Nate Diaz is the kind of guy who makes more headlines from doing an interview than most fighters get for competing in the cage. He's one of the most famous athletes in the history of the UFC and remains relevant in any MMA conversation despite having just one win since 2016.
Diaz is the rare fighter who holds onto his popularity through inactivity and losses, because those sorts of things don't necessarily matter to his fans. They're already invested in who Diaz is, how he carries himself and his sheer demeanor. Nate Diaz, as the kids would say, is a whole mood. He has never won a UFC title and it couldn't matter any less.
That bit about Diaz making waves with just an interview happened again last week. Diaz had a lengthy chat with Ariel Helwani on "The MMA Hour" about his contract issues with the UFC -- he wants to fight out his contract and become a free agent -- which in some cases led to more questions than answers. Fans most asked about the Diaz topic for this mailbag. So, let's try to address what's going on.
Diaz has one fight left on his UFC contract; once he competes, he'll be a free agent. That is what Diaz wants to do. He wants to fulfill that deal and see what's on the open market. There are a lot of fighters not as popular or as accomplished as Diaz making a considerable amount of money in boxing or other events right now. No one could blame Diaz for wanting to see where he might fit in that ecosystem. And, his fit could be in a fight that pays him significantly more than he makes now in the UFC.
So, what's the holdup? Diaz believes the UFC is "slow rolling" him with an eye toward a trilogy fight between him and Conor McGregor. There is no timetable right now on a McGregor return and Diaz doesn't want to wait -- he wants to fight and become a free agent. On top of that, Diaz told Helwani he doesn't want to fight McGregor right now, with McGregor coming off a severe injury. Diaz said he doesn't want to bring McGregor's popularity "back to life."
According to Diaz, the UFC has been offering him fights, but they have come with a proposed contract extension, which he is not interested in. Diaz is a lot of things, but he is not a liar. When you weed through the slang and colloquialisms, Diaz is clear: He's willing to fight anyone to finish out his contract and then move on. Diaz said he feels like he's being held "hostage."
From the UFC's perspective, Diaz is a big star whom the promotion would love to retain. And if he is going to walk away, the UFC would like him to do it on its terms and not his. Maybe the preferred fight for the UFC is McGregor vs. Diaz 3. But the promotion has also offered Diaz a fight with Khamzat Chimaev, which he initially turned down last summer. Now, Diaz said he will fight anyone for this last contractual bout.
How this whole thing plays out is anyone's guess, but the likely scenario is Diaz fighting before the end of the year to finish his contract -- likely against a formidable opponent whom the UFC is positioning to be a star, such as Chimaev. Diaz's contract does have an expiration date, though it's unclear when that is precisely. Sources said it is sometime in the fall, potentially before November.
What happens and what Diaz's next move might be will be fascinating because it has been a long time since someone as popular as Diaz left the UFC by choice. The MMA world will watch closely, especially those impending free agents like UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.
And with that, here are more legitimate questions and my answers, including -- could Khabib return to the Octagon?
Who do you predict will headline UFC 281? #ESPNMMAMailbag— Phillip McGowan (@PhillipLMcGowan) July 14, 2022
Who will fight for the heavyweight title next? -- jccotter10 via Instagram
I'm lumping these two questions together because I think they will be related. UFC 281 at New York's Madison Square Garden is the next big spot on the 2022 calendar for the promotion. Typically, the UFC likes to make as big a splash as it can at MSG -- with past main events featuring Conor McGregor, the BMF belt and the heavyweight title. Currently, there isn't a bigger fight to make than Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic for the interim heavyweight championship.
McGregor likely won't be back this year from the broken leg he suffered in July 2021 against Dustin Poirier. Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal, two other big stars the UFC could feasibly have headline MSG again, are stuck in different kinds of limbo. Diaz's aforementioned contract dispute with the UFC, versus Masvidal's legal issues in Florida stemming from an alleged attack on rival Colby Covington outside the Octagon.
Jones is a New York native and has never fought at Madison Square Garden. Miocic is the most successful UFC heavyweight champion and also has yet to fight in MSG. It would make sense for that one to be the UFC's feature fight on Broadway, the kind of big-money fight the promotion would love to be on the marquee. It could be sold legitimately as the best heavyweight ever versus the best light heavyweight ever.
That said, the elephant in the room regarding Jones, Miocic and the future of the heavyweight division is Francis Ngannou. He is still recovering from knee surgery he underwent in March and has said he could return in either late 2022 or early 2023. A late 2022 return for Ngannou seems ambitious, judging solely from past knee ligament tears. Then again, Ngannou has defied the odds more than most, so who knows?
