UFC 196: McGregor vs. Diaz
March 5, 2016 | Las Vegas, NV
Surveying this fight card in its original form several weeks back, it was difficult to ignore it was merely one cancelled main event short of being a tough pay-per-view sell. Then things grew tenuous. UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos pulled out of his title defense against featherweight champion Conor McGregor and the scramble to find a suitable replacement began. Within 48 hours, former lightweight title challenger and on again/off again welterweight Nate Diaz was slotted in as McGregor’s dance partner, albeit at 170 pounds.
With the main event’s most prominent player still in the game, the show remains intact. In fact, it will break new ground; this is the first card in UFC history where a title fight plays second fiddle to a non-title main event, as well as the first time a UFC women’s bantamweight championship bout is being held without the name Ronda Rousey on the marquee.
Here are predictions for the entire card in five sentences or less per fight.
MAIN PPV CARD—10PM/7PM ET|PT
“The Notorious” Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz: There are many firsts for McGregor here; he is facing an opponent who possesses a greater reach than he does, while fighting in a weight class he is entirely foreign to, with the added disadvantage of previously training for an opponent with a skill set that couldn’t be more disparate than the man who will be standing opposite him this Saturday. Diaz is a rangy boxer and deft offensive jiu-jitsu practitioner who, like his brother, fares poorly against kicks to the legs and head. Darting in and out, playing with distance, moving laterally, avoiding the cage and attacking Diaz’s legs and midsection while remembering to stay on the balls of his feet is the name of the game for “The Notorious” one, for whom any errant lapse could cause his whole house of cards could come crashing down. In his entire career, Diaz has only ever lost to opponents whose games included grappling as a primary component, and while I admire McGregor for his ambition and brilliant approach to every aspect of the fight game, he’s in for a rude awakening against a fearless pug with little to lose and everything to gain. Diaz by (T)KO.
Women’s bantamweight championship bout—(C) “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holly Holm vs. Miesha “Cupcake” Tate: Talk surrounding this fight has almost exclusively revolved around a successful first defense by Holm, and it’s a difficult position to argue against. Superior to all of her contemporaries in terms of striking fundamentals, game planning and combat sports pedigree, “The Preacher’s Daughter” made a sizable impact on hardcore and passing fans alike in her last outing by dismantling an opponent previously thought to be unbeatable by anyone besides herself. Meanwhile, all the talk about Tate has revolved around her grit and experience. As the only woman besides Holm to take Rousey both off her feet and out of the first round, her abilities are often devalued by her failed two attempts at the former champion. But her reputation for being durable exists because she gets hit often, and if inferior strikers can find her chin, the champion will likely touch it up. Holm by UD.
#13 Gian Villante vs. #14 Ilir “The Sledgehammer” Latifi: Considerably less rangy than his 6’2” opponent, the comparatively diminutive light heavyweight powerhouse Ilir Latifi, 5’8”, is going to want to close the distance and take this one to the ground. Villante treats combat largely as a kickboxer, with solid takedown defense and respectable pop in his strikes, and as such would be better dealt with by “The Sledgehammer” while horizontal. Neither man is especially good at getting out of the way of strikes, but Villante’s reach should afford him space to get his game going while evading Latifi’s. That, combined with his ability to stuff a shot, could make the difference in this fight. Villante by UD.
#12 Corey “Beastin 25/8” Anderson vs. “Filthy” Tom Lawlor: This should go one of two ways: explosive and short, or drawn out and frustrating. Lawlor, a game fighter who looked superb in his return to light heavyweight last year (after a more than two-year layoff), has a fun if predictable style predicated on forward movement, good work in the pocket, forced action and killer instinct. Anderson brings a calculated approach bolstered by size, athleticism and youth along with steadily improving bellicosity. Look for the him to apply a frustrating Phil Davis/Glover Teixeira type performance with flashes of future potential while Lawlor keeps it competitive throughout. Anderson by UD.
#4 Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes vs. #11 Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko: This is an enormous step up in competition for Shevchenko, whose late replacement upset over former Strikeforce champ Sarah Kaufman in her UFC debut last December may have caused matchmakers to overvalue the 27 year old’s current chances against her division’s elite. Amanda Nunes, also 27, rocketed back into the contenders’ pool after a massive upset win over former Olympian turned title challenger Sara McMann last August. No fight in the UFC is a gimme, but this will be a rough outing for the Kyrgyzian Peruvian, who will likely be overwhelmed by an experienced and vicious opponent. Nunes by (T)KO.
FS1 PRELIMS—8PM/5PM ET|PT
Brandon “Rukus” Thatch vs. Siyar “The Great” Bahadurzada: It’s been almost four years since Siyar Bahadurzada caused our collective jaws to slam to the floor while watching his opponent in his UFC debut, Paulo Thiago, do pretty much the same thing just 42 seconds into their bout. Since then it’s been rather underwhelming, as the Afghani fighter now training at Jackson/Wink went winless in 2013 and has been sidelined by a litany of injuries that have kept him perpetually out of competition. Thatch, thought to be a blue chipper when he signed with Zuffa back in 2013, made a similar splash upon entering the organization, only to subsequently lose back-to-back fights and suffer injuries that kept him out for more than a year. We haven’t seen either man do anything noteworthy in the cage in a while, but what we’ve seen of Thatch suggests a physical specimen whose natural gifts are betrayed by a limited skill set. If “The Great” has managed to pull things back together, “Rukus” could be in trouble. Bahadurzada by (T)KO.
Erik Silva vs. Nordine Taleb: For a while there, Erik Silva’s perceived potential was as jacked up as his physique. Lately, both have seemed to shrivel. Taleb by UD.
Vitor “Lex Luthor” Miranda vs. Marcelo Guimaraes: Miranda by SD.
#11 Darren “The Damage” Elkins vs. Chas “The Scrapper” Skelly: This is a good time for an extended bathroom break, trip to the store, or hot and heavy session with your significant other. Make something to eat. Go try to see if you can actually watch grass grow. Skelly by SD.
UFC FIGHT PASS EARLY PRELIMS—6:30PM/3:30PM ET|PT
Diego “The Nightmare” Sanchez vs. Jim Miller: How this bout between two of the UFC’s most tenured 155ers has taken this long to happen is anybody’s guess. Sanchez’s questionable weight fluctuations and out-of-competition distractions have marred what would otherwise be a much better looking professional record, but his hard-nosed, bullying style is guaranteed to contrast spectacularly with Miller’s similar combative approach. Neither man has one-punch knockout power and both are damn difficult to put away, making this a potential “Fight of the Night” contender. Who takes it? Flip a coin yourself; I’m going with “The Nightmare.” Sanchez by SD.
Jason Saggo vs. Justin “J-Bomb” Salas: Saggo by SUB.
Julian “Juicy J” Erosa vs. Teruto “Yashabo” Ishihara: Erosa by (T)KO.