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Between the lines of Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz is a healthy dose of respect

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

In a lot of ways, the mutual respect between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor heading into their UFC 202 rematch comes down to their voyage together into unchartered territory. McGregor is coming off his first UFC loss against Diaz, and now he’s trying to figure out how to down a man who didn’t go down on his kill shot the last time. Diaz is coming off a radical payday, the kind that can only happen against McGregor, and that has given him a bigger sense of his own power. Each has put the other in a novel position, and they continue to nod at each other from afar because they both know it.

They were doing it again during Friday’s media conference call 15 days out from the fight, in which they rallied around the upcoming payday like a campfire. McGregor particularly warmed his hands by touting his new #TheMacLife website, which he believes will revolutionize media (or rather, as his clicks will attest, already is revolutionizing media). He referred to himself as a promotional potentate, of sorts, and at one point casually credited Mr. McGregor alongside Mr. Fertitta and Mr. White for being geniuses in the business. He also gave Nate props for his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel and, when it came down to it, he pointed out how difficult it is to do that kind of media before a fight.

McGregor empathizing with Diaz? It all seems so…unphony. So brethreny. So big picture in a game usually broken into so many tiny ones.

It’s been interesting going through the sequences of a Diaz-McGregor fight again, this time with the full build-up. We aren’t riding the whims of circumstance like we were at UFC 196. We are dealing in a rebounding McGregor’s dialed back demeanor the entire way, and Diaz’s deft handling of the year’s serendipity. McGregor authored Diaz’s fortune, in the same way that Diaz contributed to McGregor’s fallibility. They can call it something else, but there’s admiration in play between them. As Damon Martin mentioned to McGregor’s coach John Kavanagh, in another life they might have been fast friends.

(And who knows, after their trilogy fight — and ol’ "Mystic Mac" feels certain a third bout is on the horizon — maybe they still will be in this life. You get the sense that if McGregor beats Diaz in Las Vegas on Aug. 20, and the fight has any kind of dramatic merit, a rubber match then becomes inevitable. How’s that for affirmation that fighters are nothing more than tumbleweeds? One bad kick from Rafael dos Anjos in training leads to a full-blown rivalry, in which divisions get knotted up and pay-per-view records get threatened. As everyone knows by now, an MRI in this game can look like a treasure map depending on whose eyes are looking at it...)

Anyway, Diaz has become a (much bigger) star through McGregor, in part because he’s just as insubordinate as his counterpart, and just as unyielding in his ways. Diaz says "f*ck the man," while McGregor says "I am the man." Diaz is business savvy, too, who believes at times he can steer his own cosmos. If you’re only as good as the moment you live in, Diaz in August 2016 finally feels vindicated. He’s as good as he’s ever been.

He is basking in McGregor’s prediction to take him out inside of two rounds. Why? Because here he is.

"If I was stupid, I wouldn’t have got to where I’m at," Diaz said at one point during the call. "I did what I had to do. I got that fight with [Michael] Johnson, I plotted him out and I got shit done. And then I plotted back and got this on a 10-day notice and it worked out still, regardless. I asked for the fight, I said I wanted the fight, I got the fight, so I’m going to take the fight.

"So it’s like, I feel I’m in the position I’m in because I put myself in this position, and it’s not great, it’s not horrible, it’s f*cking what it is. So that’s been my take on the whole situation. I wasn’t following the leader on making some money here. I was going to get my money regardless, and I was going to get where I’m at regardless. But I will say that [McGregor] was a shortcut."

McGregor was a shortcut to a big payday. McGregor himself can relate to Nate’s logic, just as sure as he knows he’s also the destination. Both have the whole thing in mind, and different angles at looking at it. They may have harsh words for one another, but the underlying respect between them keeps drowning out the words. What is really being said heading into the rematch? That they are together in this fight.