Though yet another big main event fell out for tonight’s UFC 196 event, the replacement fight between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz has become in some ways even bigger in its own right, and the continued tale of McGregor’s star will be in play in the main event. We’re also getting one of the more risky fights for the UFC to put on from a business perspective, as Holly Holm faces a significant challenge in longtime contender and former Strikeforce Champion Miesha Tate. Here’s how I see the main card playing out.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz (Welterweight)
The loss of the Rafael dos Anjos fight for McGregor is a shame, because that was bound to be an eye opening fight regardless of the outcome. This new matchup with Diaz certainly has its question marks, but Diaz’s skill set and ability – at least from a stylistic standpoint – don’t present nearly the same kind of danger or challenge to McGregor that dos Anjos would have.
Nate Diaz is a good rangy fighter. He uses his reach well, keeps up pressure with his strikes, and has a stellar submission game to go along with that. It’s a combination he’s used to a lot of success in the UFC, but he’s got some shortcomings in his game of which numerous opponents have taken advantage. Fighters who can pressure him back, beat him to the punch, stifle his submission game, or simply overpower him have been able to find ways to beat him, and some combination of that could be what we get out of McGregor here.
Clearly McGregor isn’t going to be dealing with the type of top game power pressure that dos Anjos has employed in a number of fights. He’s not facing a guy like Chad Mendes who was able to get him to the ground to do damage there. He’s facing a fighter who more than likely is willing to stand in front of him to trade strikes, and it simply plays into what he does best.
McGregor has shown off a highly unique but devastatingly effective striking game throughout his UFC run thus far, and he’s got the combination of speed and precision that makes him fascinating to watch. The quick adjustment he made after the very first exchange against Jose Aldo allowed him to time the next engagement perfectly, and in 13 seconds a ten year run of dominance came to an end. He took Mendes’ best in the first round at UFC 189 after dealing with a significant knee injury in the lead up to the fight himself, laughed in his face, then came out in the second and finished him. He toyed with Dennis Siver, Dustin Poirier, Diego Brandao, and Marcus Brimage for his TKO wins in the Octagon, and even injured beat the (also injured) extremely talented Max Holloway in the one UFC fight he’s had go the distance.
I’d expect McGregor to work the precision game on the feet, using his speed to get his strikes in while avoiding much significant damage from Diaz. Body kicks/punches/knees may play a significant part in the gameplan, because Diaz taking the fight on short notice could leave him vulnerable to a bit of a breakdown if his body is picked apart. Can Diaz utilize his height and reach to negate some of what McGregor does? Perhaps, but I think this winds up ending closer to the fight he had with Josh Thomson than the one he had with Michael Johnson in December.
PREDICTION: McGregor by TKO in the second round
Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate (Women’s Bantamweight Championship)
Holm wants to be an active champion, and wants to take on all comers regardless of when/if Ronda Rousey is coming back for the big money fight, and she’s got a hell of a challenge in this one against Tate. While Tate doesn’t present the singularly dominant threat that Rousey did with her judo and submission game, it’s her ability to attack effectively in numerous areas, and to make fights ugly, that could be a tough puzzle for Holm to deal with.
Tate has always had a solid wrestling game, and it’s an aspect that’s gotten to be a bit underrated at times. She’s got a few decent submissions herself, and her control game is quite good. On top of that, she’s improved her striking greatly, something that was evident in her last victory over Jessica Eye. She’s not much of a threat to finish the fight at any given moment, though she does have the ability to put people away from time to time, but she’s tough, durable, and capable of winning rounds, which means Holm has to be aware of how the fight is playing out from start to finish.
Now, Holm represents a very different hurdle to jump for Tate as well than was Rousey. Tate still wants that Rousey fight to redeem herself after two losses, but she was proven to be not the better fighter in that matchup twice. Holm here isn’t going to be any kind of submission threat to her, but she will be by far the best striker Tate has ever faced.
Holm’s boxing game has her already as the best striker in this division, but the kicks she’s added to the arsenal have significantly upped what she’s capable of in that cage. The big key for Holm in this fight is takedown defense and separation. If she can keep off the cage, stuff takedown attempts, and work from a range she’d like to dictate, she could very well pick Tate apart in similar fashion as she did Rousey in November. She’s got the power to hurt people badly, and with Tate having been stopped before – not to mention the times she’s faded late in three round fights – it could simply become a matter of time before Holm is able to hurt her and finish her off.
I expect a competitive fight, at least for a time, and Tate’s going to do everything she can to pull off the upset, but in the end this is the champ’s fight to lose.
PREDICTION: Holm by TKO in the third round
Gian Villante vs. Ilir Latifi (Light Heavyweight)
Power vs. Power in this fight, as both Villante and Latifi have a history of stopping people. A key difference is the way in which they’ve done so, as Latifi’s success typically comes early on in his fights, while Villante’s fights quite often go into the later stages. Latifi’s a bit of a “kill or be killed” kind of striker. He’ll be as aggressive as possible in looking for the big KO punch, but it’s left him open to being clipped in the past as well. Villante’s got a good chin, but he too can be knocked out, and it’s going to come down to whether or not Latifi can land that finishing punch before fading out. If not, Villante takes over, and either wins a decision or finishes him late. Still, I think Latifi can connect on a very hittable opponent, and that’s not really good news for Villante’s brain.
PREDICTION: Latifi via TKO in the first round
Corey Anderson vs. Tom Lawlor (Light Heavyweight)
Anderson fights ugly, and doesn’t have a great gas tank, but his wrestling is stifling, and he’s capable of shutting guys down for long stretches of fights. Lawlor had a bit of a rocky start to his return last July after more than two years out, but he rebounded well and finished off Villante quickly in the second round. There are a couple of attributes Lawlor brings into this matchup that make me lean his direction for a pick: his stopping power on the feet, and his guillotine choke. Lawlor’s capable of hurting Anderson should the TUF winner fade late as he’s done in the past, and if Anderson starts shooting in for takedown after takedown and leaves his neck open, Lawlor’s going to grab it. Anderson very well could grind out the decision here, we’ve seen him do it numerous times, but Lawlor’s got a lot more ways to actually finish the bout.
PREDICTION: Lawlor by submission in the second round
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko (Women’s Bantamweight)
Shevchenko’s toughness against Sarah Kaufman in her short notice UFC debut was damned impressive, and that she edged out the win is a testament to her abilities. That said, she’s facing an increasingly impressive buzz-saw in Nunes coming off a career best performance over a former title challenger and Olympian in Sara McMann. The Brazilian’s sole UFC loss came against Cat Zingano in a fight she had been winning, and nearly stopped as well. If Shevchenko can weather the first round storm, it’s possible she could out-point Nunes from there, but I think Nunes keeps rolling in this one.
PREDICTION: Nunes via TKO in the first round
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