Earlier today, reigning UFC Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley told ESPN that he may fight former Lightweight title contender Nate Diaz for his return fight.
I think I’ll fight Nate this year, and I think it will be my return to the Octagon. If I had to bet the house on it, that’s my next opponent.
This would, of course, mean Nate Diaz would skip over #2 ranked Welterweight and former UFC Lightweight Champion Rafael dos Anjos, who dominated former Champion Robbie Lawler in a Welterweight title eliminator match last December.
From a business standpoint, this makes sense. The UFC, after all, is a business, and businesses want to make as much money as possible. The Diaz brothers — Nick and Nate — are pretty much ATM’s for the UFC. With their pugnacious-f*ck-the-world attitude and kill-or-be-killed fighting style, the UFC knows they’re going to have a good payday when either of those two set foot in the octagon.
But looking at it from another angle, the fight makes no sense whatsoever.
Mixed martial arts is a sport, and in sports, championships are based on winning. Competing for a title isn’t about popularity, it’s about beating everyone else to get to the top.
Take the NBA, for instance. Did The Golden State Warriors play The Cleveland Cavaliers last year because it was the match-up everyone wanted to see? Certainly not! Many basketball fans outside of Cleveland and San Fransisco would have no doubt preferred to see their teams in the Finals, rather than the Cavs or Warriors. Golden State and Cleveland played in the Finals purely because they won their respective divisions. Even if the teams weren’t fan favorites — and I’m not saying they are or they aren’t — they won, and that’s all that matters.
Imagine if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told the Cavaliers, “Listen, you guys are great and all, but NBA fans really want to see the Celtics against the Warriors. You’re just going to have to wait for your shot at the championship.” Most fans, even devout Celtics fans, would be outraged…or at least critical of the decision.
Rightly so, too. When championship matches are given to athletes based on fan popularity, matchmakers undermine the sport. Athletes say to themselves, “What does it matter if I win? It’s my personality that counts.”
Let’s also not forget that dos Anjos won a title eliminator match. This means he was promised a fight against Woodley. If the UFC were to give the match to Diaz, they would have to go back on their promise to dos Anjos, and that would undermine their image.
No matter what you feel about Rafael dos Anjos, he is clearly a better Welterweight than Nate Diaz, at least right now. He has more wins in the division and he has beaten one of its former champions.
There is therefore no reason why Rafael dos Anjos should have to take a back seat to Nate Diaz in a title bout against Tyron Woodley. Dos Anjos earned his title shot by beating his competitors, and that’s what sports are all about.