Believe it or not, the main-event poster boy for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s marquee UFC 200 event will be Nate Diaz, the company’s rebel, in a rematch with featherweight champion Conor McGregor.
“UFC 200, July 9, get your tickets,” Diaz cracked Thursday in a telephone conversation with The Times.
The surprising placement of Diaz in the headline fight happened because Ireland’s McGregor pushed for an immediate rematch with Diaz at welterweight (170 pounds) after losing to the Stockton fighter by second-round submission March 5 at UFC 196.
The first fight was made possible because lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos injured a foot less than two weeks before UFC 196.
Left a bit humbled by the loss, in which Diaz landed heavy punches in the second round and took advantage of McGregor’s fatigue carrying the extra weight to apply a deciding rear-naked chokehold, McGregor (19-3) has now responded by holding off on a return to featherweight to achieve revenge for his first loss in UFC competition.
“We’ve got to get to the fight and see,” if it will be different, Diaz (20-10) said. “I established [in the first fight] that [McGregor] can get taken out by getting hit in the face. I never did believe the hype.”
Diaz said, “I’m not surprised” McGregor permitted the rematch to be at 170 pounds again, considering Diaz was previously a lightweight.
“If I lost like him, I’d want to fight again tomorrow,” Diaz said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted when I’ve lost, but I’ve never got the chance to have that for all the times I lost … he does, though.”
Diaz predicted McGregor is in store “for a lot of work. He got tired [March 5] … well, he didn’t really get tired. He got his [rear] beat. He needs to learn how to manage his energy, and now that I’ll have time to get ready, he has to work five times as hard.”
Part of McGregor’s strategy will certainly be to infiltrate Diaz’s psyche again after hammering him with verbal blows the first time around. Diaz said, in hindsight, the creative words didn’t matter once Diaz applied his boxing and jiujitsu skills.
“Whatever … he can talk. I don’t care … ” Diaz said.
He said he’ll train with members of the legendary Gracie family that brought mixed martial arts fighting to the U.S. and will spar at a boxing gym in Oakland, where he has previously worked with unbeaten former super-middleweight boxing champion Andre Ward.
“I want to be better in every way, but I haven’t really thought about it. I just woke up,” Diaz said in a conversation that began after 2:30 p.m.
Diaz and his brother Nick, a former UFC welterweight title challenger currently on suspension for a third marijuana positive test, have long marched to their own drummer while the UFC has demanded more accountability and responsibility from the pair.
“Yeah, it’s pretty funny …” Nate Diaz said of headlining UFC 200. “I’m ready for war. I wanted the biggest fight they can make. Headlining UFC 200 against the biggest name in the UFC is it. I’m just going to do whatever they give me to do. If you ever need me, just give me a call.”
Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter: @latimespugmire