UFC Could Use Nick Diaz, but Who Should He Fight?

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2014

Nick Diaz, left, cheers on his brother Nate Diaz during a UFC lightweight mixed martial arts fight between Nate Diaz and Josh Thomson in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 20, 2013. Thomson won by technical knock out in the second round. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Associated Press

Nick Diaz has been vocal about wanting to return to the cage, but he only wants a high-profile fight.

Prior to UFC 171, he heckled Johny Hendricks at the weigh-ins. He wants to fight a top welterweight, and he is not wrong to demand such a fight. He is one of the biggest draws in the entire organization, and the UFC needs draws.

Whom should Diaz draw in his return fight?

Last week, I suggested the perfect fight would be a rematch with Robbie Lawler, but the UFC scheduled Lawler for a bout against Jake Ellenberger at UFC 173. That's a potential Fight of the Night-style brawl but not a fight you would outright pay $54.95 to watch.

That leaves very few options.

The welterweight division is lacking top draws. One of the division's most recognizable fighters—Carlos Condit—is on the shelf with an injury. The former interim UFC welterweight champion was injured in his UFC 171 fight against Tyron Woodley.

Top Five fighters Rory MacDonald and Woodley are nearing a date at UFC 174.

That effectively leaves only one name for the UFC to line up against Diaz for a fight in the near future, and that is Hector Lombard.

Lombard vs. Diaz is similar to Lawler vs. Ellenberger—a stunning stylistic matchup that would produce fireworks, but a fight that is a co-main event at best.

It is not what the UFC should be looking for. The two charismatic welterweights could have a very interesting staredown at the weigh-ins, but that is where the buildup likely ends.

As the division works itself out, the new champion Hendricks sits on the sideline, rehabbing his bicep injury.

Many fans and fighters would decry at the notion, but this is a sport built on pay-per-view buys, and the UFC should not look past Diaz as an instant challenger for the gold.

He is a polarizing figure whom fans care about one way or the other. If the UFC wants to raise the profile of the welterweight title, Hendricks and the division, it should put Diaz opposite him in a future main event.

Hendricks has already stated he would, in fact, grant Diaz an immediate title shot.

There is little question a fight with Diaz would garner Hendricks his biggest paycheck to date. Would the fight put spectacle over sport? Absolutely. However, the UFC is a promotion, and fighters are looking for bigger paydays. Diaz offers everyone the opportunity to grab a slice of a bigger pie.

The potential fighters who could headline a show with Diaz are all booked except for Hendricks, and the title fight is the biggest welterweight clash out there. It makes business sense. And despite all the commotion it would cause on message boards inside the MMA bubble, every single one of those fans would open their wallets.

The best-case scenario for a blend of spectacle and sport is to put Diaz in a No. 1 contender's fight on the future card featuring a welterweight title fight. Would Diaz be up for that? That remains to be seen.

If the UFC wants to best utilize Diaz for business, it will give him a serious look as the next title challenger. If the promotion can talk him into taking a lesser fight, it would help put a spotlight on his opponent.

Welterweight is deep with talent but light on stars. It will be interesting to see how the UFC tackles this problem as 2014 draws on.