2016 was a record-breaking year for the UFC. The company surpassed its total pay per view sales for any given year thanks to an astonishing five pay per views topping the 1 million buy rate. However, 2017 is not looking so good.
To put it simply; there are no major pay per view draws. The company’s biggest assets, Conor McGregor, Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey are all either on hiatus, serving a suspension or staring retirement dead in the face.
The first two pay per views of the year have been marred by amateurish refereeing, dreadful scoring and lacklustre action. Fortunately, there is one fight the UFC can still make that would kick start their 2017. Tony Ferguson versus Nate Diaz is arguably the biggest fight the company can put together right now and here’s why this match up needs to happen:
1.Nate Diaz needs a fight
Nate Diaz cemented his place as a superstar in MMA after two stellar performances at UFC 196 and UFC 202. It has now been almost seven months since Stockton’s finest has stepped foot in the Octagon. Previously Diaz had gone on record saying he would not fight for less than $20 million. Lately, it seems he has changed his tune.
When Khabib Nurmagomedov pulled out of UFC 209 the company scrambled to keep Tony Ferguson on an already weak card. Dana White confirmed the organisation had officially offered the fight to Diaz. The Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt accepted the fight but it was determined he would not be able to cut to a reasonable weight in the limited time available.
Diaz’s latest interview also denies that he is only waiting for the McGregor fight. He told training partner Andre Ward, “I just think about, I’m not turning down any fight ever. They might be turning down the deal. So it’s on them. It’s not in my hands because I’ll fight when you pay.”
The bottom line is that Nate Diaz is willing to fight. The UFC must capitalise on Diaz’s superstardom while he is still relevant, even if it means swallowing their pride and paying the man a handsome fee. He said he wants the “biggest fights”, and it doesn’t get much bigger than headlining a PPV for a title. Easy money for the UFC.
2. It can make Tony Ferguson a household name
Tony Ferguson is riding a nine-fight win streak, he’s an Ultimate Fighter winner and has some extremely credible scalps to his name. There should be massive hype but there isn’t. The UFC has not done him any favours by booking his biggest fights in such close proximity to McGregor events.
The company’s matchmakers can redeem themselves by pitting Ferguson against the Stockton slap specialist. Diaz is the perfect opponent for Ferguson to get the rub from. The Stockton native came to his own prominence by taking some of Mystic Mac’s aura and shrouding himself with it. Diaz is now a worldwide superstar because of it but more importantly he is extremely popular with the casual fans and this is the target audience ‘El Cucuy’ needs to seduce.
A perfect example of this is UFC women’s strawweight Michelle Waterson. The ‘Karate Hottie’ felt neglected by the company’s marketing machine and requested a fight with one of the most endorsed fighters in the company, Paige VanZant, to take her promotional push for herself. Waterson made quick work of VanZant and immediately found herself a regular gig on the UFC’S flagship show, ‘UFC Tonight’ along with a consistent commentary position on ceremonial weigh-ins. The proof is in the pudding and a victory over Nate Diaz would certainly transform Tony Ferguson into one of the biggest names in the UFC.
3.Khabib is unreliable
Nurmagomedov struggles to make weight. The Dagestani native simply does not fight often enough to adapt his body to a smooth weight cut. Since 2013 the 24-0 Russian has only competed three times and not all of those were at lightweight.
In April 2016, he fought Darell Horcher at a catch weight of 160 pounds. Those last five pounds to cut may not seem like a lot but what weight did Khabib get down to before his body shut down leading up to UFC 209? 161 pounds. He has only made the 156 limit twice since April 2014. This isn’t even the first time he’s missed weight in the UFC. In May 2013 Nurmagomedov fought Abel Trujillo at a catch weight of 158 pounds.
A knee injury sustained in 2014 kept Nurmagomedov sidelined for nearly 2 years. Recurring setbacks with the same injury forced an initial bout with Ferguson to be scrapped back in December 2015. The fact that Khabib trains at AKA is cause for even more concern with UFC officials as this camp is prevalent with injury pull outs on a regular basis. Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold and Daniel Cormier are all AKA teammates who have withdrawn from fights in the last 6 months through injury.
There is added mental pressure hanging over Khabib as the UFC are relying on him to open up a new market in Russia. Lately, Nurmagomedov’s father has even claimed his son will retire as early as next year. If the bout against Ferguson were to be rescheduled for a fourth time and Nurmagomedov were to defeat his opponent, it is still very difficult to see the Notorious one committing to fighting him as he labels him a ‘pull out merchant’.
4. It’s just a great fight!
This is an awesome stylistic matchup. Tony Ferguson and Nate Diaz share the same quality attributes that would guarantee an entertaining fight. Both men keep a sustained amount of frontward pressure that suffocates their opponents.
Diaz uses traditional advancing movement spearheaded by the best one-two boxing combination in the business. Ferguson applies a constant barrage of onward force by utilising unorthodox footwork with countless feints. Both fighters have granite chins but Diaz is more inclined to use his significant reach to keep distance while Ferguson is more than willing to eat a few punches to get into the clinch.
Five rounds is no problem for either fighter as both have gas tanks. Diaz is a slow starter compared to Ferguson who keeps a relentless pace from the first round to the fifth, just watch his performance against Rafael Dos Anjos.
Diaz, a long time black belt under legendary trainer Cesar Gracie, is a slicker grappler with excellent sweeps and outstanding transitions. Ferguson is a brown belt under Eddie Bravo’s 10th planet system which is an unorthodox, exciting and finish oriented style of BJJ. With nearly 20 submission victories combined, these two men are lethal on the ground.
This matchup has all the makings of being an absolute barn burner.
5. It can legitimise a McGregor v Diaz trilogy
We all know Conor McGregor focuses on breaking records, most notably PPV records, and a fight with either Khabib or Ferguson next will likely not do that.
For financial reasons the UFC, Diaz and McGregor want the trilogy fight for the belt. This fight would easily be the biggest in the company’s history. At the moment, I think the best way to get that fight is to have Diaz fight Ferguson for the interim strap.
It is the perfect setup for the third instalment of Diaz vs McGregor; Diaz steps up to challenge the best lightweight in the world, in winning he gets a belt for marketability while also legitimising himself as the number one lightweight and obligatorily next in line to fight McGregor. Everybody wins, providing Diaz could overcome the not so small task of snapping Tony Ferguson’s nine-fight win streak.
Tony Ferguson deserves his title shot as soon as possible. The UFC’s new owners need to recoup some money as soon as possible. Conor McGregor is taking a deserved hiatus for the time being. I think it’s time to put out the 209 signal and get Nate Diaz back into the picture.
Everything makes sense, Khabib is too risky to build a card around, Diaz is a big financial draw, Tony can become a star by beating Nate and Nate can get that McGregor trilogy fight by beating Tony. Everything is aligning perfectly to set this fight up, Dana make it happen!
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