Conor McGregor’s defeat by Nate Diaz was obviously a huge surprise. But the biggest shock for seasoned UFC watchers was the Irish brawler’s reaction: humility.
Having previously been the most confident fighter UFC has ever witnessed – some feat in itself – McGregor’s admission that he needs to stay competing at lower weights was a startling confession that he’d Actually Got Something Wrong.
A humbled McGregor is a fascinating prospect for UFC. Because he’s either going to be even more dangerous when boxed into a corner. Or his career could yet be properly damaged and he’ll end up a briefly shining shooting star.
“I took a chance and came up short”
The scale of McGregor’s second round loss to Nate Diaz – only a late replacement for McGregor’s scheduled opponent Rafael dos Anjos – can’t be underestimated. It’s comparable to Mike Tyson’s first loss to James Buster Douglas in 1990.
UFC boss Dana White certainly seemed thrilled at how Diaz pulled off the sport’s biggest upset so far. “This fight delivered, it was amazing,” he gushed. “This is what this stuff is all about.”
True enough, a big upset that’ll have people talking for days is what sport should be about.
But is it good box office to have your sport’s biggest name looking – however temporarily – like a bit of a chump?
— Jose Aldo Junior (@josealdojunior) March 6, 2016
In truth, McGregor’s first UFC loss saw him react with exactly the surprising maturity he needs to in order to regain some instant respect. Rather than claim Diaz’s win was undeserved in any way, McGregor simply faced up to the fact that he wasn’t good enough on the night.
“I was fighting a heavier man who could take a shot and remain in your face,” McGregor admitted. “He stayed in my face and capitalised on it.
“I make no excuses. I took a chance and came up short. I’ve no regrets about coming up in weight. It was an enjoyable fight and we live and we learn.”
So. McGregor’s dream to hold the UFC title at three different weights now looks something of a farce.
The fact everyone in UFC took that idea seriously shows how compelling a personality McGregor is. But that idea of him being the Muhammed Ali of mixed martial arts needs a reality check, at least for now. Because Ali never failed to back up his confidence.
But it’s also important to remember that, while submitting to Diaz is McGregor’s first UFC loss, he has beaten in MMA before: he lost at Cage Of Truth 3 in 2008 and to Joseph Duffy at Cage Warriors 39 in 2010.
The fact McGregor has emerged stronger from those losses should ultimately see him return as a true warrior in UFC once more. And now he knows what’s really required to step up to welterweight should see the 27-year-old eventually become a dual-weight champion in the future.
What’s certain is that his previous opponent Jose Aldo may live to regret his mocking tweet immediately after the Diaz fight. Demanding a rematch and calling McGregor “a pussy”? Mm. McGregor knocked Aldo out in less time than it takes to have a piss when they last fought.
One defeat doesn’t mean that McGregor shouldn’t be able to shove Aldo’s words straight back down his throat.
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn