LAS VEGAS – Conor McGregor found out the hard way Saturday that the welterweight division is dramatically different than the featherweight division he reigns over.
McGregor controlled his bout with Nate Diaz for the better part of two rounds Saturday in the main event of UFC 196 before a raucous crowd at the MGM Grand Garden.
He opened a nasty cut over Diaz’s right eye and was picking the veteran from Stockton, Calif., apart with his blindingly fast hands. But unlike many of his opponents at 145 pounds, Diaz didn’t wilt under the onslaught. McGregor was hurt by a Diaz left hand late in Round 2, and McGregor wobbled to the cage.
After Diaz landed a series of blows, McGregor attempted to take him down. But Diaz quickly got McGregor's back and applied a rear naked choke, forcing a tap at 4:12 of the third round.
“I’m not surprised,” Diaz said in the ring afterward.
He entered the fight just 2-3 in his last five, and took the fight on just 10 days notice when lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos was forced to pull out because of a broken foot.
McGregor, who always has had a hard time making the featherweight limit of 145 pounds, agreed to fight Diaz as the replacement. And when Diaz asked for the bout to be at 160, McGregor said he was fine with 170.
It was a mistake that backfired badly. The UFC’s brightest star was doing well and picking Diaz apart, but he didn’t have the power that he had shown in wins over Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Dustin Poirier.
They’re all great fighters, but the difference is that they’re featherweights and were far more susceptible to McGregor’s power.
McGregor’s edge seemed to be his quick hands, but Diaz showed plenty fast hands, as well.
“I’m always in good shape, and I peak as I go,” Diaz said. “I thought I landed some good punches that got him off. I started off slow, but I’m faster than anyone later on. My jiu-jitsu is always there for me.”
When you talk big, the losses are always that much harder. And this was a bitter pill to swallow for McGregor, who earned a guaranteed $1 million plus a portion of the pay-per-view proceeds.
He’d talked of facing welterweight champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 200 in July, but that has gone by the boards. So, too, is a potential fight with ex-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who is contemplating a return to the game and sat ringside to watch Diaz’s win.
McGregor, though, seemed philosophical.
“I thought I took him in the first round,” McGregor said. “I’m humble in victory or defeat. I took a chance to move up in weight and it didn’t work.”