UFC Real or Not – Nate Diaz is a dangerous underdog; Michael Chandler’s plans face big obstacle

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Nate Diaz surprised many in the MMA world by agreeing to face Leon Edwards in the co-main event of UFC 262 on May 15 in Houston.

While Diaz’s most recent fight was in November 2019, and he’s currently a heavy underdog — +330 at Caesars by William Hill — Diaz is one of the most dangerous fighters in the UFC and could represent a big threat to Edwards’s nine-fight unbeaten streak. Edwards is also positioned for a likely title shot with a win.

Charles Oliveira has been on a winning streak of his own, but will he ruin Michael Chandler‘s goals of claiming the lightweight title and getting a potential fight against Conor McGregor?

And what are the expectations for Kevin Holland after a one-sided loss to Derek Brunson three weeks ago? Can Holland regain his momentum on Saturday as a late replacement against Marvin Vettori?

Our panel of Ariel Helwani, Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim answer these questions and more.

Real or Not: Diaz might be a heavy underdog, but he is a dangerous opponent for Edwards

Raimondi: This is a slam dunk — real, of course. Diaz is a dangerous opponent for anyone. Edwards is going to be the favorite; he is one of the best welterweights in the world, unbeaten in nine straight fights. Edwards’ last loss came more than five years ago — to current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. So, yes, Edwards is the real deal. I’m sure most people expect him to win. He very well might. But Nate Diaz? He’s no walk in the park for anyone, whether it be a lightweight or a welterweight.

The thing that intrigues me the most about this fight is that it will be five rounds. It’s the first non-title, non-main-event bout in UFC history to be scheduled for five rounds. This is not to say that the longer fight favors Diaz, necessarily. Edwards doesn’t have any known cardio issues. But it helps Diaz more than it would most fighters. He has cardio for days — look at some of his recent fights. Diaz gets better as the fight goes on. He came alive late in the second and the third rounds of his second fight with McGregor, which McGregor won by majority decision in 2016. Diaz weathered an early storm against Anthony Pettis before winning a unanimous decision in 2019. In Diaz’s last fight, on Nov. 2, 2019, he even appeared to be coming on a bit against Jorge Masvidal late in the third before the doctor stopped the fight due to a Diaz cut.

This is how a coach described Diaz to me recently: Diaz’s opponent starts out faster and more explosive, Diaz bides his time until some of his opponent’s gas tank is sapped and then, all of a sudden, Diaz turns it into second gear when his foe no longer can. McGregor befell that fate in their first fight when Diaz choked him out late in the second round. Diaz doesn’t go away; he is remarkably durable and doesn’t get tired. Diaz keeps coming, and you need to have the skill and cardio to keep him away. And doing that over five rounds? That’s not a fun time.

Again, Edwards will be favored here; if you go by rankings — ESPN ranks Edwards as the No. 4 welterweight while Diaz is undranked — Edwards probably should win. But make no mistake: Edwards isn’t likely to finish Diaz, and there will be moments late when Diaz gives him fits.


Real or Not: Miesha Tate‘s return is intriguing, but a rematch with Amanda Nunes is not a fight I need to see anytime soon

Helwani: Define soon. Later this year? Probably not. In a year, after maybe three fights? Why not?

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You see, I believe Tate when she talks about the “dark place” she was in toward the end of her run in in the UFC five years ago. And I know how being in that kind of mental state can affect a fighter.

I also believe her when she says she is in a much better place these days. She is a mother of two and seems very content with her personal and professional life. I know how that can affect a fighter too.

Marion Reneau is no slouch, but this is a winnable fight. Reneau will enter this one as a 44-year-old on a four-fight losing streak. She also has announced that this will be her retirement fight. How about that? A fighter coming out of retirement against someone in their retirement fight. I think that’s a first for the UFC.

In any event, if Tate wins that one and maybe one or two (max) more, she’ll be in prime position to fight Nunes. That’s a sellable fight. And it’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing if the Tate of old returns to form. I have a feeling we’ll know more about whether she can return to that level on July 17. Besides, Nunes doesn’t have much else going on right now at 135 or 145.


Real or Not: Oliveira will spoil Chandler’s plan to win the title and defend it against McGregor

Wagenheim: That was a pretty intricate goal that Chandler set for himself, don’t you think? First, he has to beat Oliveira, who has not lost a fight since 2017. Then for his title-fight-to-money-fight prophecy to come true, Chandler also has to hope McGregor beats Dustin Poirier, who knocked out the Irishman in the second round in January. What could possibly go wrong in this Rubik’s Cube of fighter ambition?

Chandler would be wise to narrow his focus to what’s right in front of him. Oliveira is riding high off his three rounds of astounding domination of Tony Ferguson in December. It was Oliveira’s eighth win in a row, the first seven of which came by stoppage, including five submissions. Oliveira is the UFC’s all-time leader in submissions, having produced 14 tapouts inside the Octagon.

Will that limit game plan options for Chandler? We’ll see. He was a NCAA Division I All-American wrestler over a decade ago, and he still loves to work on the canvas. Chandler has fought 27 times in his MMA career, and he has never been submitted. And he too is coming off an eye-opening win. In January, he knocked out Dan Hooker in the first round. Not a bad UFC debut.

Chandler could very well find himself wearing a UFC title belt to a news conference this fall and being sung to derisively by a festive corps of Irish fans. But when has any MMA fighter’s well-laid plan ever worked out, especially when it’s a two-parter? So I’m going “not real.”

But that’s OK. If the fight we get on May 15 is the Oliveira of the Ferguson beatdown vs. the Chandler of the Hooker shellacking, what a night it will be.


Real or Not: Expectations on Kevin Holland have gone down significantly from his first main event

Okamoto: Real. And part of that is just the fight game. You’re only as good as your last fight, and Holland’s last fight — I mean — it couldn’t have gone much worse. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, ask yourself: How many times have you seen a performance in which afterward, UFC president Dana White suggested the fighter might have suffered a mental breakdown during it? Because that’s what White said after Holland lost five rounds to Derek Brunson three weeks ago in Holland’s first main event.

Expectations were super high for Holland going into that bout. He won five fights in 2020 and was coming off a sensational knockout of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Had Holland won his last fight, we’d legitimately be looking at him near the very top of the middleweight division and talking about a potential title fight in 2021.

Going into his fight against Marvin Vettori this weekend, no one is talking about Holland like that. If anything, we’re saying he was badly exposed in that fight against Brunson and has a long way to go to compete with the best. The good part about the fight game, however, is that perception can change just as quickly as it can turn south. Holland has a big opportunity here, but there is no doubt he lost a lot of believers based on his last performance.

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