MMA superstar Conor McGregor has expressed a desire to stay active in 2021 following his loss to Dustin Poirier, so is now the time to reignite his rivalry with Nate Diaz?
Conor McGregor came up short in his bid to get a lightweight title shot on Saturday night. But while the loss to Dustin Poirier may sting, his status as one of the top attractions in all of sports and entertainment remains strong. “The Notorious” has already said he hopes to stay active in 2021, and many feel that the time is perfect for him to reignite his rivalry with former foe Nate Diaz.
For one, let’s address the alternatives. Any number of opponents from featherweight to welterweight are theoretically on the table for McGregor. The Irishman is expected to stay at lightweight, in which case names like Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson, Charles Oliveira, and Michael Chandler are the most likely. UFC President Dana White has said he expects Poirier to fight Chandler for the title. Poirier shot down the idea, expressing interest in a trilogy with McGregor or perhaps a fight with Diaz. Assuming “The Notorious” wants to double-down and try to get back to the title faster, a fight with Oliveira or Chandler makes the most sense depending on who doesn’t fight Poirier for the belt. If the UFC is looking to pair McGregor with someone else coming off a loss, Ferguson or Gaethje make the most sense.
Nate Diaz brings another level of interest entirely due to the nature of their bouts in 2016. Remember, at the time McGregor was coming off a superstar making campaign where he stole the show in a world tour opposite reigning featherweight kingpin José Aldo which culminated with him dispatching the Brazilian legend in a jaw-dropping 13 seconds. Attention was at an all-time high for McGregor whom was subsequently booked against lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos. 11 days out from the bout, an injury forced dos Anjos out of the bout and Diaz stepped into the fight in his place. What happened next was unforgettable. After taking a beating in the first round, Diaz rallied back in the second round to pick apart and submit a gassed McGregor.
"**** your whole team, how about that!?" 🤬
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) April 17, 2020
It was the perfect storm and it turned perennial contender Diaz into a bonafide star and attraction overnight. The man who famously threw his middle fingers in the air and who’s post-fight interview was once completely censored on FOX was suddenly making the rounds on network television and appearing on extra. McGregor, after all the bravado, was left to regroup. It led to one of the most anticipated rematches in UFC history months later. Two of the most exciting performers in the game with polarizing personalities collided in a bout that galvanized different parts of the fan-base like very few non-title fights have before or since. In the end, McGregor prevailed to even the score 1-1 in besting Diaz in a five round affair that is widely considered one of the greatest MMA fights of all-time for living up to the hype. Furthermore, both fights broke records for pay-per-view sales and the rematch held the record until UFC 229 (also headlined by McGregor) two years later.
Today, the two are in very different places. For one McGregor is in a must-win situation. For all his fame and prior success, it will be difficult to continue building up “The Notorious” as a top pay-per-view attraction were he to drop two fights in a row and go 1-3 in his last 4 fights. Nate Diaz, at least on paper, could serve as the perfect opponent. It will have been roughly two years since Diaz last fought assuming the two were to meet this summer. Furthermore, coming off a loss to Jorge Masvidal in which he took heavy damage, there will be questions about Diaz’s durability at this stage of his career. If there is a good time for McGregor to defeat him again, it is likely now when Diaz may no longer be at the top of his game but still brings his considerable fan base to the pay-per-view and the fight brings in the recent nostalgia from a few years ago.
At a time when the all three divisions that McGregor has competed in are currently preoccupied with other elite contenders, the fact that there is still a blockbuster matchup that can be made for MMA’s biggest superstar should be reason enough for the fight to be made. If dreams of the biggest rivalry in UFC history have evaporated, then one can do far worse than revisiting arguably its most exciting.