Though Conor McGregor was installed as a sizable favorite heading into his record-breaking welterweight fight with Nate Diaz at UFC 196, there were a few people banking on the Stockton fighter to spring the upset.
One of those who went public with his prediction was FOX analyst/UFC fighter Rashad Evans, who went on record saying he thought Diaz prevail against the Irishman on 11 day’s notice.
Turns out he was right — Diaz sank a rear-naked choke in the second round on March 5, delivering McGregor his first loss in the UFC. It also continued a streak of predictions for Evans, who also called T.J. Dillashaw’s initial upset over Renan Barao, Rafael dos Anjos’ victory over Anthony Pettis, and Holly Holm’s massive upset over Ronda Rousey.
How does he do it?
"When I see some of these matchups sometimes, I start analyzing them and I start thinking of them over and over again," Evans said during an interview on The MMA Hour on Monday. "Sometimes a favorite does something that sways me the other way. It’s something really, really subtle, but I see it.
"With McGregor, I felt like he was a lot different that last fight because -- he wasn’t the same person. It seemed like he was putting on a little bit too much just for the show. And I know the woes of putting on too much for the show because I know at the end of the day you’re taking away from what makes you sharp in the cage."
The 36-year old Evans, who fights Glover Teixeira at UFC on FOX 19 next month in Tampa, said that he recognized a few sideline distractions and taxations going on in the lead up, particularly because McGregor didn’t need to whittle his form down to 145 pounds.
"Another problem was the fact that he didn’t have to cut weight," he said. "Now every single thing that goes into a fight is a process. For me, putting on my suit — making sure I’m suited and booted before I go out there — that helps me get to my rhythm so then I’m not analyzing every aspect of a fight before it’s time to. So for him not cutting weight, for him not having that on his mind, he then put other things on his plate that he wouldn’t normally do because he was cutting weight.
"And then, if you add the physical attributes to it, you have a guy in Conor McGregor who is dominating at his weight class because really, he’s tall and he as a cannon for his left hand. But he makes people make mistakes because he leads them to believe that he’s a lot closer than he is and then he pulls back, and then he catches them reaching. He’s either able to catch them with counter strikes or he makes them have a huge range to fulfill."
Evans said he could envision Diaz presenting unusual problems the more he thought about it.
"[McGregor] slips a lot of punches, and they can’t catch him, but they offer themselves up with one of his hard shots leaving their chin out," he said.
"Now, with a guy like Diaz, he’s going to do the same defense, he’s going to pull back…but, Diaz is going to able to reach him. So then I felt like the reach would be a problem. I felt like the punches in bunches were a problem, and I was like, Diaz is going to win."
Though he’s been on a hot streak as a prognosticator, Evans wasn’t shying away from his opinions on matchmaking either. Remember that Evans broke into the UFC by competing on — and winning — the second season of The Ultimate Fighter as a heavyweight.
Even with McGregor stating publicly that a rematch with Diaz would be very alluring to him, the former light heavyweight champion Evans believes the current featherweight champ needs to quit moonlighting in differing weight classes for the time being.
"I don’t think [Conor] should go against Diaz," Evans said. "I think that he should stay at his weight class at 145 and dominate at 145 and be the best 145-pounder he can be. I think the fact that he’s ambitious enough to go up in weight class and wants to say that weight classes don’t mean nothing, it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. We’ve seen what weight classes can do when he went to 170. Weight class is real. It’s real. We need them. He knows that now.
"But I don’t think that him fighting Diaz would be a smart move for him, because he did catch him with a few shots, but you’ve got to think, he fought Diaz on 10 day’s notice. You see what I’m saying? So if he goes against a Diaz who has much longer to train, he’s waking up another animal. He’s dealing with another animal altogether. So I think that he should just let sleeping dogs lie and just take that as a lesson and go back to 145 and dominate."