Miesha Tate's everlasting grip caused Holly Holm to lose hers on the Ultimate Fighting Championship belt, and Nate Diaz quieted the organization's Conor McGregor attraction.
UFC 196 at MGM Grand became a night of upsets Saturday as Tate wrested the women's bantamweight belt from Holm and Diaz made McGregor pay for his 25-pound move up in weight by causing him to tap out in the second round.
Ireland's popular and quick-witted McGregor, the featherweight (145 pounds) champion who opted to move up to 170 pounds to fight replacement foe Diaz because of lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos' foot injury, was wobbled and weakened by a hard Diaz punch earlier in the second round.
Following Miesha Tate's submission of Holly Holm in an upset in the co-main event of UFC 196, things only got wilder Saturday night in Las Vegas. Conor McGregor, who had run through all UFC competition and was a nearly 5-1 favorite, was rocked badly with punches by Nate Diaz and then submitted on the ground in the second round of their main event bout. It was the biggest win of Diaz's career by a wide margin and a huge setback for the brash Irishman who had set the MMA world on fire.
The question is now where does McGregor go from here. McGregor had talked of trying to win titles in three weight classes, but he might be forced to return to 145 pounds after the stunning loss. The criticism will come in hard on McGregor, as it always does on athletes who talk as loudly and as proudly as McGregor has. It's unclear whether McGregor's supporters will follow him with the same enthusiasm that they did up to this point. He will unquestionably remain a major star but not necessarily at the same level.
This also complicates matters for UFC 200 in July, which was planned to be the biggest event in UFC history. If McGregor is ready to return then, he won't have the same luster that he did going into this fight. Ronda Rousey is unavailable. There aren't any other fights that would seem to elevate that card with the exception of the return of the great Georges St-Pierre, who retired and may or may not be interested in returning to the octagon.
Conor McGregor’s ascent in MMA has been nearly unprecedented, talking trash like arguably no other fighter in the history of the sport and then backing it every step of the way. His last fight was a 13-second knockout of longtime champion Jose Aldo, capturing the UFC featherweight title. He was to fight for the lightweight title at this show against Rafael Dos Anjos, but Dos Anjos had to pull out of the fight with a broken foot. The colorful Nate Diaz steps in on short notice in a weleterweight fight without the same stakes but perhaps more fan interest given Diaz’s wild style and reputation.
Round 1. McGregor comes out immediately switching stances back and forth. He throws a wild spinning kick and Diaz clinches. Nothing happens there and they separate. Diaz starts pawing at McGregor with the jab while McGregor loads up for power shots. McGregor has his chin out, not showing a lot of concern for Diaz's power. Diaz is throwing more as McGregor approaches. Diaz continues to halt McGregor's approach by throwing out his jab. McGregor lands a nice left hand, one of his best shots of the fight. Diaz is bleeding near his right eye. However, he does keep landing his jab. McGregor is landing less but landing harder. Diaz gets a takedown with 40 seconds left but McGregor rolls into top position. McGregor lands some punches from the top. Close round, definitely could have gone either way. 10-9 McGregor.
Round 2. McGregor throws a spinning kick that misses but follows with a hard punch to the body. McGregor lands a stiff punch and elbow shortly thereafter. Diaz clinches and looks for a takedown. He doesn't get it and McGregor goes back to work. He is getting off more and because he hits harder, he is doing a lot of damage. Diaz's face is a mess. Diaz does land a few quality punches but he doesn't have the same power as McGregor. Diaz hurts McGregor with a couple of punches. He backs McGregor up with more straight punches and has McGregor in major trouble. Diaz is pouring it on up against the cage. McGregor is rocked and is just trying to hang on. McGregor answers back with hard punches but Diaz hurts him again. McGregor is forced to shoot for a takedown but Diaz goes for a choke. He grabs a rear naked choke and gets the submission.
Going into her fight with Holly Holm in November, Ronda Rousey was clearly the biggest mainstream star in MMA (with all due respect to Conor McGregor). Her violent upset loss to Holm temporarily derailed that gravy train, but it did have one notable positive side effect: a massive rematch that could set records as the biggest fight in the history of the sport. Four months later, that's gone now too.
That's not to say there aren't still big fights on the horizon in the UFC women's bantamweight division. Rousey returning to fight her longtime rival Tate for the title would be a big money attraction, as would a revenge fight against Holm. However, neither of those two possibilities will offer up the perfect storm that was Rousey returning to try to reclaim her title against the undefeated champion that unseated her. Holm, after being choked unconscious, doesn't have the same aura that she did after beating Rousey. Tate has been submitted by Rousey twice already. The same glow just isn't present.
The principal owners of the UFC, the Fertitta brothers, made their money in the casinos. They've taken that gambling mentality into fight promotion. Rousey didn't want to fight until the fall and Holm wanted another fight as soon as possible, so they put her in with Tate. It was a massive gamble, like they've gambled many times in the past. This time, they came up short.
In November, Holm scored one of the most consequential upsets in the history of the sport, knocking out the formerly unbeaten superstar Ronda Rousey. UFC initially wanted to hold off Holm’s first title defense for Rousey’s return, but Rousey didn’t want to return until the fall so Tate gets the opportunity here. Tate has been one of the best fighters in her division for years and is a formidable challenge for Holm. If Holm loses, it takes a lot of the steam off a Holm/Rousey rematch for the title that could be the biggest money fight in the history of the sport.
