Heading into UFC 196, Conor McGregor was perhaps the biggest name in MMA. He had won 15 consecutive fights, he talked a big game and he had dispatched his previous opponent, Jose Aldo, in a Ronda Rousey-like 13 seconds.
But then Nate Diaz happened.
Yes, the brash California native withstood some heavy punches and responded with a few of his own, ultimately getting a choke-hold submission against McGregor late in the second round.
“When Conor lost, there was kind of this stunned silence,” FOX Sports and MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “The place was pretty split. I’d say maybe a little more towards Conor just because the Irish – they’re loud, they travel, all that stuff. But at first I was like, ‘Did that just happen?’ It was crazy. To see a guy who had looked so invincible thus far in the UFC lose like that, to see Nate Diaz finally get out of the shadows of his brother and finally step up on the big stage – it’s a night that I feel like in 15, or 20 years I’ll still be talking about.”
It was McGregor’s first loss since November 2010. Ten of his previous 15 fights hadn’t even made it past the first round.
Despite Saturday’s setback, however, McGregor isn’t going away anytime soon.
“I still think that the best fighter in the world is Jon Jones, and he returns next month,” Helwani said. “That being said, Conor McGregor was blazing hot. This was sort of like a heat-check fight for him. He was doing so well at 145 and he’s like, ‘You now what? I’m gong to go up 25 pounds and see what happens there.’ (That) is unheard of. No one does that. No one’s ever done that in modern UFC History. Conor McGregor is still the biggest draw in UFC, there’s no doubt about that.”
Remarkable for a fighter who made his UFC debut less than three years ago in April 2013.
“That’s insane for him to go on this rise (in such a short amount of time),” Helwani said. “And oh, by he way, in the midst of that three-year stretch, for 11 months he was out rehabbing a torn ACL, so it’s really been like a two-year stretch in many respects of activity. It’s unbelievable. There’s no one like him. There’s never been anybody like him the way that he speaks, the way that he predicts things and calls his shots. He’s so captivating.
“But I got to give him props,” Helwani continued. “I was almost more impressed with him in defeat than I ever was in victory. He walked out, held his head very high, made no excuses, spoke very honest about his performance and the situation, and I think he gained a lot more fans in doing so.”