Following the UFC used to be a fairly straight forward affair, with challengers working their way up the ranks to take on champions in a fairly functional facsimile of a meritocracy. Who would the champions face next? The top contender in each division, of course! All that seems to have gone out the window, though, following the rise of Conor McGregor and UFC’s change of ownership from the Fertittas to Hollywood agency WME-IMG.
Since then, superfights have been the name of the game. McGregor taught the rest of the roster that holding out for one good superfight is way more profitable than taking on two or three tough guys at the top of the rankings. And whereas before Dana White and Joe Silva kept the organization in check with an iron fist, WME-IMG seems much more willing to follow the dollar signs.
After just two champ vs. champ fights in 25 years, the UFC now has three on deck for the summer: light heavyweight’s Daniel Cormier vs. heavyweight Stipe Miocic, women’s bantamweight Amanda Nunes vs. featherweight Cris Cyborg, and bantamweight TJ Dillashaw vs. flyweight Demetrious Johnson.
Another example of this in action is a potential fight between welterweight champ Tyron Woodley and Nate Diaz. A few years ago, #2 ranked Rafael Dos Anjos would be next for Woodley, no questions asked. But right now there are credible rumors that the UFC is in talks to have Tyron face Nate Diaz at an event this summer.
That’s Nate Diaz, whose UFC welterweight record stands at 2-3 and hasn’t fought in over a year and a half. There’s no way to make a case for him as a legitimate welterweight contender, but the potential to make money may be too great for the UFC to overlook.
You see, Nate Diaz was a part of the two biggest UFC pay-per-views in the history of the company. His back to back fights with Conor McGregor pulled in 1.3 and 1.65 million buys respectively, and while there’s no way he’d pull those kinds of numbers without McGregor, some in the organization still feel the right fight could break the 750,000 buy mark, something that no longer happens without a star like Georges St-Pierre or three solid title fights on the line.
Tyron Woodley may not be a big draw, but his welterweight title and the challenge he represents to longtime lightweight Diaz makes him the leading candidate for an attempted superfight. Unfortunately for the UFC, he’s also never had an issue playing it safe to win bouts, which has resulted in some of the worst championship fights in UFC history. His last two fights against Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia were universally panned, and a contest against Nate would likely involve Tyron using his superior wrestling to pin his undersized opponent to the mat for five rounds.
The new ethos coming out of the UFC lately is ‘Fights that make dollars don’t have to make much sense.’ That was the case when Georges St-Pierre returned from semi-retirement to face middleweight champ Michael Bisping in what became the biggest UFC pay-per-view of the year. While Woodley vs. Diaz makes less sense (and likely less dollars), the fact that it’s perceived by some UFC execs as the best available option for right now makes it shockingly likely to happen.