Hours after MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani reported that Rafael dos Anjos was forced to withdraw from his bout with Conor McGregor at UFC 196 because of a broken left foot, the UFC announced a replacement for the showdown.
The UFC on Twitter confirmed Tuesday that Nate Diaz will be McGregor's opponent in the Octagon on March 5 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas:
Here. We. Go. 👊 💥 #UFC196 https://t.co/CKhB74aUW82016-2-24 04:10:02
Prior to defeating Michael Johnson by unanimous decision on Dec. 19, Diaz (18-10) had lost three of his previous four bouts. McGregor (19-2), meanwhile, made light work of Jose Aldo in a 13-second knockout at UFC 194 that put him on top of the MMA universe.
According to MMAJunkie.com's Mike Bohn, UFC President Dana White said on SportsCenter on Tuesday evening that there was no shortage of suitors for the vacant slot opposite McGregor. White reportedly indicated both Frankie Edgar and Aldo turned down the chance to square off with the Irish featherweight titleholder, while Donald Cerrone, BJ Penn and Anthony Pettis all "wanted" the fight.
And even though Diaz took a hard line on Twitter shortly after Dos Anjos dropped out, some quick negotiations ultimately paved the way for an agreement.
Nathan Diaz @NateDiaz209
He's going to have to get on his knees and beg...2016-2-23 17:51:25
As a result of those negotiations, the biggest story to come out of the announcement is that McGregor will shift gears and move up two weight classes. Even though his fight against Dos Anjos was slated to be a lightweight showdown—up one weight class—UFC 196 will now be headlined by a welterweight clash.
Helwani noted there was concern Diaz wouldn't be able to drop below 165 pounds, but ultimately, "the weight or opponent never mattered to McGregor," which is why the current featherweight champion appeared unfazed when discussing his move up to welterweight:
Ariel Helwani @arielhelwani
... McGregor adds one more note: "Make it 170," he says. "Tell him to get comfortable." The fight is made. At welterweight. #ufc1962016-2-24 04:19:26
As a result of McGregor's willingness to move up a weight class yet again, UFC 196 will mark the first time since 2005 that a non-title fight will headline a card ahead of another title fight, per Bohn.
McGregor has been adamant for months that he would seek to move up weight classes in relatively speedy fashion, and while that process was already in motion with Dos Anjos in the crosshairs, a meeting with Diaz should provide compelling theater as some seemingly unprecedented narratives develop over the coming days.
With one fighter moving up two weight classes and the other set to duke it out on two weeks' notice, something will have to give at UFC 196.