The first anniversary of Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor II at UFC 202 has just passed, and with it sprang to life the countless memories that were gathered both in the lead up to the event, and on fight night itself. The back-story to the main event was a huge contingency of bad blood between both competitors, with a history of thrown bottles, cans and of course, punches. Diaz came out victorious in their original showdown at UFC 196 in March of that year, but ‘The Notorious’ McGregor managed to reclaim his aura of invincibility when he came out on top in the rematch. Both contests were ‘Fight of the Year’ contenders, which leaves us with one question – why not do it one more time?
Since UFC 202 last August, McGregor defeated Eddie Alvarez to become the UFC’s first ever fighter to hold two world titles simultaneously. Afterwards, as we all know, he managed to insert himself into a position to make upwards of one hundred million dollars with a mega fight against Floyd Mayweather. His recent absence from the sport has left a gaping hole in the MMA world as the UFC clambers to create interim title fights for his lightweight belt. However, the Irishman recently made his intentions known; he wishes to return to the octagon in the very near future.
So, who should he face next? Will it be the winner of Kevin Lee vs Tony Ferguson next month? A historic showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov in Russia? A super-fight against Tyron Woodley? But, my task today is to justify a trilogy fight between himself and California native Diaz and to explain why this is the only fight that the UFC should consider for ‘Mystic Mac’ at this moment in time.
If we look back upon the history of combat sports, we will see plenty of examples of trilogy fights. Some of the greatest fights of all time have taken place on the third occasion that two combatants have squared off. Where would our respective sports be without rivalries such as Ali-Frazier, GSP-Hughes, and Ortiz-Liddell? Unwritten rules dictate that when two fighters are 1-1 against each other, they must go inside of the octagon or ring for one final time.
Nate and Conor have already produced two legendary fights for us, each with a different tale. In the first, we saw a brash, overconfident McGregor blow out his gas tank early on, while Diaz weathered the storm and finished the fight in the second round. On that night,‘ The Notorious’ crumbled in the face of adversity, as he shot desperately for a takedown that was destined to fail. But what was still to come is the fight that may define the Irishman’s career forever.
What’s great about slow-burning rivalries is the visible growth that we see in at least one of the fighters, and we all know who the man was to transform himself after UFC 196. While Diaz continued his usual training regime, which is undoubtedly extreme, McGregor reassessed his entire process. Going back to basics, he began his F.A.S.T training program. He blended high-intensity bike work, running and rowing into a strength and conditioning program that would complement his martial arts training, as he grew upon the tools that were necessary to ‘take the game back under control.’
And on that wonderful August night, we witnessed a true fight; there were twists and turns, near finishes and exchanges that left us on the edge of our seat. While Bruce Buffer announced the scorecards, millions around the world debated over who they felt deserved to get their hand raised. In the end, Conor took the result via majority decision, but to this day, many still believe that Nate did enough to win.
Why McGregor wants the fight
This uncertainty leaves unfinished business. I, for one, am not ready to close the book on this enticing rivalry just yet. And I don’t feel that Conor can either. His loss to Diaz first time around was devastating; he submitted in the second round after eating a series of big punches from the American. His comeback win was less emphatic; he ended the fight on his back and won three rounds to two. The competitor within McGregor is desperate to better his previous win, and with the prospect of a huge payday, the opportunity for a rubber match against his nemesis will be too tempting for him to accept aught else.
McGregor understands the business of prizefighting like few others. After the spectacle that was his ‘money fight’ with Mayweather, his popularity worldwide has skyrocketed levels previously unfathomable in the sport of mixed martial arts. Therefore, it’s hard to imagine his next fight being anything less than the biggest one he can possibly produce. He will come around to facing other fighters at lightweight, but there needs to be one clear top contender before he is pushed to do so.
Why Diaz wants this fight
For Diaz, this fight is about two things, money and legacy. Nate’s recent comments have suggested that he won’t take the fight for anything less than $20 million, and who can blame him. This rubber match will easily sell two million pay-per-view buys if it is promoted correctly, and it is evident he wants his fair share. With that cheque, the Californian could retire comfortably, which is what I wish for all fighters who put their lives on the line for our entertainment, and Diaz has more than earned that right.
For him, this fight can also define his legacy. Although he has been a top contender at 155 pounds since his tournament-winning performances on The Ultimate Fighter season five, including a win over Manny Gamburyan in the final, it is unquestionable that Nate’s defining moment was his short-notice victory over McGregor at UFC 196. The win catapulted him to stardom, and a win in the trilogy would cement his place as a legend of our sport, as the lightweight world championship would most certainly be on the line. Seeing a Diaz brother wearing a golden UFC title is something that fans have wanted for years, and this could be the final chance that either Nick or Nate have at reaching the pinnacle of their respective weight classes.
Why the UFC will make the rubber match happen
Since the arrival of WME-IMG, the entire landscape in the UFC has been wild. In their short time in control, it has become evident that the owners are more interested in putting on the biggest fights possible than protecting the legitimacy of our sport. There is always going to be the argument that combat sports have no rules outside of those imposed inside of the octagon, cage or ring. The worthy contenders don’t always get their chance at glory, but after this rivalry is settled, they will.
Ferguson is set to square off against Lee in October for the interim lightweight title. Even if the winner of that contest comes out injury-free, which is highly unlikely at this level of competition, they will most likely be out of action until spring of 2018. Should McGregor wish to make his return to the octagon in December as many reports suggest, the UFC will not get in his way. They have already set the precedent that if the interim champion is not ready, they will go ahead with other plans instead, so why not do it here?
The risk and reward of having McGregor face Diaz for one final time is one that the UFC will almost certainly take. If the Irishman were to lose to a fighter like Ferguson or Lee, who are currently relatively unknown outside of the hardcore fanbase, his stardom would likely die down. Whereas, we know he can beat Nate, and the huge payout from that fight is one the company probably cannot refuse. If Conor was to come out victorious in a trilogy, he could break MMA pay-per-view records in his next fight even if he was facing a journeyman. But, if he were to face a top contender and lose, that fighter would be transformed just as Diaz was a year-and-a-half ago.
The trilogy will happen
I cannot envision a scenario in which McGregor versus Diaz III does not occur in the very near future. Whether you want to admit it or not, this is a fight that you want to see one final time. The score must be settled, the records must be broken, and we must make this trilogy fight official as soon possible.
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