Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor put on one of the biggest fights in UFC history earlier this month. Now they're going to run it back at perhaps the biggest event in MMA history when UFC 200 goes down July 9 in Las Vegas
With Ronda Rousey out of the picture, George St-Pierre still on hiatus and Anderson Silva having gone more than three years without a win, McGregor was the clear choice to headline the historic show. The only question was, who would be his opponent? We found out on Wednesday night, though we had an idea ever since Diaz submitted McGregor at UFC 196 – one of company's top-selling PPVs of all time, with roughly 1.5 million buys. A rematch seemed possible eventually, but not immediately, because McGregor (19-3 MMA, 7-1 UFC) is the UFC Featherweight champion and only fought Diaz (19-10,14-8) at Welterweight due to unique circumstances.
Even Diaz called the idea of a rematch "crazy," mainly because he's never been granted one of his own, even in losses with less emphatic outcomes. There were plenty of options for both fighters outside of a rematch, but according to UFC President Dana White, McGregor insisted on doing it again, even if those around him disagreed.
So he obliged, allowing the 145-pound champ to fight at Welterweight (170 pounds) against Diaz once again and attempt to avenge his only Octagon defeat.
"He was obsessed – obsessed – with fighting Nate Diaz again," White told ESPN's SportsCenter after the rematch announcement. "Obviously, [UFC CEO] Lorenzo [Fertitta] and I tried to argue with him and say, 'Let's go back down to 145 and defend your title, or if you really want the Diaz fight that bad, do it at 155.' But he wants to fight at 170. Even his coach, [John] Kavanagh, tried to get him to get off this rematch and off the 170-pound fight, but it's what he wanted. And he's going to get it."
From a purely competitive perspective, the reasons behind a rematch can be difficult to comprehend. But when it comes to the bottom line, the company couldn't have chosen a better fight to draw the attention of casual viewers to UFC 200. Title fight or not, McGregor is UFC's biggest star, and Diaz is his perfect foil.
UFC 196 was a success by almost every measure. From the nearly record-breaking pay-per-view numbers and the enormous $8.1 million gate to the attention it received from mainstream media outlets, celebrities and other athletes, the combination of McGregor and Diaz created magic. And that was with just 11 days of promotion for the fight. Imagine how this summer will play out.
What's more, the fight lived up to every bit of the hype. Diaz and McGregor were both awarded "Fight of the Night" bonuses and the thrilling contest is likely to hold up on lists for the best fight of the year. The second bout could easily land on the list, as well.
Arguments against a rematch are simple: McGregor is the UFC Featherweight Champion, and with that comes a duty to defend the title. UFC 200 marks his second consecutive fight outside his weight class without having yet defended the belt he won in December with a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo.
There are many deserving contenders in McGregor's weight class. Aldo had an argument for his own rematch after going undefeated for nearly a decade, but instead will fight Frankie Edgar, another man with a valid claim at McGregor's belt, in an interim Featherweight Championship bout at UFC 200.
Forcing two contenders to compete for an interim title while the champion pursues passion fights is disingenuous to the model of having athletes climb the rankings to reach the ultimate prize of the title. However, Diaz vs. McGregor is a more significant attraction for UFC 200 than any championship fight involving the two.
The only reason the original matchup came together was because of desperate circumstances. McGregor was set to move up one division to challenge Lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 196 and attempt to become the first simultaneous two-division titleholder in UFC history, but dos Anjos suffered a broken foot in training, which opened the door for Diaz to replace him on just 11 days' notice. White says McGregor's willingness to accept the first fight is what convinced him to give him the second.
"Conor McGregor is a guy who has had fights fall out seven days before he's supposed to defend his title, and he steps up and takes on all comers," the UFC president said. "The guy fights anybody, anywhere, any time. He's stepped up on late notice and done these things. He wants this Nate Diaz fight; we'll give it to him."
Diaz took some of McGregor's hardest shots in the first round and throughout half of the second. That's when the Stockton Slugger turned the situation around and began to hit McGregor with his own clean strikes. A poorly timed takedown then led McGregor into Diaz's web of grappling, and moments later he was caught in a deciding rear-naked choke.
McGregor said after UFC 196 that he was "inefficient" with his energy and didn't anticipate Diaz could absorb damage at such an astonishing rate. He wants the chance to show that loss was a mere flash in the pan, and that he's a superior fighter.
But why would a rematch go any differently, especially when Diaz will enter UFC 200 with a complete training camp? McGregor is apparently desperate to find out – and that's an enormous risk, because the brash Irishman could go from being an untouchable icon to a twice-defeated paper champ within the span of seven months. You know, as if this fight needed any additional hype.