UFC: For the Good of His Career, Nate Diaz Just Can't Fight Khabib Nurmagomedov

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2014

May 5, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;  Nate Diaz (left) and Jim Miller fight during their lightweight bout during UFC on Fox 3 at the Izod Center. Nate Diaz wins by submission in round two Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Diaz isn't afraid of a fight. Any fight.

Realistically, no one in MMA is.

If you choose to be locked in a cage with an elite martial artist for cash, you're probably tilted toward the fight end of your fight-or-flight response.

Diaz is, however, considerate of whom he fights, when and why. If the name of the game in MMA is making money, those are reasonable points to ponder before signing on the dotted line.

Name value, rankings and title shots pave the road to more cash, and that's something Diaz is very much aware of. That's why he can't fight Khabib Nurmagomedov, no matter how much Dana White wants him to.

Nurmagomedov is dangerous and a bad stylistic matchup for Diaz, and since the Octagon isn't Stockton, Calif. on a Saturday night, Diaz is going to pass.

He made a simple risk-reward analysis, and the risk isn't worth the reward.

If he loses to an up-and-comer—a lower-ranked guy whom most people don't knowhe's done as a top contender. 

That's quite a risk.

If he beats some Russian upstart who got into the Top 10 by beating a quantity of opponents more than quality ones, what's the benefit? Diaz is the No. 5 lightweight, and Nurmagomedov is No. 7, so Diaz would be expected to win.

That's not much of a reward.

The issue for Diaz boils down to a career that is now entrenched in lightweight purgatorysome bizarre nether realm between serious title contender and gatekeeper. In trying to pit him against Nurmagomedov, the UFC is treating him far more like the latter than the former, and Diaz isn't ready to accept that role just yet.

The promotion isn't at fault here. Diaz is 1-2 in his last three, and the lone win, while impressive, came against a diminishing Gray Maynard. The guys ahead of him in the Top 10 aren't options for various reasons, and he'd be quite the scalp to hang for lightweights who are on the way up.

Diaz plays the game away from the cage differently than everyone in the sport (aside from brother Nick, of course). He comes from a boxing mentality of getting big pay for big fights, and he's not going to compromise that so the UFC can make its next contender off his name.

He understands, perhaps better than anyone, that fighting Nurmagomedov offers nothing of benefit for an established fighter still in his prime. The Russian is a relative nobody, they wouldn't make significant money together, and beating him wouldn't get Diaz any closer than he already is to a fight that might pay or draw eyes.

It's everything that Diaz doesn't want in a fight, and though the UFC knows it too, it will crucify him for turning it down because "do you want to be a f**king fighter?"

That's the fight game. It's about promoters trying to pair guys who can make money together or push each other into a spot where they can do it individually. It's about fighters clashing with opponents who can make them more relevant, rich and famous.

White knows it, and it's why he's trying to make the fight.

Nurmagomedov knows it, and it's why he called for Diaz in the first place.

Most importantly, though, Diaz knows it, and it's why he's not going to take the fight. He's got more to lose than anyone involved, while everyone else has more to gain.

So don't hate the player, hate the game. With his career in the balance, Diaz is playing it well.


Follow me on Twitter @matthewjryder!