In the star-starved landscape that currently is the UFC, perineal malcontent Nate Diaz is seemingly the savior that the promotion needs; it is just too bad that his return to the UFC will likely dim his shining star.
In 2017 Diaz has much more leverage over the UFC than any fighter with a career 19-11 record should have.
However, as has been stated by many pundits on many occasions, the UFC’s reliable mega-stars are nowhere to be found. (Conor McGregor is doing a Manny Pacquiao impression; Jon Jones is becoming a “new man” for the 5th time during his USADA suspension; Brock Lesnar is retired from public life aside from a main event at WrestleMania; Ronda Rousey is suddenly allergic to all things MMA; and Georges St. Pierre is swooping in on white horse to save the UFC… in the fall.)
And then there’s Nate.
The always moderately popular little brother of UFC welterweight Nick Diaz has seen his stock rise dramatically in 2016 due to his two epic bouts with Conor McGregor.
With Diaz’s visibility on the rise, so is his self-awareness. Like many fighters in the WME-IMG era, Diaz has recognized that he brings value to the UFC. However, Diaz has taken things a step further; instead of going on Twitter tirades and joining fighter associations only to ultimately set foot in a cage soon afterward, Diaz has stuck to his guns and remained available but dormant.
His absence (along with the current star recession) has made his demand grow stronger. Every passing day that Diaz is not booked for a fight enhances his mystique, while also giving credence to his never-substantiated but believable conspiracy theories.
One such conspiracy theory surfaced over the past week when Diaz revealed to MMAJunkie.com that the UFC was resistant to Diaz having a small role in the promotion of a movie. Diaz not fitting into the new corporate UFC mold only emboldens those who support him.
It is in this eternal tension with the UFC that the long-term value of Diaz is actually limited.
Diaz is a top-tier fighter, phenomenal athlete, shrewd businessman, and an enduring personality, but not an unstoppable force in the UFC. Unless we are to believe that Diaz goes on an Anderson Silva-esque double-digit winning streak after his 31st birthday, Diaz will not remain a major pillar in the UFC.
Furthermore, once Nate Diaz takes a fight against someone other than Conor McGregor, he recedes back to the pack of upper level UFC draws. Instead, Diaz currently resides among the likes of the UFC 1 percent. Sure, Diaz taking on Tony Ferguson would be appealing to UFC fans, but how much would that fight resonate outside of the MMA world?
Additionally, if Diaz is perceived to have “given in” to the UFC, does his stock not also suffer? In this scenario, he becomes like every other fighter and is “broken” by the UFC.
For his part, Diaz seems to be acutely aware of his unique situation. As Luke Thomas of SirusXM and MMAFighting.com constantly points out, the Diaz brothers want to be the “B” side of a mega bout.
Diaz wants a mega payday, and will take no other option. He clearly knows that the UFC will never fully embrace him as a massive star, and he is obviously smart enough to know that he will never have greater value than he does in the present moment.
But present moment will not last forever. At some point, the UFC will not need Nate Diaz and his value will diminish.
The Nate Diaz bubble will eventually pop, but until then the question remains: Who will be the one to pop it? The UFC or the man the UFC president Dana White once referred to as “not a needle mover.”
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(Robert Vallejos writes a new Specialist column for MMATorch titled “Media & Business” focused on, you guessed it, the media coverage of MMA and the business side of MMA. He is fascinated by the presentation, business decisions, media strategy, and press coverage of both UFC and MMA as a whole, and will bring that curiosity to explore and delve into that side of MMA to his weekly Specialist column here at MMATorch. He explains his approach: “As a sport in its relative infancy, MMA does not receive the same level of scrutiny and informed analysis from the sports media as other more established entities. This is why it is vital for independent outlets such MMATorch to grow, while featuring a variety of voices. Unlike mainstream outlets, MMATorch is not beholden to any organization. Therefore I believe it is essential for individuals such as myself to explain not only the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’ of MMA.”)