UFC 196: Preview and Predictions

image UFC 196: McGregor vs. Diaz takes place live from the MGM Grand on March 5. A welterweight contest between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz will headline the pay-per-view, co-headlining will be a women's bantamweight championship fight between champion Holly Holm and Miesha Tate. The action gets underway at 6:30pm ET on UFC Fight Pass before a 4-fight FOX Sports 1 card starts at 8pm ET. The pay-per-view goes live at 10pm ET. Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz  Make no mistake about it, this fight doesn't come close to the original dos Anjos match-up in terms of competitiveness and meaning, but if a replacement had to be sought, Nathan Diaz was the best option on the table, business wise so it was a very smart play by the company in setting this one up. As far as the fight goes, it's a fun one, but that's about it. Diaz simply lacks the footwork, lateral movement, speed and IQ to win here. McGregor preys on opponents who march forward leaving themselves open for counters and that's exactly what Diaz does, Diaz's ability to absorb a punch may prolong this one but not by a lot when you're dealing with the power that McGregor possesses. Diaz is a big man compared to McGregor and fights tall aswell which could potentially be hazardous for the Irishman if he decides to get into a slugfest here but I think he's a lot smarter than that. I see McGregor implementing a  similar karate style to the bout against Aldo in December, staying on his toes but alert to the movements of his opponent and being ready to pounce with a power shot counter. I see Conor being too quick, agile and smart here, he'll bait Nate in only to crack him hard every time eventually forcing Nate to the canvas and getting a TKO in the second round. Pick: McGregor Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate I'm going to be totally honest here, but I'm finding it very hard, when I visualise this match-up in my head, to see a fight much different than Holm's last fight versus Rousey. Holly Holm hasn't  strayed away from her style at all in her MMA career, she's extremely disciplined and focused in high-pressure situations, whereas Tate doesn't really get going until she gets cracked a few times and wants to be the aggressor, we all know what Holm will try to implement, and that is to stay elusive on the outside whilst occasionally stepping in at opportune moments to stun the opponent and getting out of danger in just enough time to not get hit.  Tate, however is in ways, a polar opposite of that, she comes forward constantly and is generally a slow starter until she gets woken up with some absorbed strikes. She's shown ever improving hands in recent years and is extremely crafty on the ground, not to mention her incredible durability. I think if Tate can find a way to use her own footwork to cut the cage off Holly and make it an ugly, grinding affair along the cage, she can wear Holm down and have a lot of success as the fight progresses, but that's easier said than done. Holly is a master of spacial awareness and evading opponents very well, I think Tate will find it very hard to get a hold of Holm early and as the fight wears on, even more so due to sweat and them being more slippery. I see Holm winning this fight by doing something similar to what she did against Rousey, staying elusive yet being very effective with the little volume she throws, it may take longer due to Tate's incredible toughness and knowing not to run into Holly's hands like Rousey did but eventually I see Holm striking Tate hard and getting the job done via TKO towards the end of the fight. Pick: Holm Gian Villante vs. Ilir Latifi The many complaints that the UFC 196 pay-per-view card as whole is quite weak are justified somewhat, when it comes to the last 3 fights but despite this one not being the biggest fight of the night, I like this one a lot. Gian Villante has shown some signs of being a possible top 15 fighter at light-heavyweight but hasn't really shown us his full potential I don't think, at least not yet. Latifi on the other hand, has shown some real signs of being a future contender at light-heavyweight with all of his wins under the UFC banner coming via first round finish. I don't see this one lasting particularly long, I see Latifi's physical prowess and explosive striking being too much for the New Yorker early, and I think he wins this one, much like a lot of his other UFC performances, in the first round. Pick: Latifi Corey Anderson vs. Tom Lawlor This is a fight which we could all argue, shouldn't really be a part of a big pay-per-view card in 2016, but oh well, it is. As has been evident in Lawlor's career inside the organisation thus far, he's got a ceiling, he can beat guys who aren't very efficient in any area, as we saw when he knocked out Gian Villante in July of last year. Corey Anderson on the other hand is a guy who doesn't really have a ceiling yet, he has shown promising signs thus far in the UFC despite his lone blip versus Villante in April of last year, he has very underrated boxing and footwork as well as a solid wrestling base, it also doesn't hurt that he trains under highly-touted coach Mark Henry alongside the likes of Frankie Edgar. As I look at this match-up, I just feel like Anderson has more tools at his disposal, more refined, technical striking and footwork and the ever present threat of the takedown which is big. He's also younger, still improving at a fast pace and hasn't really shown us his ceiling yet, which I don't think I can say for Lawlor. Pick: Anderson Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko Both of these girls have the potential to be real challengers to the UFC women's bantamweight championship in the future. Both women are very well-rounded and possess the ability to trouble the current champion, Holly Holm. Shevchenko obviously has an extensive Muay Thai history, most notably beating current UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but showcased her bout against Sara McMann, beating her via submission. Shevchenko, who looked fantastic versus MMA veteran, Sarah Kaufman in her debut back in December on just seven days notice, has an extensive Muay Thai background, most notably beating current strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, which cannot be overlooked here, however, in studying this match-up, I feel like Nunes will just be quicker to the punch, to the scramble and overall just sharper and more refined in her approach. Though it will be interesting to see how Shevchenko looks versus a top bantamweight on a full camp, I can't help but almost automatically pick Nunes based on her immense improvements, most notably the manner in which she defeated elite bantamweight and Olympian, Sara McMann in August of 2015. I see the Brazilian getting it done via decision. Pick: Nunes.

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