Round 1. Tate perhaps surprisingly is content to fight from distance early on. Holm throws some kicks but waits for Tate to move in. Tate catches a kick and looks for a takedown. She doesn't come close, but she does land a hard punch as she separates. At the halfway point of the round, it has been mostly even with not a lot of action. Holm moves in with a few punches but isn't landing a lot of note. There does appear to be some discoloration around Tate's eye. Tate does land a counter hook as Holm moves in. Holm throws a high kick that Tate defends with her hand. 10-9 Holm.
Round 2. Tate gets the takedown 30 seconds in. She grabs Holm's neck and lands some punches from inside Holm's half guard. Tate adds some elbows as well while controlling Holm's body. Holm is working her way toward the cage but Tate is controlling her well on the ground. Tate continues dropping down punches. Holm turns her back and Tate takes Holm's back. Tate looks to secure a rear naked choke and gets her arm under Holm's neck. Holm defends well, preventing Tate from securing the hold with her other arm and the round ends. 10-8 Tate.
Ilir Latifi is a compact, powerful light-heavyweight and he has three first-round knockouts in his last four fights to back that up, including two in a row in less than a minute. Gian Villante trains out of the Serra-Longo camp and has three wins in his last four as well.
Round 1. Villante comes out looking to take advantage of his length and reach advantage, throwing kicks low and high. Latifi moves in for a takedown and clinches with Villante up against the cage. Villante prevents the takedown and backs away. Villante goes back to work with kicks to the leg and Latifi appears to be walking funny a little. Latifi catches Villante with a hard punch and moves in for another takedown attempt. That might have been a mistake as Villante regains his composure by the cage while defending. Villante lands a knee to the body, eats a couple punches, and backs off. Latifi clinches and again looks for a takedown. Villante again blocks it. Latifi comes in with wild punches and looks for another takedown. It is again blocked. Villante lands a hard kick to the leg. 10-9 Villante.
In a light heavyweight division with few quality young fighters, the 26-year-old Anderson has the opportunity to be one of the division’s best over the next 10 years. He won the light-heavyweight tournament on the 19th season of the Ultimate Fighter and is 7-1 in MMA with four UFC wins. The colorful and entertaining “Filthy” Tom Lawlor is looking to secure a second consecutive upset after knocking out Gian Villante last July. He entered the weigh-ins on Friday with fake Conor McGregor tattoos and came to the cage for this fight singing to Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”
Round 1. Lawlor clinches and hurts Anderson badly with a series of hard punches from close range. Lawlor appears on the verge of finishing the fight but Anderson hangs on and eventually fires back. Lawlor is cautious in not becoming too aggressive and opening himself up for counters. Anderson moves in for a takedown and Lawlor blocks it. Anderson becomes more comfortable in the standup as the round progresses, landing some jabs and attempting to take advantage of his reach advantage. Lawlor fires back with some solid punches of his own. 10-9 Lawlor.
In the marquee women’s bantamweight division, the top contenders are jostling for an opportunity to fight one of the money players at the top of the division. Nunes and Shevchenko are two of those contenders. Nunes is a strong ground fighter who has won five of her last seven fights in the first round. Shevchenko is surprisingly the first Kyrgyzian/Peruvian UFC fighter of Russian descent and sports an impressive 12-1 record with a win in her UFC debut against Sarah Kaufman.
Round 1. The fighters start tentatively, showing respect for the game of the other and keeping at distance. The occasional punches and kicks mostly come one at a time, with Nunes throwing a little more. Nunes keeps looking for a high kick but none of her efforts come close. The crowd boos for the first time with a minute left in the round, generally impatient at the lack of action likely because the card has been action filled thus far. Nunes gets a late takedown and lands a few punches towards the end. 10-9 Nunes.
Round 2. The fighters exchange kicks early and Nunes catches Shevchenko off balance for a takedown. She lands some hard punches and elbows on the ground from half guard position, showcasing the finishing power she is known for and that few women in her division possess. Shevchenko is cut and isn’t offering up much in the way of defense or counter offense. Shevchenko makes an effort to get back up but cannot do so. Nunes works into side control and then takes Shevchenko’s back. Nunes looks for a rear naked choke but struggles to get under the neck. Nunes loses position and Shevchenko ends up on top to conclude the round. 10-8 Nunes.
For more than two years, the first Afghan fighter in the history of the UFC was out of action. At UFC 196, Siyar Bahadurzada fought for the first time since 2013 and he was impressive in victory. Early on, he engaged in a wild brawl with the dangerous Brandon Thatch. Later on, he relied on his ground game and took Thatch down on multiple occasions. He then showcased his submission game to finish the fight, submitting Thatch with an arm triangle at 4:11 of the final round.
Bahadurzada was his own biggest critic on the evening. “I wanted to come back and make a statement,” he remarked after the fight. “Unfortunately I was very disappointed in my performance. Staying away two years has its effects on how you fight, but I promise I’ll be better next time.” If that’s the case, trouble is on the way for his future opponents.