It won’t be long now.
Whether his fairly absurd legal wrangling with the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) is successful or not, Nick Diaz is coming back to the octagon.
His suspension runs until February, while his lawyers are hoping to put an end to it even earlier. Historically, one can’t fight city hall, and the NSAC is the citiest of halls, so it’s not likely that the Diaz legal team is to be successful, but he’s confirmed a return to MMA regardless.
So what is he going to see when he makes his return in 2013? Definitely not Anderson Silva. Aside from that, lots of interesting stuff.
He’s likely going to see a division still ruled by longtime kingpin and personal target Georges St-Pierre. St-Pierre will unify the titles against Carlos Condit next month, and while Condit is a bad man, it’s not reasonable to think he’s got any tools that GSP hasn’t seen (and handily dealt with) before.
Diaz will also see a top contender who jumped him in the line while he was suspended and/or retired. Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks will tangle on the St-Pierre/Condit card for the right to face the winner, and both would offer a stern test for whichever man leaves UFC 154 with gold.
A rejuvenated Jon Fitch is also lurking, as are the usual suspects: Josh Koscheck, Jake Ellenberger, Diego Sanchez. BJ Penn will have made his return, and Rory McDonald may very well have a win over him by that point.
The 170-pound division is certainly no less interesting than it was when Diaz was popped for pot.
The question then becomes more about what’s in store for the burgeoning superstar from Stockton.
Is he going to leapfrog Kampmann or Hendricks based on name and big-money potential in a fight with St-Pierre or a rematch with Condit?
Is he going to find himself in a tune-up fight against a guy he’s likely to beat, perhaps a Dan Hardy or Mike Swick type?
Will he get a top contender like Ellenberger or Fitch in a title eliminator?
Smart money, though, is on Diaz getting a carefully crafted tune-up fight in his return to the cage, perhaps a co-main event slot on pay-per-view against a high end welterweight that he matches up well against. If Kampmann can’t topple Hendricks, he’d fit the bill perfectly.
The UFC knows what it has in Nick Diaz, the ultimate black hat in a sport full of guys who spend half their time faking the realness that comes to Diaz so naturally. People will pay to watch him fight because he’s an entertaining warrior, and they’re interested in him outside of the cage because of his unorthodox charisma.
For that reason, look for him to get a winnable big-name fight that will give him the chance to call out St-Pierre or Condit immediately afterwards. The guy hasn’t gotten less credible as a challenger just because he took some time off, and there’s precedent here for the promotion to push guys from athletic commission headaches to championship contenders in short order.
2013 should be a good year for Nick Diaz. He’ll be back in the cage making the cash he covets so much, and it probably won’t take a lot for him to have a shot at proving he’s the best in the world at welterweight.
2013 should also be a good year for MMA fans. Going without one of the most exciting guys in the business for a year hasn’t been fun, but all will be right when mean mugging and trash talking are the order of the day once again.