LAS VEGAS — Conor McGregor always says he's humble and victory or defeat. It was that way Saturday night.
"The Notorious" gave Nate Diaz plenty of props when speaking to the media after UFC 202 at T-Mobile Arena. McGregor beat Diaz by majority decision (48-47, 47-47, 48-47) in perhaps the best fight of the year up until this point, an epic affair in which both men had their moments and showed incredible mettle.
"I feel I have more skills, but boy is he one tough motherf*cker," McGregor said. "He keeps on walking forward. He took every shot. I dropped him multiple times. He just keeps coming. His face was busted open and he's still coming forward."
McGregor, 28, dropped Diaz once in the first round and two more times in the second round. Diaz was a bloody mess by midway through the second and McGregor won both of those rounds.
Diaz came on strong toward the end of the second and won the third in a big way — so much so that one judge, Glenn Trowbridge, gave Diaz a 10-8 in that frame. McGregor, somehow, dug deep and won the fourth round. Diaz took the fifth.
It was a back-and-forth affair with a narrative all its own. The only fight in 2016 that might have been better was Robbie Lawler's split decision win over Carlos Condit at UFC 195 in January.
Diaz, 31, beat McGregor by second-round submission in the first fight back at UFC 196 in March. McGregor was beating Diaz early in that one, too, until he gassed out in the second and Diaz finished him with a choke. This time, McGregor got tired late in the second, but found a second wind in the fourth and that round sealed the deal.
"I learned from the last contest," McGregor said. "I stayed calm. I bounced the shots off my shoulders. I stayed tight in the pocket. I knew I was gonna have that moment where he was gonna be in my face and dig forehead under my chin and start unloading, so I caught shots and deflected shots and then hit him to the body a couple of times and it turned the momentum again in my favor."
The fight was such an incredible war of attrition that Diaz helped McGregor off the mat when the final bell sounded. The two even exchanged a brief hug and words of respect when it was all over. That was a major turn from the heated feud that has been playing out over the last few months, including an ugly water bottle-throwing incident between their teams at the pre-fight press conference.
"He's a class competitor," McGregor said. "It's intense in the build up and everything is real. If we saw each other in the build up, if my team saw their team, something is going down and that's just the way it is. But the respect is integral to battle for me and for them. This battle was won. We'll regroup, we'll go our separate ways, see what happens, and we'll gather up for another battle. And then we'll be right back where we started."
A trilogy fight is almost guaranteed now that the two have drawn even. It might not happen right away, but certainly it will be there down the road. McGregor vs. Diaz is shaping up to be one of the greatest rivalries in the history of MMA. And this fight at UFC 202 was one of the best, most dramatic fights ever, especially considering there was no belt on the line.
"It was not easy, it was a war," McGregor said. "I'm happy it went that way. I got to show my heart. I took it to him and I stayed in and got the win, so I'm very happy with it.
"I'll tell you what, man, his face was opened up and he's still just coming. He's still just coming at me. You've gotta respect that. You've gotta respect Nate and the style of fighting he brings. How can you not?"