BANE: Win or lose, where do Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz go next after UFC 202?

By Michael Bane, MMATorch Contributor

Nate Diaz (artist Grant Gould © MMATorch)

What’s next for Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor after UFC 202? Likely a feud with the UFC about media responsibilities and money, followed by some public bickering and juvenile tweets, followed by a truckload of money for everyone involved. Maybe thrown in a Stockton Slap somewhere. The best part of being Conor McGregor or Nate Diaz in the UFC is that, even if they lose, they are still Conor McGregor or Nate Diaz in the UFC. The best thing about fighting each other at 170 pounds in the UFC? It has very little bearing on their actual rankings in their own respective divisions. Neither is going to lose nearly as much in the way of drawing power as if they had lost in their division against a ranked opponent.

Let’s start our projections with the UFC’s biggest star, the “Notorious” Conor McGregor. McGregor’s path varies considerably if he wins or loses to Nate Diaz. If McGregor loses, his next fight is almost assuredly against Jose Aldo. Let’s not forget, McGregor is still a UFC champion. His blitzing of one of MMA’s best in a shocking 13 second defeat only added to the ridiculous legend behind the already hyped Irishman. Were it to happen, this would be the third time that this fight has been scheduled, yet up to this point we’ve gotten a whopping 13 seconds of action between the two.

Who wouldn’t love to see McGregor and Aldo actually, you know, fight for a while. For everything McGregor’s accomplished in the cage, there’s still a bit of a fluke quality to Mystic Mac. He beat one of the best in Chad Mendes, but Mendes came in on less than two weeks notice. He smacked the consciousness out of Jose Aldo, but it could have been a lucky punch. How good is he really? Would you pick him against Frankie Edgar? That’s a tough one, and we all saw what Aldo just did to Edgar for the second time. So even off a loss, this fight is huge, McGregor is still huge, and it would be one of my most anticipated fights of the year.

The Aldo fight still works if McGregor wins, but you know what else works? McGregor fighting Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez, that’s what. Alvarez has been campaigning for this, and rightfully so, as it’s a huge payday for him. And how McGregor would it be for the King of Ireland to continue his war of words with Aldo and then piss him off even more by not giving him a rematch after his 13 second shellacking of the Brazilian? Aldo becomes the Tito Santana to McGregor’s Rick Martel, driven to chase the guy who largely acts like he’s not worth his time. The Aldo rematch will always be there, Aldo will always take it, and McGregor knows it’s just a matter of when he says he’ll take it or there are no other fights left for him.

The UFC made a big push to sign Alvarez. While a McGregor loss isn’t ideal, a loss to Alvarez would at least provide a lot of exposure to someone in which they’ve put some resources. And, of course, let’s not forget that McGregor would still be holding onto the aura of being a champion, as he’s holding the Featherweight belt. Even in the event he’s stripped of the title for lack of defenses, a loss to Alvarez just means he jumps back into the 145 pound pool and directly into a championship fight to take back a title he never actually lost. This is undoubtedly the fight I make off a McGregor win. It’s a huge financial boon for Alvarez. It’s also one more reason for Rafael dos Anjos to curse the broken foot that took away the biggest payday he’d ever see. Were it not for that or the loss to Alvarez, he’d probably be set for life at this point.

A win for Nate Diaz gives him exactly the same fight as a win for McGregor would: a fight for the Lightweight Title. It’s debatable whether or not Diaz actually deserves this fight (he doesn’t), but lack of a clear cut challenger at the moment makes this fight acceptable. Two of the top contenders in Tony Ferguson and Rafael dos Anjos are set to face off in November. The fighter with the biggest complaint at being passed over would be Khabib Nurmagomedov. With an undefeated record of 22-0 in 2014, he seemed a surefire thing to get a crack at the belt. He’s 23-0 now, but his latest win comes against local jobber Darrell Horcher as a short notice replacement. He went almost two years between fights due to injury. The lack of a meaningful win since April of 2014 makes it reasonable enough to bump Diaz in front of him at the moment. Much like McGregor, a fight against Diaz benefits Alvarez both financially and in terms of exposure, something good for both him and the UFC at this juncture.

A Diaz loss makes his next fight choice a little less obvious. A fight against fast rising Edson Barboza is relevant, and might be the victory that Barboza needs to challenge for the belt if he were to win. There’s also Gilbert Melendez, who’s still somewhere close to the top of the division despite losing three straight matches, though that’s unlikely to ever happen given their relationship. The real issue isn’t going to be finding someone to fight Diaz, as everyone usually wants of piece of him. Rather, it’s convincing Diaz that it’s worth his time due to the opponent and/or the money involved. Either way, I expect to see one of these two fighting Alvarez in the near future, with the loser still able to find lucrative opportunities in the UFC that most others don’t have available.

[Photo (c) Mark J. Rebilas via USA Today Sports]

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