When the injury bug hit a UFC main event for roughly the thousandth time in the last few years earlier this week and knocked lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos out of his scheduled super fight against Conor McGregor, it was one of the few times where it was easy not to get too depressed about a major fight getting shut down. As incredibly rare as a champion vs. champion fight is, there’s no denying there was a collective frustrated sigh amongst fight fans when dos Anjos was forced out of the bout. However, for once, there was hope that the replacement fight could actually live up to the hype of its predecessor. This hope is completely due to McGregor.
If you took a poll of the UFC roster, you’d be lucky to find 10 guys between 135 and 170 pounds that wouldn’t love to get a crack at the featherweight champion. The brash and abrasive Irishman is one of the most polarizing fighters the promotion has ever seen, and his star power is currently unrivaled by anyone on the UFC roster. This makes McGregor the most “must-see” talent in the company and a huge draw for the UFC, but it’s also painted a huge target on his back and has resulted in pretty much every notable name in half of the UFC’s weight classes calling him out whenever possible.
With so many fighters chomping at the bit for McGregor, we could rest assured that we’d see a great replacement opponent. When the dust finally settled, Nate Diaz entered the picture with his middle fingers held high. For a lot of fight fans, things became a lot more exciting. Even without a belt in the mix, McGregor vs. Diaz is a fight fan’s dream because of the trash-talk potential alone. Since both men are more than willing to go out on their sword in the cage, the fight itself is equally exciting. McGregor has yet to fight a guy who’s naturally bigger and especially longer than he is, and when that guy is like Diaz and won’t stop coming forward unless he’s hit by a cement truck, well, things obviously get more interesting. Diaz really is the perfect opponent for McGregor at this point, even though there were a few guys that were higher ranked or a little more popular that ended up being offered the fight first.
José Aldo might have been the most logical opponent on paper after creating one of the biggest rivalries in UFC history opposite McGregor last year, but he ended up turning down the fight. Aldo cited a lack of training, and the UFC is probably better off for Aldo’s decision. As ridiculously heated as the bad blood between McGregor and the Brazilian ended up getting at times during their feud, a rematch between the two definitely deserves more than just a few days of promotion in order to do it justice. Throwing it on pay-per-view with less than two weeks’ notice would have been a major error.
Frankie Edgar was also offered the bout and had to turn it down due to injury, but this is another case where the UFC was better off waiting to make the bout at a later date. “The Answer” is the undisputed No. 1 contender for McGregor’s belt, yet Edgar says he was offered the fight at 155 pounds instead of as a featherweight with the title on the line. Not only would it be ridiculous for Edgar to pass up a title opportunity and fight McGregor with nothing on the line, but it really doesn’t make any sense for the UFC to waste a great title fight with so many other options in play anyways.
Diaz is the perfect fighter to step in and legitimately get fans to start losing their minds with excitement. He’s exactly the type of fighter that thrives off of McGregor’s talent for promotion. Before McGregor was getting headlines for talking insane amounts of trash and basically not giving a fuck, Diaz was giving opponents the finger while locking in submission victories and brawling with fellow fighters in street clothes during fight cards he wasn’t even scheduled to compete on. He may not be as quick with a snappy comeback or a one-liner as his Irish counterpart, but he’s more than willing to trade verbal blows before they get to the physical ones, and no one could attempt to punk out McGregor and be taken seriously better than Diaz can.
Actually, there might be one other person who could match Nate’s ability to trade barbs with McGregor. That would be the elder Diaz brother, Nick, which is another reason this match-up is so exciting. If McGregor wins, as most people expect him to next weekend, it could very easily lead to a grudge match with Nick down the road. The former welterweight title contender has made it clear in recent days that he would love to fight McGregor, and while the Irishman may be a bit preoccupied with his 145-pound belt after this next bout, there are a lot of dollar signs surrounding a McGregor-Nick Diaz bout.
If McGregor and Nate Diaz can put on the show that fans are expecting, both in the days leading up to the fight and inside the cage, we could end up seeing one of the most beautiful things imaginable in MMA: a full blown rivalry between McGregor and the Diaz clan. The Diaz brothers are notoriously easy to rile up with a bit of pre-fight trash talk, which is McGregor’s bread and butter, and Nate already has proven to be able to get under McGregor’s skin, especially with the steroid comments he made at the press conference this week. The trash talk has been living up to the hype thus far, and it very well could be just the beginning of a war of words between a few of the game’s premier trash-talkers. If that’s the case, the cancellation of a super fight might have been the best thing that has happened to MMA in a long time.