Blinded By The Light: Conor McGregor Needed To Lose To Remind Us That We Don't Know Anything
Being able to look clearly at an event is impossible the closer you are to it. Like driving down a darkened country road with another vehicle approaching, the headlights become more blinding the nearer you become. Once its right on top of you, you won’t see anything at all.
Make no mistake; it was the hype that made Conor McGregor’s loss to Nate Diaz a shock. Like Rousey losing to Holm not four months ago, it was the blinding light of McGregor’s star that made his supernova a shock to us all. We should have seen it coming. Or at least expected it.
McGregor’s first loss in the UFC was inevitable. It’s the fight game, folks. People lose. They never escape unscathed. Going out on your shield is the norm. Yet the public approached UFC 196 blissfully ignorant to all the elements that made Diaz a horrific matchup for McGregor. Diaz’s excellent stamina and durability didn’t matter because McGregor wouldn’t let the fight go more than two rounds, we were told. Diaz’s volume punching and sterling grappling didn’t matter because McGregor was too mobile, quick and light on his feet. Diaz’s boxing guile (especially defensively) didn’t matter because McGregor was his equal on the feet. Right.
All those things came to matter. Ironically, Diaz’s size, the one aspect that was talked about in Diaz’s favor the most, was not the key element in the fight. Not for Diaz’s purposes, at least. Where the size – or more accurately, the range — discrepancy mattered was how it led McGregor into a fight stratagem that failed him. That range became the threshold that, once crossed, could not be returned from.
McGregor was able to pepper Diaz from kicking range with impunity throughout the early parts of the fight. The area where his range disadvantage should have been a difference for Diaz. Having been tagged there enough to, in essence, concede that range, Diaz allowed McGregor within a range that conceivably favoured the Irishman. There the threshold was crossed.
You see, Conor McGregor, despite all the superlatives we use to describe him, is just a man. Like any mortal, he is subject to hubris. Pride before the fall. This was, as Bloody Elbow’s immaculate fight analyst Connor Ruebusch has documented, the puncher’s path. Like any mortal man (or lady) can attest, you can’t change whom you love. And McGregor really, really loves his power. It came to blind him.
Rather than employ a more economical strategy, McGregor chose to pursue the finish with an aggressive impatience. Can you blame him? Do what got you to the party. For McGregor, this party started at 10:30 p.m. and he expected it to end at 10:35. He didn’t know this party was going to last longer than that.
Once he had won that range at which he could hack away at Diaz piece-by-piece, he closed the distance. He chose not to command the fight at range, to not use his world-class mobility. McGregor chose not be an outfighter and but to be a puncher. He chose the puncher’s path.
As many would then have you believe, McGregor went for broke and threw himself out. But this would be too convenient for the McGregor narrative (As an aside, the narrative that this was a true welterweight fight is a stretch. Diaz has spent most of his career at lightweight. McGregor came in under weight. This was a fight between two lightweights who didn’t want to cut to 155. They were thicker and slower versions of their natural selves). As his opponent’s surely should take notice of, it is never them the public talks about. The answer is always what McGregor does to win a fight not whether they made mistakes to lose it. The same logic would play out in reverse and has in this case. We aren’t talking about what Diaz did, but what McGregor didn’t do. McGregor wins by his own volition and he is the reason he loses.
However, it was Diaz’s supremely underrated guile that put McGregor away. Maybe he let McGregor close the range. Why would any fighter concede a range advantage on purpose? ‘Cause they aren’t Nate Diaz. Diaz played a patient game, likely banking on the simple enough equation that McGregor would come after him with pressure and aggression to knock him out.
Diaz let the smaller man come closer not stay further away. Diaz let McGregor come into the kind of range where his jab and feints, his boxing guile, would be more dangerous and would see McGregor clipped with slapping hooks in retreat. Volume punching is a beautiful thing when your opponent stays close enough be hit multiple times.
With every left-hand bomb McGregor landed – or we thought we saw land – Diaz absorbed by slipping with the blow. He altered his stance to absorb the impact with his legs. We saw McGregor landing the same kind of shots that put away Dennis Siver and Chad Mendes.
Diaz outlasted the Irishman. That takes skill. That takes patience. That takes courage. That doesn’t take McGregor. We’d see that if his star wasn’t so bright.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys has worked six years in the public relations industry rubbing shoulders with movie stars (who ignored him) to athletes (who tolerated him). He likes tiki-taka football, jelly beans, and arguing with Bruce about everything.