The spontaneity of the explosive rivalry between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz sprung to life over three years ago and created pay-per-view gold. There’s still a trilogy left to be mined out of the bowels of the UFC’s matchmaking grotto, but the attempt to do so now could result in a watered-down version of the original blockbuster—a quick cash-grab pairing of two marquee names.
If there is no organic route to a rubber match, then perhaps it’s time McGregor and Diaz go their separate ways.
Diaz’s mere re-entry into the sport after a near three-year hiatus isn’t enough to go back down that frenetic road with McGregor—the one laden with profuse F-bombs, middle fingers and flying Monster Energy cans. The two men that came together to create prize-fighting magic are in completely different places in their careers right now.
Conor McGregor is hell-bent on avenging his loss to lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and reclaiming his spot atop the UFC stratosphere, and Nate Diaz, who has already shut the door on a return to the lightweight division, has shifted his focus towards climbing the welterweight ranks and winning his first UFC title. Both fighters would be better off putting the rivalry on ice and giving one last hard push towards their individual goals.
The decision to move up and down in weight is taxing on the body, and it does McGregor no favors in preparing for a potential second run-in with Nurmagomedov. It’s ironic to think that his willingness to take on all-comers, which is by-and-large the reason for his success, could also be the albatross in his road to redemption. It has been nearly four years since Conor McGregor was focused on a single division without the jumping around to lightweight and welterweight to accept greater challenges. He even pushed aside two prime years of his MMA career to take up a boxing match with undefeated legend Floyd Mayweather Jr.
McGregor is a lot of things to a lot of people, but a coward isn’t one of them. Only a fool would mistake his ostentatious personality and razor-sharp tongue for weakness. There aren’t many men out there that would accept a fight on two weeks’ notice with Chad Mendes after spending an entire training camp preparing for Jose Aldo, much less taking on Nate Diaz at a completely different weight class with a little over a week’s notice.
It’s time for Conor McGregor to return to his centrally-focused roots that initiated his meteoric rise in MMA; to abandon the side attractions and lucrative circus fights that fed his pockets rather than added to his great legacy; to dig his toes solely in the trenches of the lightweight division, bite down on his mouthpiece and come out swinging. That equally obsessed martial arts mind still lives deep within the engorged vessel of the biggest star in UFC history, and through it, McGregor might actual stand his best chance of reclaiming the lightweight throne.
As for Diaz, he has ditched the tall and spindly look for the meat suit of a real-life Marvel superhero. A couple images have popped up of him training for his upcoming UFC 241 bout against Anthony Pettis, and he has obviously packed on a few more pounds of muscle, which is indicative of his intent to remain in the welterweight division.
— Ross Edmonds (@RosssEdmonds) June 16, 2019
”I’m just done with the 155 thing, that’s in the past now,” said Nate Diaz, during an appearance on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. “I just think it’s time to start fighting at a more comfortable weight class. There’s nothing for me there, I already did everything, beat everybody. I feel like I’m the king of that division, so I’m just going to leave it where it’s at. There was no love for me over there.”
There should be plenty of love for Diaz at welterweight now that he’s the A-side of the ticket. A case could easily be made that he’s the most popular fighter in the division after he was immediately shoved into a co-main event spot on a PPV card behind the anticipated heavyweight championship rematch between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic.
Welterweight contender Ben Askren has often commented on the possibility of jumping ahead of Colby Covington for a title shot, but one would also have to consider the chance of Diaz being in the mix as well, especially if he has a good showing against Pettis. It wouldn’t at all be surprising to see a proven needle-mover in Diaz leapfrog other top contenders with one or two wins upon his UFC return.
The days of denying Nate Diaz’s popularity are as dead as him putting his body through a strenuous weight cut to get back down to 155 pounds. He doesn’t need Conor McGregor to validate his existence at the top of a PPV ticket, and McGregor doesn’t need him to help create another blockbuster fight. Both men have already given 10 sumptuous rounds of fisticuff violence to stand the test of time. Not to mention the plethora of memorable trash talk spilled from countless interviews during the grandiose spectacle.
There are so many other great bouts to be made rather than forcibly shoe-horning a rubber match into a fight card. Outside of a rematch with Nurmagomedov, McGregor could create PPV magic with Tony Ferguson, Rafael dos Anjos, Justin Gaethje or Donald Cerrone. Meanwhile, Diaz has a long line of potential dance partners outside of welterweight champ Kamaru Usman, including Tyron Woodley, Askren, Covington, Robbie Lawler, Darren Till, Stephen Thompson and Jorge Masvidal.
That isn’t to say Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz couldn’t legitimately cross paths again in the distant future.
Perhaps both win gold in their respective divisions, and the UFC has an opportunity to do a champion vs. champion fight to bookend one of the greatest rivalries of all time. Or, maybe they both come up short in their championship journeys, and they actually need each other for one last spectacle before sailing off into the sunset.
When and if one of those days come, you can bet your bottom dollar both McGregor and Diaz will come to the table—ink pen in one hand and a glass of Proper Twelve in the other—ready to do business.