Few analysts have separated themselves from the pack with their precision and prescience quite like UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. The part-time Fox Sports analyst has developed a reputation for comprehensive and incisive pre- and post-fight breakdowns.
To help better understand how Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz pair up (and how Diaz differs from previous opponent Rafael dos Anjos), I asked Cruz to help analyze the fight on my radio show, 'The Luke Thomas Show' on SiriusXM.
In this interview, Cruz discusses how important mental warfare can be and why it's changing in the sport, the difference between Diaz's and dos Anjos' jiu-jitsu, why McGregor is like an all-wheel drive vehicle and more.
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Partial audio and full transcript below:
Just as a fan, do you like the Diaz or RDA fight more against McGregor?
As a fan, I like the Diaz fight more, to be perfectly honest. You've got Diaz who's just not going to let somebody get in his head.
You know, I think that fighters - not just fighters, but people in general, in my personal opinion - don't take the mental battle of a fight as seriously as it should be taken. McGregor pointed that out in the guys he's fought so far. Diaz has pointed it out his entire career.
I'm going to say [other fighters] don't take it seriously, but it's a part of the game you're going to see evolve. When you're dealing with one-on-one combat, there's only one thing you're battling and that's that other person. And then, you add to the equation, 'What if you can make that person battle themselves on top of battling you?' That's what this whole mental warfare battle thing is about. That's what Conor's done to people, that's what Diaz has done to people, that's what Chael Sonnen has done to people. That's what people who have made the most money in the sport have done to their opponents, it's to beat them up mentally and then they beat them up physically right afterwards.
My only point with saying that is mental warfare is something you're going to see more of and I think it's not used enough.
How will it change? It'll get uglier or you'll see more examples of it?
What it comes down to, Luke, is faith in one's self that allows somebody to run their mouth, basically. When you think about two people in a street fight, they're able to say whatever they gotta say because they're going to sort it out right then and there, right? Well, the only reason you don't see a whole lot of trash talk at the highest levels now is because guys have to deal with an eight week camp and deal with everything they say.
Everything they say can come back and bite you in the butt after the fight or before it with media. So, what's going to happen is people are just going to start having more faith in their abilities as they train for these fights. The more faith you have in your abilities, the more understanding you have in your abilities - according to your opponent, the more willing you are to say what you're going to do to the person. That's just because you have faith.
As the sport grows, I think that that's going to change. I think we're going to see more people speaking up about what they're feeling and what they're thinking because of their belief in themselves.
This is the first time in his UFC tenure McGregor will be at a reach deficit, but I once spoke to Freddie Roach about Georges St-Pierre facing Nick Diaz. Roach essentially said Diaz moves in a straight lines, making him a manageable task for a real boxer. Do you share Roach's general assessment?
Yes, it's partially true. He definitely does come in straight lines, but if you watch mixed martial arts, everybody in the sport comes in straight lines, for the most part.
That's something that very few guys have really read into and takes a specific mindset to be able to see the lines that these MMA athletes are using to be offensive. Once you see the lines that they're using, you can recognize which way you need to move in order to be the counters to those lines.
What are the keys for Diaz in this particular case? Keeping McGregor at the end of the jab? Volume punching?
The beautiful thing about this fight is that he's a southpaw. How many rounds do you think Diaz has against southpaws, comparatively speaking, to the people McGregor has faced in the past?
There's just not a lot of southpaws to go against.
Right, exactly, but then you throw Diaz in the mix and he's already got two advantages. One, he's trained with his brother his entire life, who is a southpaw. Two, his brother's bigger than him, stronger than him and big brothered him, so he's used to being bullied. He's used to being talked to in a demeaning manner. He's used to everything Conor McGregor does because his brother Nick Diaz does the same thing to him day in, day out. There's nothing that Conor McGregor could do him that his older brother hasn't already done to him, I promise you if you know Nick.
That's a huge step in the right direction to begin with because the mental battle isn't nearly the same as it's been for all of McGregor's past opponents. Besides that, the reach doesn't become as big of an issue also because when you face a southpaw vs. conventional fighter, the conventional fighter gives up range because of the foot placement. When you've got a southpaw vs. a southpaw, that evens up just like a conventional fighter vs. conventional fighter. So, that counter left hand that Conor's so good at, it's not taken away, but you don't have to reach as much as his past opponents did.
