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Nate Diaz’s star power has grown exponentially in the Octagon over the last decade even as his success in it has dwindled. As he goes into the final fight of his contract against Khamzat Chimaev on Sept. 10 in the main event of UFC 279 in Las Vegas, Diaz is clearly one of the biggest attractions in the UFC.
He’s not ranked at either lightweight or welterweight, and it will be more than three years since the last time he won a fight by the time the bell rings for him to face Chimaev.
But when it does happen, expect a standing-room only crowd at T-Mobile Arena to save its best ovations for Diaz. It could be Diaz’s swan song in the UFC, but UFC president Dana White didn’t rule out the possibility of a new contract for Diaz.
He’s an anomaly in so many ways, but none more so than in the way he conducts his business. He thinks differently than you and I and just about anyone else who follows the fight game.
What other fighter could lose six of his last 10 fights, as Diaz has over the last decade, and see his popularity leapfrog all but a handful of fighters in mixed martial arts?
Who else but Diaz could make the ridiculous request to fight either heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou or middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, as Diaz did on "The MMA Hour" last week, and not be mocked incessantly?
But since he fought Conor McGregor for the first time at UFC 196, there hasn’t been more than two or three bigger names in the sport than the 37-year-old Nathan Donald Diaz.
He’s down to the final bout on his UFC contract, and despite plenty of rumors to the contrary, he has no defined plans. Does he go to fight YouTuber turned boxer Jake Paul? Perhaps. Does he sign with another MMA promotion and fight a few times for them? Perhaps, though that seems unlikely since the biggest names reside in the UFC. Then again, Diaz doesn’t perceive things the same as the vast majority of the rest of us.
The good thing is, no matter how it happened, the right fight was made. Diaz representative Zach Rosenfield said Diaz has wanted to fight Chimaev since April.
“It’s important to note that this is not a fight that we were offered; this is a fight we asked for,” Rosenfield told Yahoo Sports.
Rosenfield said he first had discussions with the UFC about a Chimaev fight on April 11, three days after Chimaev had defeated Burns at UFC 273. There had been talk about a Diaz-Chimaev fight prior to UFC 273, but Diaz wasn’t interested at that point.
In Diaz’s worldview, Chimaev hadn’t done anything to that point that made him a worthy opponent. Even though Chimaev had obliterated John Phillips, Rhys McKee, Gerald Meerschaert and Li Jingliang, none of those fighters were accomplished enough in Diaz’s eyes for him to consider a Chimaev win significant.
Now, Chimaev landed 112 significant strikes to just one for his opponents. He connected on 112 of 145 significant strikes for a success rate of 77.2. His opponents connected on just 1 of 4 strikes. In addition, Chimaev was 4 of 6 on takedowns.
That’s mind-boggling domination at the highest level of the sport, but it wasn’t enough to sway Diaz. But after defeating Burns, a former welterweight title contender, that did it.
It wasn’t easy for either side. Diaz was pleading repeatedly with the UFC for a fight on social media, but the UFC was insisting it had offered Diaz fights. Left unsaid was that he was declining them.
Dana White doesn't rule out Nate Diaz returning to UFC
On Saturday at UFC Long Island, White was peppered with questions about Diaz. He tried his best to avoid them, but finally said he’s required to offer fighters three fights a year. If the UFC doesn’t, then they’re obligate to pay the fighters even though they didn’t fight. White said at the news conference the UFC hadn’t paid Diaz, the implication being they’d fulfilled their obligation to offer him fights.
But White told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday that he knew the Diaz-Chimaev fight was in the works but didn’t want to say anything publicly until it was official.
UFC 279 will be the rare pay-per-view headlined by a non-title fight, but White said it’s a result of the stardom of both Diaz and Chimaev.
“Obviously, this is a fight the fans want to see,” White said. “Since we made this announcement, my f***ing phone blew up. My feed on Instagram is all about thi s fight. It’s a fun fight and people are excited. Obviously, Nate’s a big star, but Khamzat is, too. I don’t know if you were at his last fight [at UFC 273] but the place went crazy when he walked out. He’s a massive star.
“In this sport, it’s all about the fights you make and this is one so many people are excited to see. It’s not about Nate being on a long winning streak or whatever, it’s that he’s a guy who comes to fight and you know what you’re going to get with him. He’s kind of in that Arturo Gatti territory now.”
Gatti is a Hall of Fame boxer who was known mostly for his wild slugfests.
Diaz, himself, has been in a slew of crazy fights, and he’s one of the few fighters who can build a fight just by using Twitter or doing an occasional interview.
White knows it’s Diaz’s final bout, but he didn’t close the door on a return.
“Nate sat in my office and I told him, ‘Go do whatever you want, kid,’” White said. “I wouldn’t say this was hard to get done. We’re making fights all the time here. July 23, July 30, Aug. 6, Aug. 20, Sept. 3, Sept. 10. And when you do that, it’s about where fights fit and make the most sense. And remember, Khamzat had that knock-down, drag-out crazy wild fight with Burns. That was a war and he needed time, too.
“It’s not like there were these huge issues. It was more about timing, and we were heading into the summer and all of that. But I’m excited we have it done because that is going to be a crazy fight.”