It has often been said that where rematches are concerned, the loser of the first fight has the ability to adapt more so than the victor.
It is also frequently the case that regardless of circumstances one athlete simply has another athlete’s “number”. On August 20th two competing narratives will clash when Featherweight Champion “The Notorious” Conor McGregor faces Lightweight standout Nate Diaz for a second time.
When looking at this matchup it is crucial to note the continuities and discontinuities between the first fight. The main event of UFC 202, like at UFC 196, will be contested at Welterweight. Although, McGregor isn’t facing a new opponent on short notice, he will once again have a full camp to prepare.
Conversely, instead of a meager 11 days with which to get ready, Diaz will enjoy the luxury of full training camp as well. Then there are the intangibles such as Diaz’s confidence and momentum versus McGregor’s lack thereof.
What stands out to me is the potential for the Irishman to make extreme changes to his approach. Diaz has asserted that McGregor would have had little to no success in the first round of their March 5th bout had the Stockton native had a decent amount of time with which to prepare.
So while that hypothesis remains to be seen, the Featherweight Champion can at the very least point to several minutes of dominance from which he can adapt. Furthermore, McGregor has the added advantage of knowing exactly what he did wrong.
The obvious point of contention here is cardio or efficiency. Immediately following his loss at UFC 196, McGregor said he felt he was “inefficient with [his] energy”. This isn’t to say that his cardio overall is weak nor does it make anyone question his conditioning.
What it does point to is the very understandable mismanagement of energy expended against a much larger opponent. That being said, the Irishman needn’t spend his entire training camp running sprints and doing laps in the pool, he simply needs to properly allocate the resources he has.
The second issue for the Featherweight Champion is his supposed lack of a ground game. While Diaz is undoubtedly light years ahead as far as grappling is concerned “The Notorious One” is far from occupying novice status: he even managed to impressively sweep the Stockton native in the first round. Once again, McGregor doesn’t need to spend his camp in a Gi, learning how to pull of spinning arm bars. He simply needs to use the weapons at his disposal should the fight go to the mat. A complete overhaul of his ground game, as many armchair coaches have called for, is completely counterproductive.
The Californian too is in a difficult position. Besides the exponential increase in media obligations, Diaz has little room for improvement. Barring a first round finish, Diaz couldn’t do much more to gain fan admiration or best his previous performance. Regardless of any arbitrary and undue pressure for improvement, Diaz faces the potential risk of employing a similar game plan with which the SBG camp has already been acquainted. However, Diaz too has the opportunity to adapt his approach when considering his performance early on.
Like McGregor, Diaz will likely adjust his approach in the first and second rounds as a result of both experience and a full training camp. As stated above, Diaz felt the only reason he was hit so frequently in the first several minutes of the first fight was due to his lack of adequate preparation and we very well may see the UFC’s newest star employ an entirely different game plan depending on how much he feels he needs to refine.
For his part. “Mystic Mac”, has stated repeatedly that his strategy will not change. He plans to implement the same game plan only with a better understanding of his own limitations as well as Diaz’s strengths. In the end this isn’t quite a back-to-the-drawing board moment for either fighters. Rather the rematch is about fine-tuning and adaptation but that is a problem in and of itself.
While few fighters are able to revolutionize their games between bouts, many are nevertheless successful at utilizing new techniques, which can often make a world of difference e.g. growing more comfortable with fighting out of a southpaw stance. It would be a mistake on either man’s part to expect the same version of opponent.
That being said, I do see both athletes doing more or less the same thing besides the obvious addition of improved cardio for Diaz; by virtue of a full camp, and the same improvement for McGregor; by virtue of a valuable lesson learned.
That begs the question, if the Irishman hadn’t gotten tired would he have been able to finish Diaz in the first fight? Unless you buy into the multiverse theory we probably will never know.
But “The Notorious One”, will attempt to right what he sees as an egregious wrong on August 20th and put this universe back in order. Though he may be “The Face of the Fight Game”, the name of that game is adaptation. Who has grown? Who has learnt from the past? Who has kept what works and discarded what doesn’t? On August 20th at UFC 202 we will get our answer when the “Stockton Slap” meets the “Celtic Cross” for the second time.