By almost every measure, I think many people can agree that UFC 196 was one of the biggest events in the history of the organization, and quite possibly even in pay-per-view history. Just ask UFC President Dana White. However, with that historic event in the rear-view mirror, now we have to begin considering the prospects of whether or not Stockton native Nate Diaz will still be a huge draw from here on out.
When the main event for UFC 196 was announced, people knew they were in for a real barn burner. It was deemed a super fight pitting featherweight champion Conor McGregor, fresh off of a shocking 13-second knockout of longtime champion José Aldo, who hadn’t lost in over 10 years, going up against lightweight kingpin Rafael dos Anjos, who just wiped the floor with contender Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, finishing him in just over one minute. This was a highly anticipated fight, and the cherry on top was that the lightweight championship was going to be on the line, as “The Notorious” one was moving up from 145 pounds in an attempt to become the first simultaneous two-division champion in UFC history since Hall of Famer Mark Coleman held the heavyweight and now-defunct superfight championship at the same time. If all of that wasn’t enough to excite people, this was another battle featuring the brash Irishman trying to make a statement by taking on yet another talented and focused Brazilian fighter.
People were pumped… until the injury bug struck, again.
With less than two weeks remaining until the big fight, dos Anjos informed UFC reps that he had an injured foot and would be pulling out of the main event against McGregor. With so little time until the event, the UFC had to scramble to find the best possible replacement — or at least someone who was up for the challenge of taking on a fighter that had been on an absolute tear. Suddenly, in comes Nathan Diaz, one half of the Stockton bad boys, who, along with his brother Nick, are known for their brash style of fighting and intimidating their opponents with trash talk and attitude. I even wrote an article on Politicus Sports in 2014, pleading with the media not to give the elder Diaz so much attention, especially after he was seen talking trash during a weigh-in featuring contender Johny Hendricks. Nevertheless, the Diaz and McGregor style of trash-talking was on full display (and entertaining) at not one, but two separate press conferences, the latter ending in a slap of the arm by McGregor during the stare down, which ignited a near brawl on stage involving Diaz’s entourage.
Ultimately, both fighters made it through the tumultuous build-up and finally faced each other in the highly anticipated main event at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. After what people probably considered a predictably lopsided first round for the champ, the tide turned quickly for the durable 209er in the second, as he endured McGregor’s punches, especially a pinpoint overhand left, but just wouldn’t go down. Diaz’s chin was holding up so well that he eventually staggered the champ, got him down to the ground, took his back, wrapped his arm under the chin of McGregor and forced him to tap. It was a shocking upset. The arena exploded and nobody could believe what they had just witnessed. Now, all of a sudden, the loud-mouthed Irishman was essentially silenced by a challenger many probably didn’t deem worthy of beating someone that people thought to be unbeatable.
Following the momentous victory, there are a couple questions to be asked: What is in store for the future of Diaz? Will he be able to garner as much attention as he did at UFC 196?
Diaz is supremely talented in boxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and he also possesses an iron chin, but he hasn’t been very consistent in his ability to win big fights when the opportunity arises. He’s done very well as of late, though, with wins in three of his last four fights — and bonuses in those three wins — with his only loss coming to current lightweight champ dos Anjos.
Unfortunately, Nate Diaz has maintained the same attitude that his brother Nick is known for, which makes him somewhat difficult to work with. The younger Diaz has fought more than his brother, but those four aforementioned fights have come in a span of over two years. That’s not a very active pace for a fighter who wants to get paid the big bucks and be depended upon to take on big-name opponents.
Now, to be fair, Diaz did take the McGregor fight on short notice when the UFC asked him to, but it seemed like he only wanted that fight when the champ won the belt and was talking a lot of trash, which got both men a lot of media attention. Without all the trash talk from McGregor, coupled with Diaz’s return fire, the fight wouldn’t have been as big of a draw. It was just the perfect mix of big talkers. For the most part, Diaz himself has never been very good at hyping a fight to the media, which helps to draw in more eyeballs, but he has done a lot of his trash talk during the fight instead.
Before the McGregor bout, Diaz was not talking a lot about fighting, mainly because he wanted bigger-name opponents. So dos Anjos wasn’t a big name? What about Cerrone? Benson Henderson for the lightweight title? Basically, his demands just didn’t make a lot of sense. Aside from an issue with opponents, he also talked about wanting more money after already signing a contract, which seemed to irk Dana White.
Diaz’s handling of his career seems to be very counterproductive to what is good for him in the long run. In fact, he’s even talking about possibly retiring now, following the win over McGregor, even though he’s been saying he wants a title fight. Unfortunately, nobody knows what the 30-year-old actually wants to do, because of his typically unpredictable demeanor and habit of saying something different all the time.
The UFC probably isn’t sure if he’s reliable, which creates problems for the promotion when it thinks of booking him in big fights. In the long run, it’s in Diaz’s best interest to basically fight as many times as possible — and win those fights convincingly — if he wants to finally capture the coveted title.
Or maybe he doesn’t want the title and just likes to fight. He also doesn’t seem to be sure which weight class he wants to be in, whether it be 155 or 170 pounds. Based on how his last fight with McGregor went, it definitely gained Diaz a lot of fans, but did it really move the needle for people to expect him to be a big name?
Let’s be honest: he beat a fighter who moved up 25 pounds to fight someone bigger and taller than him. That’s not to say Diaz doesn’t deserve credit for his win or that he shouldn’t get respect for taking on someone on less than two weeks’ notice, but Diaz’s performance doesn’t make him a world-beater of sorts that people are going to want to come out in droves to see. To take it a step further, I don’t think I’m shocking anybody by saying that Diaz’s popularity isn’t anywhere near the level of McGregor, seeing as how the champ is the one that currently moves the needle in his own division. Diaz isn’t doing that in either of the divisions he has fought in.
If Diaz wants that to change, he just needs to do one thing, and do it well: fight and win.
Will he do it? We’ll see.