You got an Aldo who you're fighting and he has to reach in order to land the left hook, no matter what. That's one entire side of your body that if you decide to reach with, you're going to get countered every single time against a southpaw. None of those counter options are there against Diaz for McGregor and that's one of his biggest weapons.
How much is motion and McGregor's use of negative space and angles going to benefit him in this fight?
That's his path to winning, to be honest. It's exactly what we were just saying a second ago. Conor does have an eye for the way that fighters are moving. What I mean by the way fighters are moving is the lines that they're basing their styles on.
This is the best way I can explain it to the general public. If you're racing a 700 horsepower Corvette with rear-wheel drive versus and all-wheel drive car, which can take turns because it's all-wheel drive, the all-wheel drive car is always going to win if there's turns involved in the race. If it's a straight line, you might take the muscle car because it doesn't take as much moving and it doesn't take as much traction and as much control. But if you're on a bobbing, weaving course that's going to have turns, you're going to want the all-wheel drive car. Every single time.
Conor McGregor turns these fights into windy, turny road, so that you're forced to not be able to race on a one-way straight, narrow route. What Conor's doing is he's making what used to be a straight drag race into a race with a bunch of turns and curves and stops and gos. What that does is it breaks rhythm and it forces the person who's driving that car or the person who is fighting in that body to deal with way more than just a straight line.
Conor's movement is the key to why he's been doing so well. And the reason why it's been a key is because he sees the basics of everybody else that he's fought is moving on. They're moving in straight lines: forward and back. It's a drag race car. You're dealing with somebody who's making a lot of turns.
He uses the fact that you can only go in a straight line against you. He has all these other options when you basically have to stay in a straight line. How do you beat somebody who can turn, brake on a dime, do all these other things when all you can do is go straight and backwards as fast as possible?
RDA's jiu-jitsu was highly regarded, but he only had two submissions, both only modestly impressive. Diaz doesn't have the same level of jiu-jitsu in terms of positional control, but perhaps more finishing ability. Do you see this as a relevant concern for McGregor?
I think it's pretty irrelevant because the only way jiu-jitsu's relevant against Conor McGregor is on top. The reason I say that is because even if Conor McGregor's on top himself - if he happens to get the takedown - all you need at that point is defense. Black belt-level defense. You just have to defend, defend, defend.
We've seen wrestlers throughout this sport do it their entire careers where they're not offensive with jiu-jitsu, but they're extremely defensive. If you can't get the finish on the ground with submission offense from your back, you still lose the fight most of the time. No matter how active your guard is, if the guy on top can defend the submission attempts, the guy on top usually ends up winning the fight due to control, ground and pound and the other options that are left in the fight.
McGregor's game is built from his back in that he uses his guard from his back to get back up because he doesn't have that wrestling. But Diaz doesn't have the style to just shoot takedown after takedown after takedown and ride you out on top whereas dos Anjos does.
Dos Anjos has a style that when he takes you down, he can keep you there and that's what's effective about his black belt, not necessarily all the finishing ability he has, but the fact that after he takes you down, he can keep you there. That is the difference with elite-level black belts and elite-level NCAA wrestlers. You can have a four-time All-American that will take down anybody in the division, but they can't hold them down. Whereas you have dos Anjos, who might not be able to take down everybody in the division, but when he does take you down, because of his experience as a black belt, he can keep you there off of one takedown.
That's the big difference with dos Anjos and Nate. Nate is a jiu-jitsu practitioner that's the most effective from his back. Of course, he's got effectiveness from the top, but you gotta look at repetitions. You know in practice he's mostly working his guard off of his back. Against a Conor McGregor, to be on top even if he gets a takedown, it's not his traditional position. He's going to have less repetition against Conor on top because of the repetitions he's had in practice.
You just gotta look at habits of styles. Diaz's habit is he's always on his back, rarely on top. He has to use his stand up in order to really close any distance on McGregor. The other problem is he doesn't kick. Because he doesn't kick, that means his kicking defense has to go up and his boxing pressure has to also go up. He has to work inside on McGregor. All these things have to be there if he even decides to get a takedown and score those points.
Does McGregor live a little bit too much on his chin?
You can't even say that because even though he's been hit, he's knocked everybody out. How can you say he's living off of his chin if he's knocking everybody else out?
I'm not stating it's a definitive fact.
I hear you. I'm also not saying that you are saying it. My only point is that he does take damage, but he plans on hitting you harder. That's a rare thing, but some people can do it. It's a gift.