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UFC 196 Aftermath: On Conor McGregor, audacity, and creating major events

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LAS VEGAS -- A question for those fighters who took joy in Conor McGregor's loss to Nate Diaz on Saturday night at UFC 196: Have you ever attempted what the UFC featherweight champion tried to pull off?

How many of those who took shots at McGregor after being submitted by Diaz at the MGM Grand ever went up two weight classes on short notice to save a show when a main event fighter pulled out? I don't see too many hands raised right now.

For all the talk about superfights that have come and gone over the years, how many champions actually took the plunge and attempted to claim a second crown? McGregor was ready to try it when Rafael dos Anjos had to pull out Saturday night's original main event. Dozens have held UFC gold since B.J. Penn was the last to go up in weight class as a reigning champ and challenge for another title, but McGregor was the only one ready to put his money where his mouth was.

And, oh yeah, this event is called UFC 196 and not UFC 197 because both ends of the heavyweight title fight for the original UFC 196 on Feb. 6, Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez, pulled out within 24 hours of each other, causing the original UFC 196 to be rebranded as a UFC Fight Night.

Granted, no one should be pressured to fight hurt, and no one has to accept a short-notice fight when there's a lot on the line.

But let's ponder an alternate universe for a moment, one in which McGregor turned down Chad Mendes at UFC 189 and Nate Diaz last night. Would the UFC be riding anywhere near as big a wave of momentum as it currently enjoys had McGregor taken his ball and gone home?

Sure, the shows would have gone on with Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald and Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate, respectively. But they also wouldn't have been nearly as big and memorable, and thousands of Irish fans who paid big money to travel to the fight would have felt burned.

UFC 189, UFC 194, and UFC 196 are three of the most historic evenings in MMA history. They, along with Ronda Rousey's ascension, have helped return the sense of excitement, of unpredictability, of wild swings in emotions, which had been missing from the sport since the 2008-10 peak.

The UFC featherweight champion's audacity, his willingness to dream big, and his fearlessness in chasing after it have fueled another MMA boom. Eventually, he was going to fly too close to the sun. His wings were finally clipped Saturday night when he ran into someone every bit as fearless – someone who happened to be physically larger – in Nate Diaz.

It would be easy to call McGregor a once-in-a-generation talent, but we shouldn't have to call him that. If instead of playing it safe, more high-level fighters took an occasional McGregoresque risk -- or took on all comers like Nick and Nate Diaz, for that matter -- nights as exciting as UFC 196 could be closer to the norm instead of the exception. And said fighters might start making McGregoresque money, too. And still be in position to draw, even in the wake of a major defeat.

With that in mind, we'll give a humbled McGregor the final word.

"I will never shy away from a challenge," McGregor said Saturday night. "I will never shy away from defeat. This is part of the game. I am happy to come out there, continue and stay in this fight. I had many chances to not do this and sit and wait. But I went in, I took the fight and it didn't pay off. This is the fight business. It's another day. I'll come back."

UFC 196 quotes

"It doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down, it's how many times you get back up. I think that's what a champion does." -- New UFC women's bantamweight champion Miesha Tate

"They were pushing me on those FOX cards, I was bringing more numbers than anybody, but nobody pays attention to that. I got a big following between me and my brother. ... so I feel like I brought in a lot, and it made the fight a lot more entertaining, a lot more interesting than the dos Anjos fight." -- Nate Diaz

"I'm not cut. I'm simply heartbroken and that's it. I'll pick myself up and we'll figure it out in the morning." -- McGregor

"I think that Ronda now will fight Miesha Tate for the title. That's what's going to happen," White said. "That's what I said before this fight even happened. Whoever wins tonight will fight Ronda for the title." -- Dana White, on ESPN's SportsCenter

Stock report

Up: Miesha Tate For awhile there, it seemed like Tate's role in MMA history was pretty much sealed. She helped the women's side of the sport get to a certain level as Strikeforce champion, then Rousey came along, and Tate looked forever destined to be her foil. But last night's thrilling submission victory over Holm to claim the UFC women's bantamweight title was the ultimate tribute to Tate's resilience, both in the cage and out. Tate rightfully got discouraged when her promised third fight was Rousey was ripped away from her, but she get her head straight and got back to work. And it paid off Saturday night, as she never quit searching for an opening and finally got it the fifth round. Miesha Tate is one of the pound-for-pound toughest fighters in MMA and is one of the true pioneers on the women's side of the sport. Her victory over Holm ensure she'll take her rightful place in the sport's history.

