In the main event of UFC 202 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Conor McGregor would try for a second time to get the best of Nate Diaz. After losing inside two rounds at UFC 196, Conor McGregor hoped to right the ship while Nate Diaz wanted to prove the first win was no fluke.
As it turned out, McGregor would get what he wanted while Diaz would prove he was as good as advertised in one of the best UFC main events of all time.
In the first round, McGregor showed a significantly evolved game plan, battering the lead leg of Diaz over and over. Diaz checked a couple of attempts, but the overwhelming majority landed over and over. Adding to that was a crisp left hand that rocked and dropped Diaz to the canvas. The Stockton native was able to withstand the pressure, but McGregor did a significant amount of damage in the opening frame.
The second round was a tale of two rounds. In the first half, McGregor picked up where he left off. He dropped Diaz with a left hook not once, but twice. The leg kicks also continued. In the second half, however, McGregor's pace slowed. Diaz, sensing McGregor weakening, picked up the pace and began to land at will. McGregor was clearly hurt and while still on his feet, a visibly lesser fighter than how the round started.
The third defies description. While McGregor never took a massive blow that put him in deep trouble, Diaz continued the drive to tire and put McGregor away. The two would wrestle in the clinch, which seemed to make things worse for McGregor. Towards the end of the frame with his back against the fence, Diaz seemed on the verge of putting McGregor away before the bell sounded.
McGregor appeared to come back to life a bit in the fourth. Both took their fair share of shots and there was wrestling in the clinch, but McGregor did a better job of dodging, getting back to the leg kick and countering Diaz's jab. Diaz scored his own offense, working McGregor in the clinch and pot shotting on the outside.
Heading into the fifth, the only fair thing to say is the battle between the two is an all-time classic. Diaz appeared to be the fresher of the two, landing hard shots in the clinch again. McGregor did what he could to respond, landing counters, but most of the fight was spent along the fence. At the end of the frame, Diaz tripped McGregor to the mat and spent the final seconds pounding on McGregor from top position.
In the end, the judges scored it 48-47 McGregor, 47-47, 48-47 McGregor, awarding a majority decision.
"Surprise, surprise, motherf--ker. The king is back," McGregor said when interviewed after the fight by UFC commentator Joe Rogan.
"You're damn right it was," McGregor said of the leg kicks being a strategy. "He took them better than I expected. He didn't show. He didn't let me know. I won the first three rounds. I proved the class difference, but then that toughness and durability that he has crept back in the later rounds. I'm still happy to come away with the win.
"It was a hell of a fight. He's a hell of a competitor. He brought out the best in me.
"Like my coach said, we win or we learn. I learned from that last contest."
As for what's next, McGregor said he'd be interested in a third fight with Diaz. "All I know is it's 1-1. Regroup. We'll do it again, this time at 155 pounds. I came up to 170, faced the bigger man and overcame my adversity. Now you want this trilogy, it happens on my terms. Come back down to 155. We'll do it."
Diaz, for his part, said there were mitigating circumstances heading into Saturday's bout, but would accept another fight with McGregor.
"I thought I won that fight," Diaz said to Rogan. "They can't have a motherf--ker like me winning. I'm too real for this sport. They're going to get me out when they can, but it's all good, though.
"I came to this fight worse off than last time. I didn't get to train. I had injuries. F--k that," Diaz revealed. "I didn't make any excuses, but he should've finished me off. I want number three. I gave him number two the second day, so I'm ready to go again. F--k that.
"Good job today, Conor, but we going for three," Diaz noted. "For real."
The win bumps McGregor's record to 20-3 while Diaz slides to 19-11.