Sunday, March 06, 2016

UFC 196

LAS VEGAS - With a pair of rear naked chokes that finished two celebrated champions, Nate Diaz and Miesha Tate both accomplished the improbable in a pair of sport-shaking victories at UFC 196.

The main event was the greatest moment in the career of Diaz, a pugnacious veteran from a notorious fighting family in Stockton, California. Diaz had lost three of his past five fights, but his size and power abruptly finished McGregor, who had boasted of his plans to hold championships in multiple weight classes.

The loss was McGregor's first since November 2010, and it put a blemish on the loquacious Irish face of the UFC and the best-paid fighter in this rapidly growing sport.

McGregor agreed to fight Diaz at the welterweight limit when 155-pound lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos dropped out of his matchup with McGregor due to a foot injury. McGregor set a new UFC record with his $1 million disclosed purse for this fight, and he predicted a comfortable win over Diaz, comparing the veteran to a gazelle about to be eaten by a lion.

Instead, McGregor got bit.

"(McGregor) punches hard," Diaz said. "He's a hard-hitting little guy, but nothing I never felt before."

***

LAS VEGAS – Less than a year after she was denied a shot at the championship that had been promised to her, Miesha Tate completed an amazing comeback journey with a dramatic submission of Holly Holm Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 196 at the MGM Grand Garden.

Tate, who lost her Strikeforce title to bitter rival Ronda Rousey in 2012 and then lost a shot at the UFC belt in 2013, submitted Holm with a rear naked choke at 3:30 of the fifth round.

It was a sensational submission. Tate took Holm down, who fought to stand up. Tate stayed on her and sunk in a rear naked choke. Holm moved over to the cage and then somersaulted forward, flipping Tate over.

Tate, though, didn’t release the hold and when they hit the ground; she kept the choke. She squeezed with all her might and Holm went out at 3:30, making Tate the new champion.

She nearly finished Holm in the second after a takedown, eventually getting the champion’s back and sinking in a choke. Holm fought it and the bell sounded, saving her.

Holm seemed to take control by winning the third and fourth rounds.

But Tate, who is as dogged as any fighter in the UFC, kept coming.

“I had to be patient,” Tate said. “She’s dangerous and is capable of catching anyone at any moment.”

Her win will likely mean a third meeting with her bitter rival Rousey, though that has yet to be determined.

The victory was especially sweet for Tate after she got bypassed for the title shot last year. UFC president Dana White had promised that the winner of the Tate-Jessica Eye fight in July would meet Rousey for the title. Tate won and White confirmed that she’d meet Rousey a third time.

But he thought better of it and several weeks later, changed his mind and gave Holm the shot instead. Tate found out while she was on a movie set with Holm.

Tate was bitter, and it was made worse when Holm went to Melbourne, Australia, and knocked out Rousey on Nov. 14 at UFC 193 in arguably the greatest upset in UFC history.

***

Conor McGregor mocked Diaz, taunted him at every turn and predicted a first-round finish during the intense 10-day promotion that came about when lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos pulled out of UFC 196 because of a broken foot.

Seconds after he submitted the heavily hyped McGregor on Saturday in the second round of their welterweight bout at the MGM Grand Garden, Diaz grabbed the microphone and said, “I’m not surprised, [expletive].”

In addition to being one of the world’s best fighters, Diaz is the UFC’s undisputed king of F-bombs, and he dropped one in the cage Saturday as he was basking in the glow of his greatest victory.

McGregor, though, was the star of this show. He opted to stay on the card following dos Anjos’ injury, even though as he said afterward, “they gave me every opportunity to pull out.”

He promoted the match with Diaz hard, and turned fans who showed up at a UFC gym in Torrance, Calif., for a hastily thrown together news conference into a frenzy with his taunts.

The fight was going his way for much of the night, but he learned a lesson that welterweights are vastly different than featherweights. He started slowly, but by the mid-point of the first round, he was picking Diaz apart.

McGregor opened a cut over Diaz’s right eye and his fast hands were getting through and hitting the mark.

But when McGregor hit featherweights like Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Dustin Poirier with those shots, they fell and he finished them.

Diaz, though, not only took them but relentlessly kept pushing forward.

“It is what it is,” McGregor said. “He’s a heavier man. It was simply me fighting a heavier man. He can take a hell of a shot. Him and Nick have that kind of style where they can take it and remain in there and remain in your face. … I make no excuses. It is what it is. I took a chance and it didn’t pay off, but I’ll be back.”

Most likely, he’ll be back at UFC 200 in July. Whenever he’s back, it will be at featherweight, he said. That means he’ll defend against either Aldo or Frankie Edgar.

Diaz isn’t a champion, but he may have earned himself a shot at dos Anjos’ belt. Dos Anjos holds a win over Diaz, but with Diaz’s momentum, he may get the shot.

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