What’s the right fight to make for Nate Diaz next, and why? Should he get a title fight, and if so, should he face Rafael dos Anjos or Robbie Lawler?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
The right move for Nate Diaz is the fight that will pay him the most money. Diaz has long been one of those fighters whose popularity wasn’t proportionate to his skill level in the Octagon. That’s not to say Diaz isn’t a fine fighter, he’s just significantly more marketable than many fighters who are a bit better than him. His record at lightweight hasn’t been particularly inspiring, and in his time at that weight class he’s had one sided losses to former champ Benson Henderson and current champ Rafael dos Anjos. He has, however, squarely moved himself into the top five of the 155 pound division with wins over Michael Johnson and now the “Notorious” Conor McGregor, even if that fight didn’t happen at lightweight.
Based on merit, the fights to make for him at lightweight would be Eddie Alvarez, the winner of Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza, and Beneil Dariush. If he wanted to fight at 170 lbs, Tyron Woodley needs something to do, at least, if he can be persuaded to stop holding out for a title shot he may never get. Let’s forget merit for a second. A fight with Alvarez could be a good co-main on a pay-per-view event, or it could headline a free card; the same with the Pettis fight. But Diaz is a huge draw that can generate buys, why waste one of the biggest start in the UFC on something like that. Oh, we can throw Dariush out of the equation. It’s a dangerous fight and not nearly one that has a big enough name opponent to burn Diaz on. The same thing goes with Tyron Woodley, an often boring fighter whom no one’s clamoring for despite his high ranking and time away from the cage.
So let’s forget merit for a second and focus on fights that people can get excited about. While your hardcore fan contingent (me included) may object, there’s currently three big fights the UFC could place Diaz in, both to maximize their dollars and give fans something they want to see. The first two are title fights, in either the Lightweight or Welterweight division. If I had to pick whether or not I’d want to see a rematch between Diaz and RDA or seeing if Nate can become the second Diaz to put Robbie Lawler on the canvas, I’ll take the latter. You’ve got two fan-favorite guys who love to come forward and stand and bang. Robbie can try to exact a little revenge for being knocked out by Nick 12 years ago, and Diaz can score another huge payday and potential get a title. We’ve already seen dos Anjos make Diaz look exceptionally over-matched with his brutal leg kicks and unrelenting takedowns. I don’t see that fight going any differently a second time, and I don’t need to see it again.
The third fight to put Diaz into would be against a returning Georges St-Pierre. The GSP rumblings keep getting louder and louder, both with him in rare attendance at a UFC event and with the admission by Dana White that the two sides have been talking. If St-Pierre isn’t interested in fighting Lawler for the title (my preference), a much less dangerous fight against the bigger-named Diaz would work out well for all involved. Regardless, here’s a case where the right fight may not sell, and the wrong fight may be the best. There are quite a few fantastic options for what goes down at UFC 200, and Diaz has a great chance of ending up on an historic card.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Well, he just beat the guy who was going to fight one of those two guys next, so I’d give him a title shot. I’d ask Diaz who he wants to fight and give him that fight. If I were to choose, though, I would book him against Rafael dos Anjos. I think that would be a very interesting fight, as would one against Lawler so either choice is fine, but I think I’d go with the division that Diaz currently fights at. I also think the lightweight division is more open than welterweight right now, so I’d go with that.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
First things first, Diaz does not deserve a title fight off of a win over Conor McGregor. His last victory at welterweight against an actual welterweight was at UFC 118 against Marcus Davis. In August of 2010. McGregor is not a welterweight. At lightweight, he has already lost and lost badly to lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos. Reports are that he was hurt and he looked like he was (in addition to being disinterested), but he needs at least one more win against a legit lightweight contender. The most common thought I’ve seen floating out there is a fight with the winner of Anthony Pettis and Edson Barboza. I love the idea and it fulfills the idea of the money fight that Diaz will now command, but considering Pettis’ inability to stay healthy I think it would be a long wait before that fight happens. So how about Eddie Alvarez? So long as Alvarez doesn’t repeat his performance against Pettis, I see that being a hell of a fight and I’m sure Diaz would love the opportunity to avenge his teammate Gilbert Melendez’s loss to Alvarez. This is my favorite choice at this point as Diaz (not that he needs one) already has a reason to hate Alvarez.
DAN MOORE, MMATORCH UK COLUMNIST
He was already high up the list of popular UFC fighters, but that performance on Saturday night elevated Diaz to a new level of interest in him. It would be wasteful of the UFC if they didn’t capitalise and give him an immediate title shot. I’m not saying he deserves it over other contenders at welterweight, but money is money, and the name Diaz is a hot ticket with the right opponent. Step forward, Robbie Lawler.
No one knows just how long Rafael dos Anjos is going to be sidelined, so his name is one you can dismiss, especially considering the fact their first fight wasn’t exactly a classic. Robbie Lawler is a perfect opponent for Diaz in every sense and it’s a fresh match-up. The likes of Carlos Condit, Tyron Woodley, and the winner of Rory MacDonald vs. Stephen Thompson will just have to wait for their chance after UFC 200.
[Photo (c) Mark J. Rebilas via USA Today Sports]
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