McGregor Rematch Saved Nate Diaz From Returning To World Of UFC Irrelevancy

Last week’s MMA headlines may have been littered with rumors regarding the likely cancellation of a Conor McGregor-Nate Diaz rematch, but contrary to recent reports, it now appears as though the highly-anticipated bout will indeed take place at UFC 202 on August 20 in Las Vegas.

And for Diaz, the news couldn’t have come at a better time.

When he learned that he’d been chosen to replace injured UFC lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos in what was supposed to be a cross-divisional, super-fight against McGregor at UFC 196 in March, Diaz had already stepped into the octagon a total of 21 times during a nine-year UFC career.

Yet, despite his UFC résumé, as well as a longstanding reputation as one of the sport’s greatest trash-talkers, Diaz didn’t become a central UFC figure until shocking the world with a second-round, submission-victory over McGregor in the evening’s headliner.

In the immediate aftermath of Diaz’ career-altering win, talk of a rematch didn’t dominate the headlines. Instead, a humbled and unfamiliar version of McGregor knew that it was time to put his lightweight, and even welterweight, ambitions aside in order to get back to the business of being the UFC’s newly-crowned featherweight king.

Not surprisingly, the victory launched Diaz into MMA super-stardom, instantly expanding both the veteran’s fan-base–as well as his bank account. He’d beaten several legitimate contenders in the past such as Donald Cerrone, and even fought for the UFC’s lightweight title against former champ Benson Henderson in an unsuccessful attempt to claim promotional gold in December of 2012.

But for Diaz, defeating a champion from another division in a non-title fight at a weight that was normal for neither changed everything. Unfortunately, less than three weeks after it was announced, another slot in the spotlight in the form of a scheduled rematch with McGregor at July’s UFC 200 was cancelled when the Irishman refused to attend a promotional event.

If the UFC would’ve been forced to find Diaz another opponent following his victory over McGregor, a previous loss to Dos Anjos and an array of more qualified lightweight contenders made another title shot very unlikely—even as the division’s fifth-ranked contender. And obviously, for the 31-year old veteran anything other than the rematch or a 155-pound title shot would’ve been taking a step in the wrong direction.

After negotiations between Diaz and the UFC temporarily turned sour, even the usually-optimistic Dana White made it sound as though the fight was as good as cancelled during last week’s appearance on The Herd.

”Nate, we signed a new deal going into that fight, then he signed the contract for UFC 200 and then Conor doesn’t show up for 200 so now Nate’s trying to blow up the deal,” said White.

”It’s frustrating but that’s the business that we’re in,” added White. ”This is what we do. Everybody’s not going to be happy all the time so now our job is, Lorenzo [Fertitta] and I, have to sit down and try to figure out how to make this deal work and we’ve been going back and forth trying to make this fight happen but the problem is timing. Now we’re running out of time.”

No stranger to contract negotiations and more familiar with the business of big-time MMA than people think, Diaz has always known just how lucrative an ongoing beef with McGregor could be. At the same time, he also knows that the promotion earned a hefty payday from the first fight, and during a recent interview on the MMA Hour given before the rematch was set, Diaz shared some interesting details about the negotiations.

”I said that was one of the biggest fights you’ve [the UFC] ever had on 10 days notice, and he’s [McGregor] the biggest draw you’ve ever had and I just beat your biggest draw,” said Diaz. ”So if you don’t mind, I would like to be compensated better than I was the last time or what they were trying to offer me.”

Regardless of all that Diaz has experienced as both a fighter, as well as a training partner and occasional corner man for brother Nick, McGregor’s sudden obsession with revenge is clearly the best thing that’s ever happened to the creator of the ”Stockton Slap”.

Just how badly did McGregor want this rematch? Well, according to a recent interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, he wanted it badly enough to suggest that Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar should fight for the interim featherweight title at July’s UFC 200.

”It was my idea,” said McGregor. ”I wanted to have my revenge at 170, and they’re crying and complaining about the 145-pound belt, which I just won three months ago. That division was killed, it was dead. Jose went down in 13 seconds. What more can I do? I traveled the world with that man. I finally got him in the octagon, and he only lasts 13 seconds.”

Now that it’s set and both fighters are able to have complete training camps, Diaz must prepare for the fight that saved him from falling back into the world of UFC irrelevancy. But this time around, Diaz has a lot more to lose, and the outcome will mean everything to the remainder of his career.

[Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images]