Al Lindsay, Contributor
On December 12th 2015 Conor McGregor won the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Featherweight title. Against the ten year undefeated Brazilian, and Pound for Pound king, Jose Aldo. In just thirteen seconds. This marked the culmination of a meteoric rise for the Irishman who has gone from unemployment benefits to being the current cover of Sports Illustrated. So how does ‘The Notorious’ expect to top this feat in 2016? Originally, his plan was to move up in weight, to the Lightweight division in an attempt to dethrone another Brazilian, Rafael Dos Anjos, who last defended his own UFC belt just a week after McGregor’s victory, with a sixty-six demolition of Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone just a week after McGregor’s victory in December. However, just eleven days before McGregor and Dos Anjos were due to fight, Dos Anjos pulled out with a broken foot. The result? McGregor will now jump two weight classes to fight Nate Diaz in a non-title welterweight main event on 5 March at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
McGregor was aiming to become the first UFC fighter in history to simultaneously hold belts in two weight classes. Against Diaz, not even his featherweight belt will be up for grabs – regardless of what happens, McGregor will leave the octagon as the reigning Featherweight champion. However, a lack of Championship belt is no reason to miss this fight. Diaz is a proven UFC veteran, with experience both in the Lightweight and Welterweight divisions. In his last outing on the undercard of Dos Anjos’ December bout, Diaz returned to the octagon after a year out to claim a unanimous decision victory over top Lightweight contender Michael Johnson. While McGregor has talked a big game about having a future in both the Lightweight and Welterweight divisions, he has never fought at Welterweight.
Indeed, McGregor boasts a ‘walk around’ weight of 170lbs (the Welterweight limit) and much of his dominance in the 145lb Featherweight division has in part been due to this significant size difference. However, against Diaz, he will meet his first UFC opponent who is both taller holds a longer reach. McGregor may be stepping into untested waters against an experienced opponent, but do not count out the Irishman. McGregor regularly spars with UFC Welterweight teammates Gunnar Nelson and (now retired) Cathal Pendred. McGregor’s own social media posts show him looking physically bigger in recent weeks, and this late change means he now requires little or no weight cut. On March 5th MMA fans will witness a true people’s main-event, with no direct championship repercussions, but a collision of two fan favourites, both with brutal finishing skills and both with a claim to be the best trash-talker in UFC history. This is not to be missed.
But the loss of a Lightweight championship fight still leaves UFC 196 with one title fight. In the co-main event the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Title will be contested for the first time without one Ronda Rousey. ‘Rowdy’ was dethroned in unforgettable fashion in November of 2015 and her conqueror Holly Holm now defends the belt against former Strikeforce champion, and former two time opponent of Rousey, Meisha Tate. MMA fans have witnessed the effectiveness of Holm’s striking before and Tate’s wrestling background could lend to thoughts of her demise being in similar fashion to Rousey’s. However Tate is a former champion, who has fought top contenders and anticipates the flawless game-plan Holm displayed in November. If Holm wants to retain her title, she will need to display a full range of skills against this legitimate threat.