A Nate Diaz Return Would Signal A Change In The Way UFC Runs Its Business

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MMA fans rubbed their hands together in anticipation yesterday when word leaked via one of Nate Diaz’s overeager coaches that the popular Stockton fighter was training for another fight. But that excitement soon turned to confusion when his potential opponent was revealed to be Tyron Woodley, the current UFC 170 pound champ.

How you feel about that fight probably depends on whether you think the UFC should be all about rankings or entertainment. Outside of a 2-2 run at 170 back in 2011, Nate’s only UFC experience at welterweight is his two fights with Conor McGregor. And those fights only occurred at that weight because Diaz was trying to squeeze more money out of the UFC to cut to lightweight. But with the UFC’s once prestigious New Years weekend card on December 30th lacking a sexy headline fight, word is the promotion has decided to ‘get creative,’ which has led us to the possibility of Woodley vs. Diaz.

The fight is a long way from being locked in, but Nate’s return to the gym is a sign that the UFC has finally sent his manager an offer with enough zeros to make him reconsider his original plan of waiting for a McGregor trilogy fight. That’s interesting not just because we love seeing Nate Diaz fight, but because it may signal a shift in the UFC’s willingness to pony up more money to fighters for big fights.

Both Nate and Nick have been on the sideline for over a year because they were unwilling to rejoin the UFC grind for less money than they feel they’re worth. They’re not the only ones. With the mad scramble to secure a belt at the top of UFC 219, heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic hasn’t come up because he’s benched himself until he gets more money too. The UFC has been having an increasingly hard time getting fighters at the top of their roster to do what they want, and the situation seems like it’ll only get worse.

It’s a problem that can be solved by throwing money at it, and with a revenue split that’s way lower than the 40% to 50% you see from other leagues, it would be about time there was an upwards adjustment for UFC fighters that can move the needle. But going down that path could be a double edged sword. Pay fighters more for these kinds of money fights, and who’s going to accept the match-ups against top contenders that don’t have the ‘it’ factor to move units?

Whether Nate Diaz steps into the cage or not at the end of the year could set the tone for how the sport develops over 2018. Whether it’s for better or worse is the big question.