When the calendar turned over to 2017, the UFC was headed into the year with the futures of Conor McGregor, Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey up in the air. McGregor, the UFC lightweight champion, said he was taking time off to prepare for the birth of his first child. He has also been pursuing a boxing fight with the undefeated Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is currently serving a USADA suspension and is not eligible to return until July. And at UFC 207, former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey suffered her second consecutive loss, a 48-second knockout against champ Amanda Nunes, which has left many questions about the possibility of Rousey ever fighting again. After the highly disappointing UFC 208 in Brooklyn, N.Y., what will the UFC do with its biggest stars on the shelf?
While there are certainly some good match-ups booked in the near future — Khabib Nurmagomedov meets Tony Ferguson and Tyron Woodley rematches Stephen Thompson at UFC 209; Daniel Cormier rematches Anthony “Rumble” Johnson at UFC 210 — the UFC is missing out on a huge opportunity with a star that was created in 2016.
Once labeled by UFC President Dana White as a fighter who didn’t move the needle, Nate Diaz has been sitting on the shelf since UFC 202. It’s without a doubt a missed opportunity for the UFC. While most of the credit for Diaz’s rise goes to the aforementioned McGregor, Diaz did combine with the Irishman to put on the biggest money shows in UFC history with epic battles at UFC 196 and UFC 202.
Their entertaining media interviews and bottle-throwing press conferences got as much attention and discussion as their fights inside the Octagon. While McGregor came in as the superstar, Diaz arrived in 2016. The UFC seems to be ignoring this detail.
There had been reports that the UFC offered Diaz a fight against Eddie Alvarez in 2017, but the Stockton, Calif., native reportedly declined. Other reports state that Diaz was asking for $20 million for his next fight. While it remains to be seen if the Alvarez-Diaz match-up will happen, the UFC’s bad boy deserves a fight sooner rather than later.
A fight against Alvarez, a fellow top-ranked lightweight, certainly makes the most sense. Both men are good on the mic, and both have experience fighting against McGregor. Diaz even scored a win over the Irish superstar.
Stockon’s own has certainly reached the point of being a needle-mover inside the Octagon following his performances against McGregor, which highlighted 2016 for the company. It seems the best possible move for the UFC would be to give Diaz a fight against former champion Alvarez while Nurmagomedov and Ferguson fight for the interim title and a chance to fight McGregor.
Diaz hasn’t backed down from wanting his trilogy fight with McGregor, either. If Diaz can get a win over Alvarez and McGregor can successfully defend his title against the winner of Nurmagomedov-Ferguson, it all matches up perfectly for McGregor-Diaz 3. It was proven in 2016 that the UFC needs entertainment outside the Octagon almost as much as it does inside the cage, and Diaz can bring both.
While it may seem crazy to put Diaz in the same group with McGregor, Rousey and Jones, his “killed or be killed” mentality is what the UFC needs in 2017. The UFC’s lightweight champion is pursuing boxing, the former light heavyweight champ is suspended, and Rousey’s future is unknown, so why not give fans some real entertainment and put the spotlight on Diaz?
He’s the UFC’s bad boy and may be a headache for some of the higher-ups, but as long as no more water bottles are tossed during press conferences, the early stages of 2017 could use a “Stockton Slap.”