What happens to the aura of Conor McGregor if he were to lose to Nate Diaz in a nontitle fight at UFC 196 on Saturday?
It’s a question with ramifications for the UFC and McGregor that are as big as the star power of the Irishman who recently found his scowl and tattooed physique front and center on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
But this is a post-fight hypothetical. What about in-fight strategy? Can Diaz, with his 19-10 career record and less than two weeks’ notice to prepare for the UFC featherweight champion in a welterweight fight, actually beat McGregor?
“He’s gotta flip Conor McGregor off, and as soon as the fight starts, get to the center of the Octagon and force Conor to push through space,” said Brian Stann, a former UFC fighter who now works as an analyst for Fox Sports. “And check a leg kick once in a while.”
McGregor’s persona enters a room an hour before his body does. He’s over the top and can talk a big game better than anyone in MMA and a few other sports as well.
Diaz has that anti-establishment persona, never afraid to curse up a storm and say or do whatever he wants. Diaz famously flipped off an overhead camera while he had Kurt Pellegrino in a triangle choke and was waiting for him to tap out.
McGregor hasn’t faced an opponent in the UFC with a personality such as that of Diaz. It’s something, Stann said, that has a possibility to take effect depending on how things go inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“Conor is mentally strong, but I don’t care who you are, we’re all human,” Stann said. “If the crowd turns on him, he’s not used to that. He might go back to his corner and he might start to doubt himself.”
Stann also was quick to point out McGregor’s fight IQ and how he believes McGregor and coach John Kavanagh are quite capable of going to a Plan B in between rounds if needed.
In order for Diaz to pull off the upset of McGregor (19-2, 7-0 UFC), Stann said he needs to “fight long” and keep McGregor at the end of his punches. Diaz has a three-inch height advantage and two-inch reach advantage over McGregor.
As for that question at the beginning, Stann said McGregor shouldn’t have much trouble making believers out of people again. Anderson Silva lost his aura after losing his title, record 16-fight UFC streak and the rematch to Chris Weidman, but he’s still beloved by fans.
“There’s definitely a road map to recovery for Conor McGregor,” Stann said. “His brand will take a shot, but he can recover.”