mma / Columns

Nate Diaz is Back

August 26, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett

Twelve years ago, Nate Diaz won one of the strongest Ultimate Fighter seasons there ever was. In retrospect, you would think this fact would have marked him for incredible success. Winners from the first four seasons had either already won a UFC title or would go on to win one. Nate never quite got there, and at 34, it’s unlikely he’ll get there in the future. Instead Nate settled into a fringe top-ten space, from which he would occasionally crawl into title contention, and then would fall out of it by dropping a couple in a row.

It was very different to watch Diaz fight Anthony Pettis last Saturday. Five years ago in December, Pettis was the UFC lightweight champion and dispatched Diaz’s teammate Gilbert Melendez in impressive fashion. He seemed to have a chance to become the dominant, long-reigning champion the UFC’s lightweight division has never had. The following week, Diaz missed weight by five pounds and lost a one-sided decision to Rafael dos Anjos.

If Diaz and Pettis had fought around that time, Pettis would have been a clear favorite, but times have changed. Pettis has fallen, and Diaz has ascended. Diaz’s lack of activity was probably the only thing that prevented him from being a decent favorite entering UFC 241.

Diaz now plays with his own deck of cards. It seems he has the money and opportunities to never fight again if he so pleases. He and his brother Nick have always carried an attitude that attracts attention, and it was only a matter of finding the right platform for Nate to become a true superstar. That platform presented itself on February 23, 2016, and eleven days later Diaz beat Conor McGregor. The rematch later that year was a classic, and although Diaz dropped the decision, the result didn’t hurt him in the slightest.

Last year, Diaz agreed to return against top contender Dustin Poirier. Apparently, it was the right fight that he had been searching for. When Poirier fell out of the fight due to injury, Diaz withdrew as well. He was only going to fight on his terms against an opponent that interested him. That’s the power he now commands.

There was no indication during the Pettis fight that Diaz has lost a step. He has a lot of fight left in him. This is not to say that Diaz is a title threat exactly—he doesn’t have the wrestling or the size to keep up with Kamaru Usman or Colby Covington at welterweight, and at lightweight the cut takes something out of him and the wrestling disadvantage still exists against Khabib Nurmagomedov. However, there are several interesting and exciting fights for him at either welterweight or lightweight, and because of who Diaz is, they’re all big box office.

The obvious rubber match with Conor McGregor is always going to be there. It’s the most famous rivalry in the sport, and whenever it happens it will be huge, but there are more pressing fights for Diaz—you might as well do those while the opportunity is there.

After beating Pettis, Diaz called out Jorge Masvidal and the world let out a collective, “oh yeah, that’s really obvious and it will be great!” Masvidal carries a similar attitude to Diaz (although not quite the charisma), and he’s at the highest point of his career after stopping Ben Askren in five seconds. Simply, it’s a fun fight, it makes a lot of sense, and the iron may never be hotter than it is now. It’s the fight to make.

Beyond Masvidal and McGregor, the options get no less interesting. Can you imagine Nate Diaz vs. Justin Gaethje? I would not envy Nate’s lead leg, but violence potential is off the charts. A rematch between Diaz and Gaethje’s next opponent, Donald Cerrone, would be a fitting fight as well. That was Diaz’s best performance to that point in his career, and the dynamic between Diaz and Cerrone will always be interesting.

At some point, a fight at lightweight with Tony Ferguson could make sense, and that would be a delight.

If Diaz prefers to avoid weight cutting and sticks to welterweight, there are options aplenty there as well. Aside from Masvidal, the biggest one that sticks out in my mind is Robbie Lawler. Fifteen years ago, Lawler fought Nick Diaz in an incredible two-round bout. We’re probably not going to get a rematch with those two, but since it’s unclear how much juice Lawler has left to give, why not pit them against each other? It has incredible potential.

Assuming Ben Askren can get back on track, the build to a fight between him and Diaz would be something to witness. I think the fight would be intriguing but not exciting—Askren would likely take a decision if he avoids submissions—but the money is in the build, not the fight.

As long as Nate Diaz wants to be active, fun matchups await.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

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Nate Diaz, Dan Plunkett