Conor at the Bat

The opposite of a before and after makeover./ Brett Nielsen

The opposite of a before and after makeover./ Brett Nielsen

Diaz defeats McGregor at UFC 196

Do you know what my favourite sports story is? “Casey at the Bat.”

That’s because Thayer’s poem isn’t about an athlete conquering insurmountable odds, or a great rivalry between two champions. “Casey” is a story about hubris, and the lesson that no matter how naturally talented an athlete may be, they must always be careful not to defeat themselves in their eagerness to demonstrate their skill.

Last Saturday at UFC 196, featherweight champion “The Notorious” Conor McGregor (19-3) did exactly that.

Those who have been following McGregor’s meteoric rise know that Conor loves to talk. His eloquent boasting made up half of his appeal, as the plucky Irishman declared himself unbeatable, and his opponents “bums.” The other half of McGregor’s appeal came from his seemingly uncanny ability to correctly predict the outcomes of his fights (most often by early-round knockout). This one-two punch of bragging and then backing it up, combined with a fifteen-fight winning streak, quickly made Conor one of the biggest draws in UFC history and the fighting pride of Dublin.

After knocking out featherweight champion José Aldo in December (in a fight lasting all of thirteen seconds), McGregor announced his intention to move up to the 155lb division and challenge champion Rafael Dos Anjos in an unprecedented move which might have made Conor the first UFC champion to hold two belts simultaneously. The stage was set for McGregor to cement himself in MMA history as one of the all-time greats.

Then, with only ten days to go until the event, Dos Anjos was forced to pull out due to a foot injury, throwing a monkey wrench into Conor’s plans. Seemingly unfazed, the Irish fighter announced that he would fight any man, any time, at any weight. He would beat them all, he insisted. Nobody had a chance.

Enter Nate Diaz.

Those familiar with MMA are also familiar with the Diaz brothers, two stone-faced kids from Stockton who are as well known for their foul mouths and affinity for marijuana as for their highly technical boxing and jujitsu. Nate, the younger brother, has been active in MMA for twelve years, amassing an impressive 19-10 record.

On Dec. 19, following his impressive beat-down of Michael Johnson, Diaz grabbed the microphone and announced that McGregor was a “motherfucker” who had been taking everything Diaz had worked for. Before anyone could wrestle the mic away, Diaz also announced that a fight between he and McGregor was “the real fight,” “the real money fight,” and “that real shit.”

Strictly speaking, there was no reason for McGregor to want to fight Diaz. He would gain no belt or ranking, and because the short notice precluded weight cutting, the bout was set to take place at 170lbs, two full weight-classes above Conor’s comfort zone. But accept the fight he did, and McGregor was quick to announce that he would “toy with Nate,” predicting a knockout in the first round.

The press conferences preceding the fight were a blast, as McGregor and Diaz hurled profanities at each other, and nearly came to blows several times. McGregor emphasized the ease with which he would defeat Diaz, while Diaz declared himself the “real ninja martial artist,” and mocked McGregor for “fighting midgets” in the 145lb division.

Conor had set himself up just like Casey. His ego would not let him remain in the lower divisions where he was so dominant – he needed to put on a show. He had smiled and let the easy pitches sail by, confident that with his big left cross he could knock out any man at will.

On March 5, under the lights of the sold-out MGM, Conor McGregor struck out.

During the first round, it really looked like Diaz was in trouble. McGregor was swinging for the fences, landing some big left crosses and uppercuts that quickly had Diaz cut over his right eye. Diaz moved well, stepping out of the way of most of McGregor’s bombs and replying with a few jabs of his own, as well as a takedown late in the round.

Both men came out slower in the second round, but with Diaz’ eye quickly becoming obscured by blood, it seemed only a matter of time before one of McGregor’s lefts would land cleanly and end Nate’s night.

But it never happened. Diaz found his range during the second round, and while McGregor was still landing, the hits were becoming less frequent, and Diaz started punishing Conor with a stiff one-two every time he ventured into the pocket.

Then, with just over two minutes left in the round, Diaz landed a right jab followed by a left straight that rocked McGregor backwards. For the first time in the fight, Diaz went on the attack, pushing forward with a flurry of jabs and vicious rabbit punches from the clinch. Desperate and staggering, McGregor took Diaz to the canvas, but it only took moments for Diaz to gain top position and pummel McGregor into giving up his back. Diaz, the +290 underdog, ended the fight with a 30-second jujitsu clinic, transitioning beautifully from an attempted guillotine, to mount, to a rear-naked choke that forced the Irishmen to submit.

“I’m not surprised, motherfuckers,” Diaz announced to the sold-out MGM.

I hope Diaz is savouring his win, because I certainly am. This type of upset happens so rarely in modern sports, and it is always beautiful to witness. Everyone loves a champion, but the truth is that we love an underdog more. That’s why during that final inning, when Casey steps up to bat and everyone is sure that he’s going to slam that last pitch out of the park… I root for the pitcher.


Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,

But there is no joy in Ireland — mighty Conor has tapped out.

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