ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Honda Center was Nate Diaz’s house Saturday night. Are you surprised, motherbleepers?
It was obvious before you even entered the building that the return of one of the West Coast’s favorite sons was what brought the people out to UFC 241.
A local Corvette dealership flew a banner reading “Nate Diaz represent,” which was visible from the I-5 freeway. A festive crowd, many of whom appeared to be partaking in Diaz’s favored medicine that was recently legalized in California, pregamed in the parking lot. And while this isn’t a scientific study, it sure appeared to this observer there were more fans wearing Diaz T-shirts in the arena than all other fighters combined.
This is the sort of buildup that, as often as not, leads to disappointment in this maddening sport we call mixed martial arts. Had Diaz’s first octagon appearance in three years been a dud, a fan base that’s often seen its heroes let them down would’ve had yet another bummer of an experience, the sort which makes you question your loyalty to this game.
Instead, Diaz’s performance in the welterweight co-headliner against Anthony Pettis was precisely the sort of vintage effort he needed to put on to show that there is, in fact, still room for a rebellious anti-hero in the UFC, one who cuts through the clutter of a Disney-backed conveyor belt of events with one fighter after another saying “I’ll fight whoever they want me to fight” while clad in matching Reebok gear.
“This is the fight game,” Diaz said at the UFC 241 post-fight news conference. “Quit acting like this is a professional sport. Whatever they want to give me? No, I’m going to take what’s mine. That’s what I’m talking about, the baddest mother(expletive) title. I need that belt made as soon as possible.”
The UFC probably isn’t going to rush out and make him that belt, but even UFC president Dana White, who infamously branded him “not a needle mover” in reference to his drawing power back in 2014, had to concede that in fact the needle does move when Stockton is in the house.
“Yeah, it’s pretty tough to deny,” White said. “It’s stuff like, I did the fighter meeting, and I specifically told him not to swear on ESPN, and he looked at me and said mother(expletive) when he was doing his interview. He says (expletive) you to the man.”
Diaz, for his part, hoped that would translate into needle-mover money, which could set the tone for negotiations on his next fight.
“That’s not a good business move if you tell me I’m the (expletive),” Diaz said. “Then give me the (expletive) money. Give me some ‘I’m the (expletive)’ money. … but it’s cool he’s acknowledging it.”
Heading into UFC 241, the safest bet seemed that if Diaz did the job exactly as he went out and did, a trilogy fight with Conor McGregor would follow. Their two fights from 2016 – Diaz’s second-round submission of McGregor at UFC 196, followed by McGregor’s majority decision in the rematch at UFC 202 — would be a no-brainer, a license to print money.
Then Diaz threw one of his patented curveballs and instead called out Jorge Masvidal, who was in attendance. All of a sudden, a fight with McGregor, who seems more interested in allegedly sucker-punching the elderly these days than fighting guys in their prime, seems like yesterday’s news.
Masvidal is the man of the hour in the summer of 2019, as he took full advantage of his already legendary five-second flying-knee knockout of Ben Askren at UFC 239 to rocket to stardom after years and years of plugging away.
And in Diaz’s worldview, that’s why this fight is, as Masvidal might put it, super necessary.
“You have to recognize who is the best in the game, and it’s not who they say it is. It’s who I’m saying it is. It’s the guy who’s (been) winning forever and (is) still on the top of the game . … Who’s the real badass dude in the 170 division? They’re trying to pump up this dude (Ben Askren), and Masvidal goes in there and knocks his ass out, and he’s been fighting since 2004, I think. That’s the best fight to me.”
Both of these guys have taken the hard road to stardom. Like Diaz in Stockton, Masvidal started off a street fighter in a rough neighborhood, in his case Miami.
Like Diaz, he plugged along for years as a scrapper who won his share and lost his share, but always put forth the best effort he could for the fans.
Like Diaz, Masvidal’s popularity is the result of an organic push, not consultants telling you their focus group says you should promote Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant because of how they look.
Who knows? Maybe it will take another three years to get Diaz back in the cage. He’s made it abundantly clear he’ll do things on his terms, and doesn’t dance at his promoter’s command. If Diaz takes another long sabbatical, then UFC 241 will go down as the night the people reminded the company that true fans will gravitate to realness over artifice every time.
The fans have organically led the UFC to a potential gigantic fight that doesn’t need a belt or any artificial hype. The company has seemed to lose the pulse of what the fans want since the Fertittas sold the promotion. We’ll see if this time, they can prove they still listen to the people.
- Nate Diaz explains why defending 'baddest mother(expletive) title' vs. Jorge Masvidal is right
- Nate Diaz the needle mover: Dana White changes tune after star's triumphant UFC 241 return
- After UFC 241, Nate Diaz says he's never heard of Colby Covington: 'What weight?'
Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Nate Diaz thinks a Jorge Masvidal fight is super necessary. Can the UFC deliver? | Opinion