Up: Nate Diaz UFC 196 was the night that made Diaz's entire struggle worthwhile. All his career, he was respected, but it seemed he was forever going to be branded "Nick's little brother." Nate Diaz was willing to hold out for over a year for what he believed in, and it paid off Saturday night with not just that elusive giant payday, but also a victory that brought the Diaz Way to a whole new audience: One in which you never back down from a challenge, never stop moving forward, and always battle until the end. Turns out Stockton and Dublin have more in common than either side would ever care to admit.

Hold: Holly Holm Sure, it would be easy, maybe even obvious, to give Holm a "down," here. Holm's fifth-round loss was made all the more painful by the fact she was up a point on the scorecards and was looking at a draw in a worst-case scenario, in which she still would have retained the title. But something more important happened on Saturday, something bigger than whether or not Holm won, lost, or drew: The MGM Grand Garden Arena was absolutely electric for Holm vs. Tate. My time cageside goes all the way back to UFC 58. I've seen superstars come and go. And Holm-Tate got an ear-splitting, superstar reaction, without Rousey involved, that was right up there with Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Anderson Silva, Brock Lesnar, and all down the line. UFC 196 showed, in case there was any lingering doubt, that high-level women's MMA is here to stay, is succeeding on its own merits, and doesn't need Rousey to survive. None of this happens if Holm took the easy route and sat on her title and waited on the payday of a Rousey rematch and for that, she deserves your respect.

Down: Erick Silva A change to Kings MMA hasn't done much to change the holes in Silva's game. Silva spent all night hunting wild, flashy strikes against Nordine Taleb on Saturday night ... and left himself open to wild counters, which ultimately resulted in Silva walking right into a one-punch knockout. It sure didn't help matters that Silva got cute with a glove tap and a legal but questionable quick follow-up punch, leaving the entire arena feeling like Silva got what he deserved in the end. Silva can keep changing camps, but without a change of attitude, he'll never reach the heights many expected from him.

Hold: Diego Sanchez and Jim Miller I hated the concept of this lightweight fight when it was announced, mostly because of what I thought it represented. Both of these guys are longtime, popular veterans who are likable people in very different ways: Sanchez is the nutty guy whose heart is in the right place; Miller is a straightforward, non-nonsense dude. So with both coming into the bout with three losses in their past four fights, I envisioned a fight with a sad ending for one, if not both. Instead, Sanchez vs. Miller was an entertaining, down-to-the-wire affair, one in which Sanchez ultimately got the nod. Neither Sanchez nor Miller will compete for a title again. But both still have something to give, and that counts for something.

Interesting calls

All three judges got the second round of Tate vs. Holm correct in giving Tate a 10-8. It's rare we have nights this good in Nevada, so we'll overlook the curious 30-27 cards for Corey Anderson in his win over Tom Lawlor and call the evening a win.

Fights I'd like to see next

All this time I've been doing Aftermath, I don't know that there's ever been a night which directly altered the course of so many weight classes.

Let's start with women's bantamweight, in which White told ESPN that Rousey texted him "looks like I've got to get back to work" after Tate beat Holm. This isn't a great look for Rousey, given she was nowhere to be found when Holm held the belt, and wants to get back to work now that an opponent she's already beaten twice has the belt. Coming off Saturday night's electrifying fight, I'd rather see a Holm-Tate rematch. But there's no disputing Tate-Rousey 3 will do monstrous business.

Then there's Conor, who is no doubt going back to featherweight. Which camp do you fall into: The one who thinks Jose Aldo deserves a rematch after losing for the first time in a decade, or the one who thinks Frankie Edgar's time is now? Either way, McGregor next fight will once again be a major event.

Finally, what do you do with Nate Diaz next? I say a rematch with lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. Yes, I'm aware they already fought, and RDA won in a one-sided manner. But Diaz is a bigger star than he's ever been, and a better and more motivated fighter than he was back then, to boot. RDA, as great as he is in the cage, is simply not a drawing card, and needs a charismatic dance partner to sell his fights. With all due respect to Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov, RDA-Diaz is the fight to make at 155.

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