In just over three months, we’re going to be smashed in the face by UFC 200, a seminal moment in the company’s timeline. The headline is the highly anticipated McGregor-Diaz 2, with an undercard that already has Frankie Edgar battling Jose Aldo for the interim featherweight champion.
My first reaction was, “Awesome! A rematch of that awesome fight I just saw? Hell yeah!” But then I started to think about it and that’s when I started to ask myself, “What’s the point?”
This is supposed to be the UFC’s biggest event ever. Why would you put your biggest draw in a rematch against a fighter that means very little in the big picture? It’s not like Dana White would suddenly make Nate Diaz the poster boy of his company if he wins. There are no titles on the line. Even if McGregor wins, it only evens the record between the two and everyone will always hold the first fight in higher regard because Diaz waltzed in as a fill-in with little to no preparation.
So is UFC 200 actually going to be as big of a deal to the company? It might be, but not in the way that they’re hoping.
HOW BIG WILL UFC 200 ACTUALLY BE?
To put the scale and scope of UFC 200 in to perspective, you need only dial back to UFC 100, an event that had a gate of $5,128,490. It featured co-main events of Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir in a heavyweight unification title bout, along with Georges St-Pierre defending his welterweight title against Thiago Alves. Like UFC 200, UFC 100 was a huge deal for a company that had struggled to gain its footing across mainstream platforms. Lesnar’s monster appeal helped make it one of the most watched events of all time.
UFC 129 remains the highest grossing event in the company’s history and featured Georges St-Pierre in a battle against Jake Shields. Part of the reason that UFC 129 grossed $12,075,000 at the gate is because it was held at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. That arena allowed for a capacity of over 55,500 people. By comparison, the Mandalay Bay Events Center which hosted UFC 100 seated one-fifth of that.
The last event that was headlined by McGregor and Diaz was UFC 196 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena which allowed nearly 15,000 to enter its doors. The total gate was the second highest in company history, bringing in $8,100,100 million along with an untold amount of coveted, mainstream coverage.
Dana White is the type of guy who wants to go as big as possible whenever he can, so slating UFC 200 at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas is a fantastic choice. It can hold just over 20,000 people, and will likely be able to cram about a third of the people at the Rogers Centre managed to fit inside its baseball stadium walls.
So will UFC 200 be the biggest event in history? Not according to the number of people it shuffles through the gate. At an average ticket price of $500 (which would be roughly equal to what people paid to attend UFC 196), the UFC will hit just over $10,000,000 allowing it to eclipse the mark set by McGregor-Diaz 1.
That won’t shatter the record set by St-Pierre, but it would absolutely cement Connor McGregor as the biggest attraction in the game today. And it would add to an already intriguing narrative if St-Pierre does return to the UFC as rumors insist. A massive, mega fight between the top draws in the company’s history? Dana White has masturbated to less.
The question is whether or not McGregor can actually maintain his momentum with a win or loss. Which begs the question: what’s the fucking point of having McGregor fight Diaz a second time?
THE CATCH OF MCGREGOR-DIAZ 2
Let me put this as plainly as I possibly can: nobody is going to care about McGregor if he loses again.
Part of the allure about McGregor is that he’s daring enough to bounce around weight classes. The sheer thought of a multiple-division threat is a delight to fantasy book. Heading in to his initial matchup with Diaz at UFC 196, you just felt like McGregor could fight anyone. He talked you in to it to some degree, but the manner in which he had dominated the featherweight division also spoke volumes.
The way that Diaz manhandled McGregor, however, was a crushing blow to a company that desperately needed a vessel to push its mass appeal over the top. McGregor is that guy, and he stands alone in this regard because of his overflowing charisma and talent. It also helps that he speaks (relatively) clear English and isn’t afraid to self-promote in a way that comes off as a smooth mélange of eloquent arrogance. You can’t help but love the guy.
