It all started at UFC 196: McGregor vs. Diaz. Most could recall that the seed was planted on a UFC fight night card in late 2015, where Diaz called out McGregor for what many could see as a super fight.The 'Notorious' McGregor; who was riding a 7-fight win streak, coming fresh off of his 13-second championship winning KO of legendary featherweight Jose Aldo, seemed invincible. While Nate Diaz, a fan favorite who fought with the same gritty trash talking style as his brother Nick, was also a submission specialist that loves to box, and with wins over names like Donald Cerrone, Jim Miller, and Michael Johnson.
The fight practically made itself, these two men were at each others' necks at every media session, talking more smack than most MMA fans had seen up to this point. On fight night, the world was shocked.
In the second round, when McGregor was starting to feel a bit cocky, Diaz caught him with a flush 1-2 combo that visibly stunned him. McGregor was in trouble, and shot for a takedown. Diaz reversed it and looked for a guillotine and as McGregor rolled to escape it, Diaz went into top mount and landed two bombs, forcing McGregor to give up his back. Diaz sank in the rear-naked choke, and McGregor tapped.
Of course with McGregor's ultra-competitive mindset, the only thing on his mind was a rematch. And that rematch came later in 2016. After pondering retirement, the Irishman got back to training as did Diaz. They met for their second bout at UFC 202, where this time, the bout went 5 rounds and ended up in McGregor's favor, as he scored a couple of knockdowns on Nate.
After their second fight, everyone saw and knew one thing: They're 1-1. The 3rd fight, or as it is referred to colloquially in MMA as a 'rubber match', was clearly set up by Diaz's loss at UFC 202. The only question was, when could this happen?
Firstly, let's recognize that Conor McGregor is perhaps the UFC's greatest financial draw in terms of PPV buys. According to the PPV numbers courtesy of Tapology.com, the UFC's top 3 ALL TIME pay-per-views all had McGregor in their main event. The #1 and #2 pay-per-views that UFC has ever put on? UFC 202: Diaz vs. McGregor 2 and UFC 196: Diaz vs McGregor.
The numbers don't lie, not only have these men put on two massive fights, they just flat out know how to sell them. Their trash talking exchanges are more entertaining than any other two fighters, and the way they naturally exchange insults comes off as natural hate towards each other - nothing forced or fabricated as other fighters have. In fact it can be said that they set the bar on fight build-up, no UFC or any MMA PPV has even come close to the 1.6 million buys that UFC 202 had.
Financially, this fight seems to be the next big move for the UFC. Their star power is quickly dissolving in their hands, as there are only a handful of stars that the UFC has that can draw somewhat similar numbers to McGregor v. Diaz, and these stars are becoming more and more inaccessible.
Jon Jones has just tested positive for turinabol, a steroid, and is facing punishment from USADA. Brock Lesnar also tested positive in his pre-fight test at UFC 200, and Ronda Rousey's MMA career is essentially finished as she suffered two devastating KO losses in her last title defense and return fight, highlighting her weaknesses and marking what is most likely the end of her fighting days. With all of this, McGregor seems to be the only solid draw that the UFC has, and since the Diaz fight he has made several moves that increased his own stock.
Shortly after his win at UFC 202, Conor turned around and stated that he wanted a shot at Eddie Alvarez's lightweight belt, which he was granted at UFC 205. He won that fight essentially flawlessly and although he was stripped of the featherweight belt about a month later due to lack of defense, he became the only 2-weight world champion in UFC history.
He then went on to fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing macth, and although he lost, he made a statement in going 10 rounds with the undefeated boxer and in the process raked in a 100 million dollar payday. Diaz has remained on the inactive side, however with intentions behind these actions. Diaz is smart, and he knew that his two fights with McGregor were not only his biggest paydays, but literally the two biggest UFC fights of all time. Instead of risking his health or his shot at McGregor, he chose to see what the UFC had to offer him in terms of financial incentives to fight. Obviously it wasn't to Diaz's liking, as he tweeted out:
Lol at your fight...— Nathan Diaz (@NateDiaz209) February 4, 2017
Whatever the UFC offered wasn't enough, and it is clear that Diaz wants to wait for McGregor's MMA return to finish their business. It isn't too far gone, though, as McGregor himself has shown interest in this fight. When asked if he was still thinking about the Diaz trilogy, he was quoted, right after the Mayweather fight by BBC News Ireland saying:
"100%...I'm the 155-pound champion, I've faced him at 170, he beat me. Then I rematched him at 170, I beat him. Now I'm the 155-pound world champion, if he wants that fight, he must come down."
Not only has the UFC lightweight champion hinted at it, but his coaches have as well. His boxing coach, Owen Roddy, has expressed interest in this according to MMAFighting.com. Even his head coach, John Kavanagh, expressed this same interest in an article he released for The42.ie, an Irish publication.
"To be completely honest, I didn't actually know who Kevin was until very recently...Tony is a solid fighter, but he doesn't have the kind of appeal that would get your blood racing, particularly in the context of coming from the excitement of the Nate Diaz rematch...This is all accompanied by the caveat that it's merely the opinion of John Kavanagh, but I'm sure people will be able to relate to my perspective on the situation."
Indeed we do, as if McGregor's coaches are interested, there's no doubt the champ himself has spread some of that interest from his own plans for his next fight.Kavanagh stated in the same article that realistically, McGregor probably won't fight again in 2017.
"Even after this hiatus is over, a lot goes into planning and execution of a training camp at our level...I find it hard to envisage another fight in 2017."
This is understandable, and this gives hope for the UFC going into 2018. They still have major cards coming up like Bisping vs. St.Pierre at UFC 217 and an entertaining UFC 216 card that includes Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee's interim title bout, and now they have a semi-decent plan for the beginning of 2018 concerning McGregor's next fight. Considering the circumstances, both fighters' and their coaches' opinions dictate that they are both interested in fighting each other.
Also taking into consideration the current state of the UFC and their tendency to lean towards money fights (WME has to pay off that 4 Billion dollar purchase somehow..), it is most likely that we will indeed see the McGregor vs. Diaz 3 fight some time in 2018. The fact is, even with all of the future fights that could go on, this may be the biggest fight the UFC has ever put on.