Freak show. Usually it’s the term associated with the circus act that was coming through town and featured all of the classics. The Bearded Lady. The Giant Baby. The Conjoined Twins. You get the point. It’s also a term that’s been used to describe recent Bellator MMA fights. It’s also a term that this writer has used to describe this weekend’s UFC 202 main event between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz.
Before this fight, the most prominent and well-known Diaz brother was not Nate. It was Nick. Nick was the one known for his outspoken comments and interactions with his opponents inside (and outside) the cage. But with Nick on the sidelines, Nate really came into his own. It all really began when he defeated Michael Johnson at UFC on Fox 19 and called out the “Notorious” Conor McGregor. Let’s stop right there. Diaz, a lightweight and former welterweight, called out McGregor, the newly minted featherweight champion. That fight would never happen, right? Right? Right?
McGregor wasted no time getting back inside the Octagon after dethroning featherweight kingpin José Aldo at UFC 194. McGregor called out the reigning lightweight champion of the moment, Rafael dos Anjos and, viola, UFC 196 had its main event. It was the move that everyone was waiting for McGregor to make. He was the former champion at both featherweight and lightweight under the Cage Warriors banner — belts he never defended, by the way — so why not give him a chance to try to do it under the biggest spotlight imaginable? However, his chance at history came to a screeching halt when, just short of two weeks out from the scheduled contest, dos Anjos pulled out, citing injury. It looked as though McGregor would be yanked from the event, but in a shocking twist, Nate Diaz was matched up against McGregor, but at 170 pounds, a full two weight classes higher than McGregor had previously fought in the UFC.
The fight was exciting. McGregor landed punch after punch and looked to be doing quite well against the taller Diaz. But once round two started, the Diaz brother came to life. Diaz went on to submit McGregor in the second round with a rear-naked choke and ended the Irishman’s impressive streak. Surely, after all of this, McGregor would end up being matched against the winner of the UFC 200 showdown between Frankie Edgar and the aforementioned Aldo, right? Wrong. McGregor was pulled from the UFC 200 card after complaining about his media obligations. The fight was rescheduled, which brings us to this weekend.
McGregor vs. Diaz II is the main event of Saturday’s UFC 202 show. So, to recap, the current featherweight champ is fighting at welterweight, again. Unless some miracle happens and he exits unscathed from this fight, McGregor will have gone a whole year without a fight in the division of which he is champion.
Right now, it isn’t looking good for McGregor. Diaz beat him the first time on less than two weeks’ notice. Now Diaz has had the opportunity for a full training camp. How exactly is this a good idea for McGregor? It’s really not. But it’s a freak-show fight. And, more importantly, it’s another big-money fight. It’s because of this that McGregor will never defend the belt that he knocked out of the hands of Aldo.
Before the criticism comes flowing in, let’s acknowledge that UFC President Dana White stated this week that McGregor, win, lose or draw, would be going back to featherweight. It won’t happen, though. It’s not because White has said things like this before, only to backtrack later on. It’s McGregor that will be the one to ultimately decide that cutting to 145 pounds isn’t going to happen anymore. He’ll vacate the championship and move to either lightweight and maybe even welterweight, depending on how this weekend goes.
The UFC has a plethora — yes, a plethora — of match-ups that it could make in the featherweight division to get it back on track. Aldo could square off with Max Holloway for the vacant title. The aforementioned Edgar can clash with Jeremy Stephens to determine the next No. 1 contender. The only thing McGregor is doing for the featherweight division is holding it in limbo, and we’re talking about the second most stacked division in the organization today.
People love to watch McGregor fight. It doesn’t matter who he’s fighting or when. He brings people to watch the sport that normally wouldn’t even give it a second look. McGregor also is very intelligent and knows that he can’t fight at this level forever. Which leads us to the recent WWE callout. But that’s for another time and place. Right now, the biggest question is McGregor’s future inside the UFC’s Octagon. And the answer is not the featherweight division.