If Diaz wins again – and that’s not as big of an “if” as you might think – the intrigue of McGregor gets shattered completely. The windshield has already been chipped. Another loss at UFC 200 means that McGregor simply goes back to being another champion on the roster, filling the same type of gap that Luke Rockhold and Robbie Lawler do.
This is nothing against anyone that reigns supreme in their division, but any combat sport revolves around the hope of seeing a mega fight. And part of building those sort of attractions requires the participants to come off as invincible. Don’t believe me? Just ask Anderson Silva.
WHY DIAZ WILL BEAT MCGREGOR AGAIN
When McGregor elevated to the higher weight classes, those who understood MMA made the argument that he could do so because of his striking power. Of his 19 wins, 17 of those came by knockout. Since migrating to the UFC in 2013, McGregor had mashed six of his opponents’ brains in seven fights. His only decision victory came against Max Holloway in 2013.
It turns out that McGregor’s striking ability isn’t as top notch as everyone thought. You can easily debate the merit of preparing for Diaz on short notice, but he was also ready to wage war with the division’s champion, Rafael dos Anjos, who was just coming off a decapitation of Donald Cerrone and isn’t that far removed from knocking out Benson Henderson either.
McGregor pointed to his output during the fight as the reason for his downfall. “I was inefficient with my energy,” McGregor said his post-fight interview. “He was efficient. I wasn’t efficient.” Sure thing, Conor.
You can’t ignore what actually happened during the fight. When Diaz caught McGregor on the chin at 2:38 in the second round, you could see it in his eyes. McGregor goes dark after getting clipped.
It’s exhausting to get punched in the face. I mean that literally. Diaz is exceptional when it comes to feeding 50-50 punches until he can deliver that one punch that depletes his opponent almost completely. That’s what happened with McGregor. His health bar literally went to five percent after that he was rocked on the chin in the second round. He was treading water until Diaz put the nail in the coffin with a submission that his opponent basically gift wrapped for him.
Let’s also understand two important factors when it comes to Diaz. First, he barely even trained for his initial bout with McGregor. Second, he’s never been knocked out. Not once. Not ever. The Stockton homeboy’s tolerance for pain is second to very, very few in the UFC. It’s like his skull is made of adamantium.
So with that in mind, let’s not pretend like this fight is about McGregor’s ability to knock someone out at a higher weight class. The bigger guys throw bigger punches, and McGregor felt that the first time he clashed with Diaz. Other welterweights and some lightweights can deal with the power that made McGregor a featherweight conqueror.
The ultimate dilemma for McGregor is that he might not be able to take a hit from a lightweight or welterweight. If that theory becomes a cold reality at UFC 200, I don’t know what’s going to happen other than having him return to his original division with a little less fanfare and a little less invulnerability.
And what in the blue hell do you do with Diaz if he wins? Does it really make him a more legitimate contender to the division? Does he suddenly become the face of the franchise? The answer to all of these questions is “nope”.
WHITE’S BIG GAMBLE
Promotions don’t get substantial talents like McGregor all too often. You have to wait and wait and wait until that guy comes along and then you have to pounce. The NBA did it with Jordan. The WWE did it in the post-Hogan years until Stone Cold and The Rock emerged. Boxing did the same with Mayweather and Pacquiao.
Perhaps that’s why Dana White was so mad after UFC 196. He thought that tossing Diaz in there wouldn’t hurt the brand McGregor had constructed so dutifully. In hindsight, he probably realized what we all started to halfway through the main event: this is a really bad match up for McGregor.
To say that the preparation for each fighter is going to be the biggest difference ignores the known strengths and weaknesses of both competitors. This remains a fight that McGregor can’t win. Why else would Nate Diaz be favored heading in to UFC 200? You can bet on Diaz at -155 over the even odds of McGregor.
That’s a gamble I would make.
Dana White is risking something else entirely. He’s jeopardizing his most marketable asset for a one-time payday that has no long term payoff no matter the outcome.