There's also the matter of Ngannou's contract situation with the UFC. His team believes he will be an unrestricted free agent in January, free to seek out a massive boxing match with Tyson Fury potentially. The UFC wants him back; he is the heavyweight champion and one of the most marketable fighters on the roster. Ngannou has said he'd love to sign back with the UFC if the promotion also lets him box contractually, which would be an unprecedented arrangement with the UFC. The UFC's major card it can dangle to Ngannou is a fight with Jones. Ngannou has already fought Miocic twice, going 1-1. The trilogy would be a big fight, no doubt. But Ngannou vs. Jones for the heavyweight belt? That's a historic battle. You'd have to wonder if the UFC will exhaust all possibilities of making that happen at some point before it rolls the dice on Jones vs. Miocic for the interim belt.
As for other potential headliners for MSG, I could see Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira for the middleweight title as a contender. Adesanya is one of the biggest stars in the UFC, and there are many Brazilians in the New York metropolitan area to support Pereira. Plus, Pereira has been training with Glover Teixeira in Connecticut, not far away from Manhattan. Teixeira challenging Jiri Prochazka for the light heavyweight belt that Prochazka just took from him wouldn't be the worst option, either. It would be a rematch of one of the greatest UFC fights ever. You could put Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili on that card as a co-main event, as New York has a large Chinese and Chinese American population.
Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev for the lightweight title would have been a suitable MSG main event, but it's been booked for Abu Dhabi one month earlier at UFC 280. The UFC would surely love to have Diaz or Masvidal in a prominent position in New York, if the timing and issues are sorted out.
For my money -- it's Jones vs. Miocic at UFC 281.
If Charles Oliviera beats Islam Makhachev, what are the chances Khabib comes out of retirement to fight Charles? #ESPNMMAMAILBAG— Stitch. (@Stitchy3D) July 14, 2022
Do you think Khabib will come out of retirement within the next year, and if so, who will he fight? Oliveira?#ESPNMMAmailbag— God says... (@W0rd0fG0d) July 14, 2022
Khabib Nurmagomedov is not as motivated by money as many of us are. He has been offered millions upon millions to return to the UFC. The dominant Dagestani fighter, formerly the pound-for-pound king, was reportedly offered around nine figures to box Floyd Mayweather in an exhibition. If it were money that Nurmagomedov wanted or needed, he'd likely be back already. But that doesn't seem to be the case.
If Nurmagomedov is to return to the Octagon, it'll take something else, which is why so many are fascinated by the idea of Oliveira vs. Makhachev for the UFC lightweight title. If Oliveira manages to beat Makhachev, would Nurmagomedov return to avenge his longtime friend, training partner and now student? As great of a story as that might be, I have a hard time envisioning that happening.
Nurmagomedov looks pretty content with retirement, now working with his friends and training partners as a coach. A whole generation of fighters Nurmagomedov is currently guiding has tremendous potential. Umar Nurmagomedov, Khabib's cousin, has star written all over him in the UFC bantamweight division. Usman Nurmagomedov, meanwhile, has been tearing up Bellator, and has all the attributes of a five-tool professional MMA fighter. Makhachev is in that mix, as well. Plus, Khabib is running his own MMA promotion, Eagle FC.
There are many plans and people he'd have to put on the back burner if he returns. This is not to say it won't ever happen; maybe down the line, Nurmagomedov does come back for another fight or more. But the timing now doesn't seem to be right.
#ESPNMMAmailbag what really declares a 10-8 round?— stephen osborne (@sniperpreist99) July 14, 2022
Great question. According to the Unified Rules of MMA, overseen by the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC), judges should look at three things to determine if a round is a 10-8: damage, dominance and duration. Damage is self-explanatory -- knockdowns, hard shots on the feet, submission attempts on the ground, cuts, etc. Dominance is if the fighter in question has had the vast majority of the offense in the round and the losing fighter has barely mustered offense. Duration is how long that dominance took place. Was the winning fighter dominating for the entire five minutes? Was it only maybe 90 seconds of sustained offense?
If a fighter demonstrates all three of those things in a round, that should be an automatic 10-8, per the rules. According to the rules, if two of those things exist, a 10-8 should at least be considered. The one thing that has been altered a bit over the past year or so is the first "D": damage. After a period during which many felt (not me, personally) that there were too many 10-8s being doled out, judges seem to be making sure that there is sufficient damage present if they score a 10-8. In other words, if only dominance or duration existed, it wouldn't necessarily be a 10-8. The number of 10-8s seemingly has gone down over the past year, for the first time since the scoring criteria language was made clearer in 2016.