Former UFC welterweight title challenger Nick Diaz truly couldn’t have picked a more perfect time to state his intentions to return to the organization. The welterweight landscape was expected to be much clearer after this past weekend at UFC 171 in Dallas but only seemed to get cloudier with the results. Now after a lengthy absence Diaz is eyeing a summer return, and despite not being ranked in the top 15 immediately becomes a wild card for the next title opportunity against new champion Johny Hendricks.
The title tilt between Hendricks and Robbie Lawler was a tremendous battle with “Bigg Rigg” securing the belt by unanimous decision. The five-round slugfest lived up to the hype but the other 170-pound clashes on the main card left no true no. 1 contender for Hendricks to meet next. That’s where Diaz all of a sudden figures prominently.
While I’m in agreement with the notion that Diaz hasn’t done enough of late to warrant an immediate title shot against Hendricks, it’s his drawing power that the organization is no doubt taking a look at. With a number of current titleholders on the sidelines and former champions Georges St.Pierre and Anderson Silva out of the picture because of a sabbatical and injury, Diaz is a polarizing figure who helps to sell PPV’s.
If Carlos Condit had won this past weekend, it would’ve seemed a natural fit for him to be first in line to meet Hendricks in a rematch for the title. They had an outstanding fight at UFC 158 with Hendricks earning the decision win. Unfortunately, the no. 2 ranked Condit blew out his knee in a loss to Tyron Woodley. As a result Woodley didn’t get the credit he deserved because of the unfortunate nature of how the fight ended.
Hector Lombard didn’t press for a finish against Jake Shields and was satisfied to grind out a dominant but unspectacular decision victory. With Condit on the shelf, the UFC is now left to wrestle with the question of not only who deserves to be next for the new champion but also who would be the bigger draw from a business perspective.
Obviously a GSP return to face Hendricks would be the most desirable option. St.Pierre hasn’t completely ruled out a return while UFC president Dana White is confident that he will be back. Hendricks for his part says he would welcome a rematch against the long-time former champion after losing a controversial decision to St.Pierre at UFC 167. However, if that option isn’t currently on the table, then the promotion needs to decide on the best plan moving forward.
While Woodley and Lombard have impressed, and Rory MacDonald has made his case for a title shot with a recent win over Demian Maia, those three fighters simply don’t generate the type of buzz with fans that Diaz does. This is where he could conceivably win out and get the next shot at Hendricks. Diaz is a fighter fans either love or hate and sells fights by playing the villain. His heckling of “Bigg Rigg” at the weigh-in drew plenty of media attention this past weekend in Dallas, and he later called out the new champion.
While there’s no doubt that the Stockton native can be a major pain in the butt for the organization at times, he makes up for his out of the ring antics by always coming to fight inside the Octagon. The veteran’s aggressive style is very fan-friendly and he has competed against the best.
If the UFC decides not to give Diaz a title fight, there’s another tremendous option that exists. Lawler turned in a strong effort this past Saturday night and the notion of him and Diaz having a rematch would be a highly desirable prospect. Diaz is the only fighter to ever stop “Ruthless” via strikes back at UFC 47. Lawler would likely welcome the chance at getting revenge and getting back into the title picture.
Whether you are a fan of Diaz or not, it’s clear that his plan to return this summer has him back in the spotlight in the current welterweight landscape.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports