The 22nd outing of a meandering career in the UFC was always going to be his biggest. It also transpired to be his best. The veteran Californian, painted by his opponent as a wounded animal in the build-up, succeeded where more vaunted and vastly more favoured fighting men had failed — he stopped the Conor McGregor show dead in its tracks.
With a clutch of devastating blows late in the second round of the main event of UFC 196, he rocked the Dubliner harder than seasoned McGregor observers could ever remember. With a pitch- perfect rear naked choke, he stripped off the cloak of invincibility McGregor had woven with word and deed over the previous two years. All of this on just 11 days’ notice.
“I came into this fight straight, fat boy off the beach from Cabo,” said Diaz, his right eye badly swollen and a deep cut under it now stitched after he had been caught numerous times in a ropey opening round and a half before he turned the tide.
“I felt like I was going to have a slow start. I didn’t have a camp so I’d start slow, warm up, pick up as I go.
“I didn’t have any sparring so I think I should have dodged that punch a little better. It reminded me of when I fought Kurt Pellegrino (in 2008). My corner jumped in and they were yelling, and I was like, ‘Hold up, I’m warmed up now.’
I figured it would probably go something like that with a little less damage.”
While that right eye told the story of the damage he had taken, Diaz hadn’t come close to folding like almost the entire featherweight division had done in the face of the feared McGregor left hand.
“I’ve been hit with everything, the hardest stuff by 168lbs fighters, I spar with heavyweight fighters and I’ve been hit with everything. He punches hard.
“He’s a hard-hitting little guy but nothing that I’ve never felt before. I expect if I get hit by anybody it’s going to be hard. But if you ain’t taking me out, you’re getting taken out.”