has the spinning techniques, dexterity, quickness and explosive athleticism to do more damage with body punches, spinning kicks and conventional leg attacks.
If McGregor is able to slow Diaz down with more than just punches to the head, he'll have the opportunity to finish him in the later rounds. But if he stands and delivers with the former Lightweight title challenger in a tit-for-tat boxing match, McGregor isn't going to be able to outlast the 31-year-old scrapper.
1. Establish range early ...
In his first encounter with McGregor, Diaz undoubtedly took more damage than he expected. The short notice certainly played a factor in Diaz's preparation and ability to squeeze in some much-needed sparring before warding off a knockout king, but he got repeatedly got tagged by smaller McGregor nonetheless.
As Diaz enters the rematch at UFC 202 prepared and in shape, he'll need to establish his range early to avoid the same first-round scare he ran into at UFC 196. Having had optimal time to spar with world-class training partners like Nick Diaz, Gilbert Melendez and boxing standout Andre Ward, Diaz should come out of the cage quicker and more precise.
If he's able to defend McGregor's attacks early, land the shots he should have landed back in March and get ahead on the scorecards, it's going to be a very long night for "Notorious."
2. Test the ground ...
Diaz may be a world-class striker when it comes to range control, overall shot selection, durability and toughness, but he's a grappler first. There's a reason he locked in a rear naked choke so quickly on McGregor after stuffing an unexpected takedown attempt by the Irishman at UFC 196.
At UFC 202, Diaz would be silly not to test McGregor's adaptation on the ground. People have always wondered what McGregor had to offer in the grappling department considering he's such a dynamo on the feet and Diaz exposed that a little bit in their first meeting. McGregor has trained alongside the like of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu standout Dillon Danis for the rematch, but he'll never be on the same level as Diaz.
With a stronger frame, longer limbs and elite transitions fueling his renowned ground game, Diaz can put McGregor in early trouble if he's able to bring the action to the canvas. Whether he's on top or attacking off his back, Diaz is going to put "Notorious" in precarious positions once he locks on to him. It may not be the most entertaining gameplan entering a PPV event that fans are expecting to outperform their first fight, but Diaz has to test McGregor's resolve on the ground at some point.
Prediction: McGregor via unanimous decision
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 202 fight card on fight night, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.
To see the entire UFC 202 fight card and line up click here.